With the temperature on the field reaching a reported temperature of 102 degrees, Toronto FC didn't wilt, holding off the Los Angeles Galaxy before coming away with a 3-2 victory in a back-and-forth duel Sunday afternoon at The Home Depot Center.
Jeff Cunningham was the hero, scoring in the 88th minute to give the Canadian side their first victory on the season. TFC twice took leads, through a goal late in the first half from Danny Dichio and one early in the second from Jarrod Smith, but Landon Donovan immediately answered to bring the Galaxy level on each occasion.
Toronto FC didn't waste time giving Amado Guevara a chance to make a difference in the fortunes of the club. Guevara was in the squad's starting lineup despite having participated in only a single practice.
The Honduran was active in the early going for his new squad, making runs and chasing the ball, but his teammates had trouble delivering the ball to their new midfielder. For the most part, they were kept busy trying to weather the barrage from the Galaxy.
Toronto escaped imminent danger when first Ely Allen, then Alan Gordon whiffed on an excellent cross from David Beckham in the eighth minute. Donovan was on the end of a Beckham service in the 10th minute, but TFC 'keeper Greg Sutton stood his ground well and parried the attempt over the goal.
Despite conceding the majority of the possession to Los Angeles, Toronto's high line kept the Galaxy pushed back in the midfield, relying on the long balls behind the defense.
The heat was another factor in the match and many assumed that the Canadians would be the ones to suffer most from the elements.
On the counter, Toronto had a precious few chances. Guevara nearly had a stolen play in the 14th minute, when Galaxy 'keeper Steve Cronin tackled the ball away from him in the box. However, the young netminder grabbed the rebound before Guevara could reach the ball.
Toronto next withstood a corner kick, then a free kick by Beckham that went wide.
Sutton continued to be the hero for Toronto when Donovan broke free in the 27th minute, courtesy of a Beckham pass behind the defense. With three chasing defenders closing down the lanes, Sutton came out aggressively and saved the low shot.
Speedy Marvell Wynne helped earn TFC's first corner in the 32nd minute. Laurent Robert, another recent signing, served the ball expertly into the box, but Maurice Edu's header attempt was wide of the mark. Jim Brennan's attempt a minute later was also wide.
Sutton was left helpless in the 39th minute, when Donovan split the defenders and closed in one-on-one with the goalkeeper in the box. This time, Donovan successfully rounded Sutton, but his shot toward the open goal went wide of the target.
Improbably, TFC were still level and then finally not only got an attack going forward, but also scored a goal. In the 42nd minute, Dichio ran onto a Guevara pass in the box that Greg Vanney failed to clear. Dichio didn't waste the opportunity, finishing clinically past Cronin.
Yet Toronto's first lead of the season lasted barely a minute. Donovan leveled things, taking a pass from Chris Klein, juking his defender and striking a hard, low shot that bested Sutton.
Toronto was again under siege early in the second half, but Beckham's 48th-minute free kick went into the wall of TFC players.
As every Galaxy attempt to score was thwarted or went awry, TFC gained greater confidence. When Vanney fouled Edu about 40 yards from goal, Robert aimed the free kick straight at goal. Cronin dived successfully to block the service, but Smith would not be denied on the rebound, heading it successfully into the net before Cronin could get off the ground.
The Galaxy struck back again, this time within five minutes. As center back Marco Velez attempted to cut off a Beckham cross into the box, he lost his balance and fell on the ball, perhaps inadvertently trapping the ball under his arm. Referee Alex Prus immediately pointed to the spot, and Donovan stepped up and slotted the ball to Sutton's left for the second equalizer.
Velez nearly made up for his gaffe a minute later, sending a header on goal that a backpedaling Cronin barely tipped wide. Toronto then came close to taking the lead again in the 71st minute, when Edu put his header over the bar.
The heat continued to take a toll, with the pace of the match slowing down except for a few intermittent bursts. Though they had more attacks of their own than in the first half, Toronto's savior continued to be their goalkeeper. Sutton saved another Donovan attempt in the 75th minute, denying the Galaxy striker a close-range header.
With the Galaxy pushing forward for the game winner, Toronto played the ideal counterattack to substitute Cunningham in the 88th minute. A long outlet pass from Robert found Cunningham, who fought off the mark of Vanney to break in alone on goal, where he tucked the ball into the corner of the net for his 97th career MLS goal.
Sutton faced one final threat from Edson Buddle as the Galaxy tried one last time to rally, but the shot went wide and Toronto escaped with the win.
Andrea Canales is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.