TORONTO - Rookie Tyrese Spicer scored in his first MLS start and substitute Prince Owusu added his first MLS goal to help Toronto FC defeat Atlanta United 2-0 in a chilly matchup of depleted teams Saturday.

Both teams were missing players. Toronto (3-1-1) through injury and Atlanta (2-2-0) through international duty.

And Toronto's roster problems grew as both forward Lorenzo Insigne and defender Shane O'Neill didn't finish the first half.

A groggy-looking O'Neill, who had concussion issues last season, had to be helped off in the 27th minute after taking a knock to the head. And a distraught Insigne hobbled off in first-half stoppage time, trying not to put weight on his right leg, after pulling up in the Atlanta penalty box on what seemed an innocuous play.

At US$15.4 million, Insigne's salary was second only to Lionel Messi's US$20.4 million in MLS last season. And after an injury-interrupted 2023 campaign, the Italian star was off to a fine start this season with both of his goals game-winners that won MLS goal of the week honours.

Toronto, with Luka Gavran continuing to deputize for injured goalkeeper Sean Johnson, collected its fourth shutout in five starts this season. TFC now has 10 points, having collected just 22 in 34 games last year when it finished last in the league at 4-20-10.

It was -1C at kickoff at BMO Field, feeling like minus-8 with a biting wind. On the plus side, the snow that fell Friday had largely disappeared.

The two teams pretty well cancelled each other out until the 35th minute when Spicer, a 23-year-old wingback from Trinidad who was the first overall pick in the 2024 MLS SuperDraft, opened his account.

After a good buildup, Insigne fed Deandre Kerr who teed the ball up for Spicer at the edge of the penalty box. Spicer accelerated and found a space between defenders before firing a low shot that beat a diving Brad Guzan.

Spicer raced toward the Toronto bench, sliding on his knees part of the way before celebrating with coach John Herdman and the TFC substitutes.

Spicer made his debut last week, playing 15 minutes off the bench in a 2-1 loss at New York City FC. And while his time on the field has been short - not helped by a toe injury in pre-season - he has shown signs of good things to come with his pace and guile.

In pink boots, he is difficult to miss.

He becomes the sixth top pick in the MLS draft to score in his first career start. Canadian Cyle Larin also did it in 2015 with Orlando.

Owusu, a 27-year-old German forward making his fifth MLS appearance, knocked in a rebound in the 71st minute after Guzan could not hold onto an Alonso Coello shot. The goal came minutes after substitute Jonathon Osorio hammered a shot off the goalpost.

Guzan made several fine saves late in the game to keep the score down.

Toronto's injury list included Johnson (thigh), defenders Nickseon Gomis (wrist), Richie Laryea (thigh) and Raoul Petretta (thigh), and midfielder Brandon Servania (knee).

Deybi Flores was away with Honduras while Osorio, forced to miss Canada's Copa America qualifier Saturday against Trinidad and Tobago, came on in the 61st minute - proving Herdman right that his injury responded well to treatment.

Insigne captained Toronto with Osorio starting on the bench. Matty Longstaff, formerly of Newcastle, filled in for Flores in the holding midfield role.

Atlanta was missing six players away on international duty including Thiago Almada (Argentina under-23) and Giorgos Giakoumakis (Greece), both designated players. The other with their national teams were Luis Abram (Peru), Ajani Fortune (Trinidad and Tobago), Bartosz Slisz (Poland) and Caleb Wiley (U.S.). Stian Gregersen was injured.

Veteran midfielder Dax McCarty started for Atlanta, making his 498th appearance in MLS counting regular season and the playoffs. Guzan, meanwhile, made his 250th MLS regular-season appearance.

Herdman made two changes with Spicer and Kerr coming in for Flores and Owusu. It was a first start this season for Kerr, who had seen just one minute of action due to a calf injury.

Atlanta had won two straight, defeating visiting Orlando 2-0 and New England 4-1 after losing the season opener 1-0 at Columbus.

Toronto hosts Sporting Kansas City next Saturday.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Match 23, 2024.