Toronto FC's Pablo Piatti dedicates first MLS goal to the team staffer who supported him

No fans, no friends and no family were permitted inside BMO Field on Tuesday night in Pablo Piatti's maiden home match for Toronto FC.

Still, after unleashing a vicious, 30-yard strike that left Thomas Hasal no chance as it barreled into the top right corner, the 31-year-old Argentine was able to find the man he wanted to thank: club massage therapist and acupuncturist Marcelo Casal.

"I wanted to dedicate that goal to Cello," Piatti said, through an interpreter, "because he was one of the ones who welcomed me at the team when I got here. And he was very close to me in a tough moment when I had just come to the team. He was offering me support at the time, and he said I believe in you. You’re going to score for us at some point. So that’s why I celebrated with him."

After the opening goal of Toronto's 3-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps, Piatti raced to the sideline to find Casal, and the men shared a sideline embrace. After Piatti's last 18 months, who could blame him?

Watch: Piatti's brace against Vancouver

He arrived as Toronto's newest Designated Player in February, already a year removed from his previous most-recent competitive goal with Spain's Espanyol. Two weeks after his MLS signing was announced, a hamstring strain ruled him out of the Reds' first two games of 2020. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, halting play just as he was on the recovery path.

It wasn't until July 13 that he finally made his TFC debut, in surroundings at the MLS is Back Tournament no one could've possibly imagined when he first came across the Atlantic.

After all that, he said even an unusually quiet BMO Field on Tuesday night offered him comfort. Perhaps it was the memories of previous appearances there almost a full career ago, with Argentina's contingent at the 2007 FIFA Under-20 World Cup.

"I had great feelings just walking in again," Piatti said of the stadium, which has seen plenty of structural changes since. "It seems a lot different, the kind of stadium and everything around. But the most important thing was to come here today, enjoy, have fun and to make sure we started again with the team and we get (on) the right path."

Piatti ensured the strong start he desired when he added a second goal 10 minutes after halftime, and he was generally an all-around nuisance to Vancouver throughout the evening. To manager Greg Vanney's eye, Piatti's best performance for Toronto so far was as much about his teammates catching up to his pace of thought.

"The speed at which the ball moved all night was the key to everything, you know," Vanney said. "That was part of it for Pablo. He makes those runs a lot of times, and we don’t always find him, and tonight, because of the speed at which the ball was moving ... the timing of all of it was a lot better. And because of it he was more effective."