Toronto FC opens Champions League quest with win over Colorado

Sebastian Giovinco scores once and sets up another to give Reds the early advantage heading into next week’s second leg at BMO Field.

You know it’s cold when Nick Hagglund wears a long-sleeved jersey.

The Toronto FC defender has never particularly minded frigid temperatures, typically favouring a short-sleeved top over bundling up during games.

But in dressing for the coldest match ever played between two Major League Soccer teams — it was minus-13 C in Denver when the MLS champion Reds kicked off against the Colorado Rapids on Tuesday night in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions’ League’s round of 16 — Hagglund chose the extra layer as Toronto put up a 2-0 victory in its first competitive match of the year.

The heat is now on Colorado, which would need to score three unanswered goals in the return leg at BMO Field next Tuesday to advance to the quarter-finals in early March.

The Rapids, a team still searching for its identity as it tries to familiarize itself with a new coach, new faces and a new system, showed flickers of potential in attack, even coming out of the first 45 minutes with the best chance of the half. But goalkeeper Alex Bono picked up right where he left off last season, a mere two months ago, by shutting down Dominique Badji with a diving save after the striker was played in behind Michael Bradley and Drew Moor.

It was a flashy moment for the home team but came against the run of play in the goalless first half. Toronto continued to control the game after the break, nixing the deadlock on a Jonathan Osorio marker in the 55th minute. The Canadian midfielder jumped well to meet a perfectly weighted cross from striker Sebastian Giovinco, nodding the ball past veteran Rapids ’keeper Tim Howard, who found himself in no man’s land on the play.

Giovinco turned from provider to scorer nearly 20 minutes later. The Italian, standing by the penalty spot in Colorado’s box, latched on to a ball cut back from Reds debutant Auro at the byline, half-volleying it into the back of the net to secure the lead.

Auro played 78 minutes in his first match for TFC, starting at right back in the four-diamond-two formation employed by coach Greg Vanney. The 22-year-old Brazilian impressed in the role, offering a threat in attack and a touch for delivery up front that Toronto hasn’t typically provided from its right side as much as its left.

The two-goal cushion gives Vanney the option to look to change things up in the home leg next week. The Reds open the year with a demanding schedule that sees them play three games in their first 12 days of competition. The coach has already said he could shift personnel in and out of the team over the first 10 weeks of the season, when Toronto could play as many as 16 games depending on how far it advances in the knockout tournament.

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