TORONTO – One teammate had been forced from the game after getting punched in the face, and another was taken to a local hospital with a cut to the bone in his leg.
Dwayne De Rosario was one of the lucky ones, in comparison, escaping with two fingernail-sized bandages on his cheek after leading Toronto FC to a rowdy win at home.
“These games are going to be physical,” he shrugged. “These games are going to be demanding.”
De Rosario scored the decisive opening goal in a 2-0 victory over the Montreal Impact on Wednesday night at BMO Field, as Toronto opened its defence of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship. It was a confrontational game, featuring four yellow cards and a dismissal in the first half, on top of the serious injury suffered by Toronto defender Ty Harden.
Harden was taken to hospital after suffering a cut to his leg, a gash one team official said had gone “down to the bone.” He was reportedly given 22 stitches, with Toronto coach Predrag (Preki) Radosavlijevic telling reporters “the word is he might be out for a while” after he was raked with a cleat during the scramble that led to Toronto’s first goal.
De Rosario scored that goal in the 12th minute, and Chad Barrett cemented the outcome with an insurance marker in the 61st, while Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei finished with three saves. Toronto won the event – a three-team round-robin tournament which also includes the Vancouver Whitecaps – with a 6-1 victory in Montreal last year.
“We started the game pretty decent,” Preki said. “And then we got a goal, and the injury, the red card, all kinds of things were happening in the game. We kind of lost our rhythm. I thought we were a little bit casual and, for whatever reason, we started playing scared and negative – and I was very happy to get inside the locker-room with a 1-0 (lead at halftime).”
Winning the Canadian championship last year was a rare reward for Toronto fans, whose devotion to the team has survived only sporadic on-field success. The only Canadian-based team in Major League Soccer has never qualified for the playoffs, becoming the second franchise in league history to miss the post-season in each of its first three seasons of existence.
There have been signs of increasing anxiety and dissatisfaction within the passionate fan base, evidenced again Wednesday night by the empty seats among the announced crowd of 21,436 at BMO Field. General manager Mo Johnston has become one of the regular targets, with the bulls-eye on his back receiving a fresh coat of paint when former Toronto coach Chris Cummins made a series of unflattering accusations in a recent television interview.
And despite its place in the lower-tier United States Soccer Federation Division 2, there was no way the Impact could have been taken lightly. Montreal won the Canadian title in its inaugural run, two years ago, but went 0-4 in the tournament last year.
De Rosario gave Toronto a 1-0 lead on Wednesday, burying a loose ball found in the box at the end of a corner. It extended the 31-year-old’s scorching pace to open the season, giving him six goals in as many games, but it came at a cost.
Harden ended up at the bottom of a pile involving Montreal goalkeeper Matt Jordan, and he took a seat on the turf after making it back across the midfield stripe after the goal. A stretcher was summoned, and then quickly dismissed, with officials taking Harden off the field inside a motorized cart with the deep cut in his leg.
The game threatened to spiral out of control after the departure, with referee Paul Ward pulling the yellow card out of his pocket three times in one 10-minute stretch. He issued two to Toronto – one each to Sam Cronin (23rd minute) and Julian de Guzman (34th) – and another to Impact captain Nevio Pizzolitto (24th).
Montreal forward Roberto Brown elevated the stakes in the 35th minute, graduating from simple clutching and grabbing to outright pugilism. After a skirmish in the Toronto box, Brown appeared to punch Toronto defender Nick Garcia.
Brown was issued a red card. Garcia was helped to the dressing room, with the team later saying he would be fine.
And in between all of that, Toronto and Montreal managed to play a little soccer.
Frei made a key stop on forward Peter Byers in the 33rd minute, and made another stellar stop at the end of a blistering free kick from 25 yards just moments before halftime.
The home side doubled its lead early in the second half, when De Rosario slid a little pass to Barrett on the side of the box. Barrett froze a pair of Montreal defenders as he worked his way back toward the middle, firing into the net.
“I think the fans came to see a soccer match and not a boxing match,” Barrett said. “Whatever, they got both.”