* Toronto open scoring eight minutes into game
* Houston, Portland record first-leg stalemate (Adds later game)
Oct 30 (Reuters) - Italy striker Sebastian Giovinco’s second half free kick proved the difference as Toronto FC beat the New York Red Bulls 2-1 on the road in the opening leg of the MLS Eastern Conference semi-final on Monday.
The former Juventus forward, who has scored more goals from free kicks than anyone else in the short history of the MLS, displayed his pinpoint precision in the 72nd minute when he curled the ball into the net from 24 yards out.
Toronto opened the scoring in the eighth minute when Spanish midfielder Victor Vazquez slotted home the rebound after Jozy Altidore’s cross had been pushed out to near the penalty spot by New York goalkeeper Luis Robles.
The Red Bulls equalised during stoppage time at the end of the first half courtesy of a Daniel Royer spot kick after Drew Moor had fouled English striker Bradley Wright-Phillips.
Toronto, the top playoff seed, host the second leg on Sunday.
In the night’s other game, Houston Dynamo were forced to settle for a scoreless draw in the first leg of their Western Conference semi-final with Portland Timbers after seeing a penalty kick taken away by video review.
As Dynamo forward Alberth Elis took aim at the Timbers net from about 10 yards out in the 30th minute, he was challenged by defender Larrys Mabiala, who was initially called for a penalty.
But the video assistant referee was consulted and it was determined that Mabiala poked the ball away fairly.
Portland host the second leg on Sunday. (Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Nick Mulvenney/Ian Ransom)