TORONTO — No one should be surprised that Toronto FC's biggest names were the difference-makers as the MLS-leading side dispatched Eastern Conference cellar dweller D.C. United 2-0 at BMO Field on Saturday night.
The mismatch didn't play out exactly as it could have, with a resolute D.C. side providing a stout and sturdy defensive display against a free-flowing home team that took longer to figure things out on the attacking end than it would have liked.
But, after some missteps and chances left wanting, TFC's class shone through, and it did so through the team's highest-paid players.
Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley combined to create the opening goal, with Giovinco later providing his second assist of the night on Jordan Hamilton's insurance marker. It's been rare to see all three of TFC's designated players on the field at the same time so far this season, mostly due to Giovinco's injury woes, but they provided a reminder on Saturday as to why they are so crucial to the best team in the league thus far.
"It's good to have them back out there. The quality obviously shows," TFC head coach Greg Vanney said of his three highest-profile players, adding that it'll take more than one match to get the star trio completely on the same page. "It's been a while since they've been on the field together and it's been a week and change since the group [as a whole] has played a game."
Regardless, it was evident to all watching on Saturday that having Giovinco, Altidore and Bradley firing on all cylinders could only mean good things for the Reds. The forward partnership between Altidore and Giovinco, especially, has been an extremely potent one since both players joined Toronto in 2015 and the 28,627 in attendance got glimpses of their inventiveness and ability to find one another in the attacking third.
"One of our goals this year was to get the two of them linking up more often than they were in previous years," Vanney explained. "I think they both make very good runs ahead of the ball and they're both very capable technically to find each other. And so they trust each other in that way and so they make hard runs [for one another]."
Altidore's 60th-minute goal was the culmination of a number of failed attempts between the American striker and his Italian counterpart, who each looked to find the other but couldn't deliver the final product in the opening hour. Altidore explained that opponents are keying in on his partnership with the 2015 MLS MVP, leading to a relatively smaller output for both players thus far into the season.
"It's harder for us this year in terms of teams playing us tougher, with more numbers at the back," Altidore said. "Teams play us differently than they play each other. It's difficult for us but we're finding ways to still create good chances and score goals, so the signs are positive."
Never was it more evident that TFC's star forwards could still create a bit of magic than on Altidore's goal, which was the result of a sublime pass by Giovinco followed by a difficult finish by the American international.
"I just tried to put myself in a good spot, [and] stay onside," Altidore said. "Seba is... he is what he is. He's the best player in the league and has been since he's been here. So he'll pick you out."