A schoolboy error by D.C. United defender Bobby Boswell gifted Toronto F.C. back-to-back wins to start the Major League Soccer season for the first time in the Reds’ 8-year history.
Boswell attempted to clear a rebound across his penalty area after D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid thwarted Gilberto’s effort on the hour. The ball landed at the feet of English designated player Jermain Defoe, allowing the master poacher to bundle home the only goal of a scrappy encounter at BMO Field.
Toronto had earlier squandered numerous chances that owed as much to United’s insipid defending than any inspired play by the hosts. Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar earned his first MLS clean sheet on a comfortable afternoon that saw United’s toothless attack failing to bother the Reds’ back line.
Defoe missed four scoring opportunities in the first half before notching his third goal in two games. The former Tottenham Hotspur forward sent an early header wide after Doneil Henry cut inside Fabian Espindola with remarkable ease on the right flank before teeing up Jonathan Osorio to center the ball.
United’s defense hesitated whenever Spanish winger Alvaro Rey received possession. Toronto failed to exploit space on the left side on seven minutes after Rey’s slaloming run dragged Sean Franklin infield.
Another purposeful dribble by the Seville native took him away from Franklin, Boswell and Nick DeLeon to free up Gilberto on the right of the penalty area. The 24-year-old Brazilian rifled his shot well off target.
Gilberto created the clearest chance of the first half for Defoe on 20 minutes after Jackson nicked the ball from United left-back Christian Fernandez on the halfway line. D.C.’s rearguard backed away from Gilberto, who in turn slipped the ball to Defoe on his left.
The Englishman feebly side-footed his shot at Hamid from 16 yards.
Defoe looked sharper on 24 minutes when he forced Hamid into a smart low save at the near post after Jackson’s cutback eluded Jeff Parke’s outstretched leg.
Rey found himself open near the edge of the penalty box on 35 minutes when an unpressured Michael Bradley was allowed to exploit the negligence of Franklin and DeLeon on D.C.’s right side. He curled his shot high and wide of Hamid’s far post.
The goal frame saved the visitors on 42 minutes after Toronto again advanced into a scoring position without the need for serious guile. Jackson picked out Gilberto’s straight run behind United’s defense before Franklin failed to track Defoe’s predictable near-post run. The striker turned Gilberto’s cutback against the outside of Hamid’s left upright.
It took two minutes of the second half for Toronto to fashion their next chance. Gilberto knocked Bradley’s cross to the edge of the 6-yard box for Defoe to stab a reflex shot just wide.
D.C.’s weaknesses encircle head coach Ben Olsen’s central-midfield pairing of Perry Kitchen and Luis Silva. United States national team striker Eddie Johnson received scant service from the wasteful Espindola and the ineffectual DeLeon and Davy Arnaud. Full-backs Fernandez and Franklin struggled defensively and offered little support going forward, and the nascent relationship between new pairing Boswell and Parke contributed to Toronto’s winning goal.
Bradley picked out an excellent pass to Gilberto that would have been negated had the United central defenders not allowed a 5-yard difference in depth to appear between them. Boswell’s botched remediation simply compounded his initial part in D.C.’s defensive error.
Toronto’s threat subsided after head coach Ryan Nelsen switched Rey to the right wing despite his frequent terrorizing of the unsteady Franklin.
Bradley and Defoe were given too much space to set substitute Dwayne De Rosario through on Hamid’s goal on 76 minutes. An uneven playing surface slowed up the former United captain and allowed Boswell to recover the ground.
Defoe could have capped the afternoon with his second goalscoring double in two games. He raced clear two minutes into injury time as an over-exuberant Toronto fan invaded the far side of the field.
Geoff Hurst famously smashed a shot into the West German net under similar circumstances to settle the 1966 World Cup Final in England’s favor at Wembley Stadium.
Defoe, in keeping with the afternoon, blazed his ugly attempt high and wide.