2018 Major League Soccer, Regular Season
  • Federico Higuaín (44')
  • Gyasi Zardes (46')

Columbus Crew SC stuns Toronto FC in MLS opener

Toronto FC 0-2 Columbus: Champs stumble in opener - Via MLS (2:01)

Columbus Crew SC got the better of Toronto FC in the first MLS match of 2018, handing the reigning champions a surprising home defeat. (2:01)

MLS champion Toronto FC began its title defense with a surprise 2-0 defeat at home to Columbus Crew SC in the opening game of the season on Saturday.

Federico Higuain opened the scoring a minute before halftime and Gyasi Zardes added a second just after the break to lift Crew SC to three points in what could be its final season in Columbus.

Toronto FC, which only lost once at home in the regular season last year, saw both Sebastian Giovinco and new signing Ager Aketxe strike the woodwork, but could not find the net.

After an offseason full of uncertainty as its ownership explores a possible relocation to Austin, Texas, Crew SC took the lead in the 44th minute when Higuain slammed in a cross from Milton Valenzuela.

And it got worse for the champions less than a minute into the second half as Zardes slotted home an inch-perfect through pass from Pedro Santos for a goal on his Columbus debut following a trade from the LA Galaxy.

Giovinco curled a shot off the post in the 65th minute, and Jozy Altidore scuffed his chance when the rebound came back into the six-yard box.

Aketxe, playing in his first MLS game since signing from La Liga's Athletic Bilbao last week, then rattled a shot from distance off the crossbar in the 78th minute, and Altidore later slipped another opportunity inches wide of the post.

"Our shape was good, I think some of their chances were off some errors we made, but overall they didn't really break us down," Crew coach Gregg Berhalter told the club's website. "They didn't really give us too many problems. We had good defensive shape and maintained proper spacing that made it difficult for them to play between us."

Toronto's setback comes between key games in the CONCACAF Champions League. The Reds saw off the Colorado Rapids in a goalless draw on Tuesday and will host Mexican champions Tigres in the quarterfinals next Wednesday.

Toronto coach Greg Vanney said he wasn't overly disappointed with the result as he expected his side to learn from the defeat.

"I think each of these games is important for us as far as gaining information about our group as we go into the Tigres series," Vanney said. "It's important for each of our guys to get these minutes, to try to get these relationships together, to sharpen up."

Giovinco noted that there's a long season still ahead, saying: "I think it's better when this problem came in the first game than the last, no? So we have to change mentality from the next game."