Soolsma lifts Toronto FC over Whitecaps

Nick Soolsma's 54th-minute penalty gave Toronto FC a much-needed 1-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps in an MLS battle of the basement Wednesday.

Two new designated players and three points. Quite a day for Toronto FC.

"The points are important," Toronto coach Aron Winter said in the wake of Wednesday's 1-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps.

"The way we played was not good, but it's important at this moment to get the points."

Thanks to Nick Soolsma's 54th-minute penalty, Toronto (3-7-9) snapped a nine game MLS winless streak that stretched back to May 7.

"It's been a while for us," said goalkeeper Stefan Frei, "so it feels very good. A very good day overall for TFC, I think."

Toronto came into the game buoyed by the big-name signings of German midfielder Torsten Frings and Dutch striker Danny Koevermans.

"I'm very, very excited," said Frei. "The main reason being that the two guys are great players. Danny and Torsten are very, very experienced.

"And I think maybe that's what's been lacking with our team a bit, I think our average age before was maybe 24, 25ish. They bring the experience and the leadership. If you look at Torsten, he's been the captain of some big big teams. It's exactly what we need."

The two designated players were paraded out before the game, receiving a polite reception given that many fans had yet to take their seats. They are not eligible to start their MLS careers until July 20 against FC Dallas, after the league's transfer window opens.

While the stars watched, two of the league's worst teams went to work on a glorious night on Toronto's lakefront before a crowd of 19,816.

Vancouver offered some steady buildup but had nothing to show for it.

"Our possession was much better but not in the final third [of the field]," said Vancouver coach Tom Soehn. "I thought in the final third, we lacked some creativity. There were plenty of times we could have served the ball and got into the mix where good things happen.

"While you feel like it's improving in some areas, the most important area we're not improving is getting results."

Vancouver (2-8-8) added some teeth on offence in the second half in the form of striker Eric Hassli, who started on the bench.

The two teams meet at BMO Field again Saturday in a replay of the rain-delayed second game of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship final. The opening leg finished in a 1-1 tie.

In 35 combined games prior to Wednesday night, the two Canadian teams only had four wins -- and one of those was Vancouver's 4-2 victory over Toronto in the season opener out west.

Toronto had a league-worst 16 goals in 18 games, while Vancouver had 18 goals in 17 outings.

Perhaps indicative of the two team's lacklustre attacks, Soolsma had to take the penalty twice for it to count. The first — successful — attempt was negated because a Toronto FC player entered the penalty box too early. Soolsma calmly went back to the spot and knocked it in the other side past Whitecaps goalkeeper Jay Nolly.

In truth, it seemed a generous call. Soolsma ran down the right side of the penalty area and went down on seemingly minimal contact from defender Greg Janicki.

Soehn was reluctant to comment before seeing a replay.

"My first impressions were it was a bit soft," he said. "Regardless, it was called."

After a dismal first half, the game began to bubble with the introduction of Hassli.

The tattooed Frenchman immediately showed some flair, trying a backheel off a scramble in the Toronto goalmouth following a corner.

It was a rare moment of offence, but the game continued to take off with the penalty finally producing a goal.

It was often end-to-end stuff after that, with Jay Nolly making a diving save in the 70th minute off a swerving, side-footed shot from Toronto's Javier Martina.

Both teams managed two shots in the first half. None were on target.

Each team had six shots in the second half, managing two apiece on goal.

Vancouver is still looking for a first victory away from Empire Field. Toronto is also winless on the road.