TORONTO — Hector Villalba scored twice and Atlanta United survived being a man down for the last 15 minutes to tie Toronto FC 2-2 in MLS play Saturday night.
Toronto (1-0-4) remains unbeaten this season but may rue the defensive lapses that led to the Atlanta goals before 26,812 on a pleasant event at BMO Field. Expansion side Atlanta (2-1-2) extended its unbeaten run to four games.
Down 1-0 after 15 minutes, Toronto pulled ahead 2-1 but gave up the tying goal two minutes into the second half.
Sebastian Giovinco and Justin Morrow scored for Toronto. Spanish playmaker Victor Vazquez had two assists as his influence continued to grow on the Toronto attack.
Giovinco, who had been blanked in his three previous games this season, was lively all night and could have had four goals in the first half alone. He almost found Jozy Altidore for the winning goal in the dying minutes but the burly forward couldn't get a foot to the ball.
Miguel Almiron, a 23-year-old Paraguayan midfielder, looked impressive in pulling the strings for the visitors.
There could have been more goals in a wide-open game between two teams who were both coming off posting back-to-back shutouts.
Atlanta's Yamil Asad was sent off in the 75th minute after referee David Gantar ruled that he used an elbow to floor Eriq Zavaleta. Replays seemed to suggest that Asad was just trying to get past the Toronto defender.
Atlanta assistant coach Jorge Theiler was also ejected in the ensuing kerfuffle.
Toronto came into the match as one of three unbeaten teams in the league, along with FC Dallas and Sporting Kansas City.
Atlanta, meanwhile, arrived looking like anything an expansion team with a prolific offence and stingy defence. The visitors were without top scorer Josef Martinez (left quad injury) but still looked dangerous.
It was an end-to-end first half with both teams guilty of glaring turnovers that made for instant offence.
Atlanta gave the ball away cheaply early and almost paid for it in the fifth minute. But Giovinco, who stole the ball to trigger the attack, fired a rebound high after Atlanta 'keeper Alec Kann clawed an Altidore header away.
The visitors went ahead in the 15th minute when Almiron unlocked the Toronto defence with a marvellous through ball that left centre back Chris Mavinga, who was making his first TFC start, chasing Villalba. The Argentina forward then hammered a shot through Alex Bono for a goal the Toronto 'keeper will likely want back.
TFC had not been scored on for 212 minutes.
Giovinco opened his 2017 account in the 20th minute after a poor Atlanta clearance went straight to Armando Cooper. Vazquez then sent the ball to Altidore, whose cheeky flick found Giovinco in close and the Italian made no mistake.
That ended Atlanta's run of not conceding a goal at 260 minutes.
Giovinco could have had another goal in the 24th minute but Kann made the save and Vazquez fell down as the rebound headed his way. Altidore had another chance five minutes later but Kann just got a hand to his attempted chip.
Giovinco dipped into his bag of tricks in the 36th minute, but his angled chip went just high.
A play in the 43rd minute typified the half. Vazquez found Giovinco deep with a fine ball and the Italian sent a pass through the legs of a defender. Steven Beitashour made a dummy run allowing the ball to reach Altidore, whose shot flew high.
A minute later, Vazquez's delayed pass went to Beitashour, whose cross found fellow fullback Morrow in the six-yard box with Morrow dragging his foot back to direct the ball in.
Villalba tied it up in the 47th minute after a 50-yard pass from centre back Leandro Gonzalez Pirez found him behind the defence again with Mavinga chasing. Villalba slid the ball between Bono's legs to complete the play.
Toronto coach Greg Vanney had seen enough, replacing Mavinga with Nick Hagglund three minutes later.
Bono made a fine save in the 69th minute to push away an Almiron blast destined for the top corner.
Altidore and Morrow returned to Toronto's starting lineup with Mavinga, Cooper and Bono coming in for Hagglund, Jonathan Osorio and the injured Clint Irwin.
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter