CJ Sapong scores in debut as Toronto FC defeats New York City 1-0

·5 min read

TORONTO — On an evening that started with no small amount of chaos, newly acquired Toronto FC forward C.J. Sapong continued his career-long tradition of making a good first impression.

After kickoff was delayed for 18 minutes Saturday night due to a fire alarm at BMO Field and Toronto lost fullback Raoul Petretta to injury in the warm-up, Toronto and New York City FC played a drab, scoreless opening half before an announced crowd of 21,847.

It took less than a minute into the second half for Sapong to give Toronto a 1-0 lead that stood up the rest of the Major League Soccer match. 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.

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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.

A philosophic Sapong credited his fast starts to the energy and challenge of new surroundings.

"Adversity is something that throughout my life I've learned to kind of just welcome," he said. "I've learned on the other side of those things there's always opportunities for growth.

"There's ebbs and flows in life so I ride the waves when they're at their peaks, knowing there's going to be opposite moments but just soaking in the positive moments as much as possible."

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.

"CJ gives us something a little bit different," said Toronto coach Bob Bradley.

"He's unselfish with his running in the box," he added. "Tonight he got the goal but when you have a striker who runs hard in the box, it often times does a lot to create chances for others. He brings a lot of good qualities."

Kickoff was delayed by the fire alarm 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.

Petretta was a late scratch after not feeling right in warm-up for Toronto with 19-year-old Kobe Franklin making his first MLS start in his place.

Neither team managed to accomplish much in the first half with Toronto spending more time in the New York end but failing to take advantage despite Insigne doing his best to both create chances and threaten himself.

Toronto (2-2-6) is now 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.

"We got a bunch of good performances," said Bob Bradley. "A bunch of guys played well."

It was a palate cleanser after 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).

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.

Toronto outshot New York 11-5 (6-1 in shots on target). Sapong had four of those shots.

Spain's Alonso Coello, in just his third start, led Toronto with 90 touches and was solid in midfield. Insigne was next on the team with 83 touches, digging deep into his bag of tricks on the left flank.

Toronto was once again missing key personnel.

Michael 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