CJ Sapong scores in debut as Toronto FC defeats New York City 1-0
TORONTO — Newly acquired forward C.J. Sapong, continuing a career-long trend of making his mark on debut, scored early in the second half to give Toronto FC a 1-0 victory over New York City FC on Saturday in MLS play.
After a drab opening 45 minutes, it took less than a minute into the second half for Sapong to put TFC ahead. The ball went to Richie Laryea six passes from the kickoff and the fullback outraced Kevin O'Toole before sending over a low cross through defenders that Sapong tapped in before NYCFC captain James Sands could corral him.
It marked Sapong's 89th regular-season goal and his first since last May. The 13-year veteran has now scored in his first starts for Sporting Kansas City, Chicago, Nashville and Toronto.
His first goal for Nashville came in a start that followed three substitute appearances. But the opening goals for Sporting Kansas City, Chicago and Toronto came in his first outing for the teams.
Sapong becomes the sixth player in MLS history to score on debut for at least three different teams, joining Roy Lassiter, Ante Razov, Kenny Cooper, Kei Kamara and Christian Ramírez.
It was a cool damp evening at BMO Field after a day of on-and-off rain.
Kickoff was delayed by a fire alarm at the stadium with referee Armando Villarreal sending the players back to the locker-rooms after a period of waiting on the field. The pre-game fireworks at the stadium seemed more intense than usual, leaving a heavy bank of smoke above the field.
The game, originally scheduled to start at 7:39 p.m. ET, eventually kicked off at 7:57 p.m.
Italian star Lorenzo Insigne, a former Napoli skipper, captained Toronto in the absence of the injured Michel Bradley and Jonathan Osorio. Sapong started up front between Insigne and fellow Italian Federico Bernardeschi.
Fullback Raoul Petretta was a late scratch for Toronto with 19-year-old Kobe Franklin making his first MLS start in his place.
Neither team managed to accomplish much in a scoreless first half with Toronto spending more time in the New York end but failing to threaten despite Insigne dipping into his bag of tricks, from a backheel in the penalty box to feeding teammates.
Toronto (2-2-6) was looking to forget a lopsided 4-2 loss last Saturday at Philadelphia that saw the Union build a 4-0 lead before taking its foot off the gas. That defeat ended a run of four straight draws and a seven-game unbeaten streak (1-0-6) for TFC, which came into Saturday's game winless in five (0-1-4).
TFC is unbeaten in five matches at home (2-0-3) this season and has lost just two of its last 12 games (4-2-6) at BMO Field.
New York (4-3-3) was coming off a 3-1 home victory over FC Dallas. NYCFC arrived north of the border unbeaten in four games (2-0-2) and had lost just once in its previous eight outings (4-1-3) since a season-opening 2-0 loss at Nashville.
But while NYCFC is 4-0-1 at home, it has yet to win on the road in league play this season (0-2-3).
NYCFC was 6-8-3 away from home in league play last year when it finished third in the Eastern Conference, 21 points above 13th-place Toronto.
The game was Toronto goalkeeper Sean Johnson's first against the team he used to captain. The 33-year-old Johnson, who joined TFC as a free agent in January, made 206 appearances in all competitions for NYCFC, logging 18,660 minutes and recording 60 clean sheets over five seasons.
Luis Barraza, Johnson's former understudy, started for NYCFC.
Johnson had little to do in a first half spent mostly in New York territory.
Sapong tested Barraza in the eighth minute after an accurate feed from Insigne. The NYCFC goalkeeper stopped Insigne four minutes later on a play ruled offside. Insigne set up Mark-Anthony Kaye in the 29th but his shot went straight at Barraza.
Sapong, off an Insigne feed, blasted a shot from in-close just off-target in the 35th minute after a 17-pass Toronto buildup. Johnson was finally called into action in the 40th, diving to stop a Matias Pellegrini shot.
Insigne forced another save from Barraza soon after Sapong's goal as the NYCFC defence wobbled.
Toronto was once again missing key personnel.
Bradley missed his third straight game with a lower leg injury. Osorio injured his knee in training Thursday, suffering a strained medial collateral ligament while Vazquez has gone to his native Spain to have a specialist check out a foot problem. Fullback Cristian Gutierrez (non-COVID illness) was also absent.
Centre back Matt Hedges returned from a two-game absence after going through concussion protocols. Veteran forward Adama Diomande, who has been out since March 4 with a hamstring issue, came off the bench in stoppage time.
Toronto hosts the New England Revolution next Saturday.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2023.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press