April 8, 2007 Chivas USA beat Toronto FC (from Toronto Star)

New era dawns with loss for FC

Newcomers fall 2-0 to Chivas in MLS opener

Apr 08, 2007 04:30 AM

CARSON, CALIF.–On a cool night in southern California, Toronto's hottest new team felt a cold blast of reality.

Giving up a goal early and another one late in regulation, Toronto FC lost 2-0 to Chivas USA in their first-ever regular season game.

Yesterday's weather didn't match the snowfall that came with the Blue Jays' first pitch – thrown 30 years ago yesterday – but with highs hovering around 16C, Easter weekend was chilly by Los Angeles standards.

But it still couldn't cool the optimism of a Toronto FC team starting its first season with plenty of momentum, fan support and expectations.

Since he was hired in August, head coach Mo Johnston has promised his team would win games this year. Last week, the team finished second in its final pre-season tournament, losing to defending MLS champs Houston Dynamo, but then using a squad full of subs to defeat a New York Red Bulls team that fielded most of its starters.

Throughout the pre-season, however, Johnston said those early results didn't matter, and that real players would play once the lights came up. Last week, he predicted Toronto would leave its game against Chivas USA with at least a tie.

"Would it be nice to get back into Toronto and relax and put our feet up? Of course it would be," Johnston said Friday. "But look, it's a long season. It's not a sprint. It's a marathon. We'll hang in there and we'll get a good enough team that can do something the people in Toronto can be proud of."

Last night the team finally had a chance to back up Johnston's talk, but squandered three scoring chances in the first half.

Ten minutes before halftime Ante Razov, Chivas' leading scorer last season, took a pass from Maykel Galindo and tapped it past goalkeeper Greg Sutton. With two minutes left in the game Sacha Kljestan's shot from 25 yards sailed past Sutton into the lower left corner of the net.

As he celebrated, fans showered the field with confetti.

Toronto's loss came against a team with whom it had a lot in common.

Both teams are coached by former players who starred in Europe before ending their careers in MLS. Johnston and Chivas coach Predrag Radosavljevic – known professionally as Preki – were teammates both with Everton in England, and then with the Kansas City Wizards of the MLS.

Despite their history as teammates, Preki doesn't see his link with Johnston as a subplot to a game where stakes are already high.

"When we were playing I never thought about him being a coach, and I never thought about myself being a coach," said Preki, who made his debut coaching Chivas last night. "For me it's not about going against Mo because he and I will both be on the sidelines."

But there's no doubt that both teams represent Major League Soccer's attempts to tap into new markets.

Now in its third season, Chivas USA is a sister team of the legendary Mexican club Chivas of Guadalajara. MLS commissioner Don Garber told the Star that establishing the Chivas club was a key component of the league's plan to attract Hispanic fans.

When Chivas and MLS first discussed an expansion team in 2004, the league wanted to place the team in San Diego or San Antonio, but Chivas officials persuaded MLS to settle on the Los Angeles area, where over 40 per cent of the residents are of Hispanic descent.

Toronto, meanwhile, is Major League Soccer's only Canadian franchise, and their presence makes MLS the only pro soccer league in the world with teams in more than one country.

[Rocket Robin disputes that last sentence! The New Zealand teams in the Australian league, Monaco in the French league, and as spotted from others on message boards Andorra and Liechenstein and Wales playing in other country's leagues.]

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