TORONTO (AP) Just two games into the 2014 MLS season, Toronto FC is experiencing new heights.
England star Jermain Defoe is scoring goals befitting his monster salary, American international Michael Bradley is pulling the strings in midfield, and everyone else is playing their part.
It’s early days yet but Toronto, once the MLS doormat, is off to its best start ever at 2-0-0 and drawing a crowd on and off the pitch.
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Still manager Ryan Nelsen is preaching caution at this early stage of the franchise’s eighth season.
”I think we still have a long way to go as a team,” he said. ”We’ll play better than that probably and lose games.”
Toronto started six players Saturday who weren’t with the club last year.
Defoe, who scored twice in his MLS debut last week in Seattle, could have had four goals Saturday before he finally scored in the 60th minute after Brazilian strike partner Gilberto was sent in alone by a beautiful through ball from Bradley.
Goalie Bill Hamid made the save but the ball was cleared only as far as Defoe, who got the ball out from under his feet and hammered home a right-footed shot.
The goal, which featured all three of TFC’s designated players, was a model of efficiency.
Brazilian international goalie Julio Cesar started the play, booting the ball up field. A D.C. United player headed it back toward the Toronto end, but TFC captain Steven Caldwell nipped in and sent it to Osorio. The 21-year-old Canadian quickly gave it to Bradley, who lofted a pass over the defense to Gilberto.
The day offered thin gruel for D.C. United (0-2-0), which has yet to score this season after being beaten 3-0 by the Columbus Crew in its season opener two weeks ago.
”I don’t think D.C. broke us down very often at all,” Nelsen said. ”And you look at our chances we had to score.”
Defoe’s three goals in two games would have tied him for third overall in Toronto FC scoring over the entire 2013 season.
After a brutal winter that included snowfall overnight, the ravaged grass at BMO Field made for a choppy game.
”The field was not conducive to playing any sport of football,” Nelsen said. ”But that’s no fault of the groundskeeper. I blame God for that at the moment for the winter he’s given Toronto.”
In addition to having a predator up front, Toronto is also looking a lot tougher this season.
Caldwell has added to the spine of the club since his arrival last season and the presence of Bradley has helped.
The American literally ran over referee Silviu Petrescu in the first half, knocking the official down as he steamed toward the visitors’ penalty box.
And he kept playing after a nasty clash of heads in the second half knocked Davy Arnaud out of the game. The shaven-headed Bradley, who returned to the fray with a bandage, was sporting an array of staples on the wound after the game.
D.C. United coach Ben Olsen noted that both teams had to play on the surface, but called the pitch ”as bad as I’ve ever seen in the MLS.”
Just two games into 2014, TFC already has one-third of the victories it collected last season when it went 6-17-11.
Toronto’s previous best opening was a 1-0-1 start in 2009. In 2012, it took the team 14 games to record two victories.
D.C. United was the worst team in the league last season at 3-24-7, but made wholesale changes during the offseason.
”It’s a loss, but I think when I look back, I think we will see that we really took some steps forward.” Olsen said.