Toronto FC left frustrated by VAR in draw with Fire


Sebastian Giovinco (left) in action for TFC. (Chris Young/CP)

• Chicago Fire 2 (Schweinsteiger 69’, Gordon 90’ + 4’), Toronto FC 2 (Osorio 8’, Vazquez 22’)
• TFC stumble in MLS after Champions League final setback
• Michael Bradley calls inconsistent use of VAR ‘a joke’

TORONTO – More heartbreak for Toronto FC in what has been a heartbreaking week for the MLS Cup champions.

Playing on two days’ rest and plagued by injury problems, TFC stormed out to a two-goal lead, but then let it slip away, settling for a 2-2 draw against the Chicago Fire in Major League Soccer action on Saturday afternoon at BMO Field. Former TFC forward Alan Gordon scored deep into injury time for the visitors, denying the Reds the chance to earn their second win of the MLS campaign.

Toronto stormed out of the gate, and appeared to show no ill effects of Wednesday’s heartbreaking shootout loss to Chivas de Guadalajara in the CONCACAF Champions League final. But TFC players looked tired and appeared to be slogging along as the match wore on, and in the end, they couldn’t close things out.

Fatigue wasn’t the issue, according to Toronto coach Greg Vanney. His big problem was with Chicago’s first goal by Bastian Schweinsteiger, which he felt was offside. The play was not reviewed by referee Alan Kelly after he was relayed a message in his earpiece by the video assistant referee (VAR) team upstairs in the booth that he might want to review the play himself. The goal stood, and that changed the momentum of the game, Vanney argued.

“The game was decided by a player [Chicago forward Nemanja Nikolic] who was offside. … [Nikolic] was right next to Schweinsteiger and tried to head the ball, and is in an offside position. [Nikolic] makes a play for the ball [and] is two feet from Schweinsteiger, he’s offside. The referee doesn’t take the time to review it and make a decision on his own, and it’s a goal,” Vanney fumed.

“I think he has to review that. I think [Nikolic] is offside. [The referee] certainly took his time to review our goal [earlier in the game]. It would have been respectful to do the same for us, and he didn’t. As I look back at it, [Nikolic] is offside, at least as everybody that I know of understands the interpretation of the rule.”

Toronto midfielder Michael Bradley was just as frustrated with the use of the VAR system on Saturday.

“Nobody has any idea what VAR is, when it can be used, when it can’t be used. Sometimes it has to be clear and obvious [for a play to be reviewed], other times it doesn’t. Some things are checked, some things aren’t. [Sometimes] checks take five minutes. It’s a joke,” Bradley stated.

“When you watch games from around the league, there’s just no clear understanding of when [VAR] can be used, when it can’t, how is it used, why sometimes it takes five seconds, why sometimes it takes five minutes. It’s hard to understand in a lot of ways.”

At the same time, TFC’s captain also bemoaned his team’s shortcomings in letting a win slip through its hands.

“We should deal better with the end of the game. [It’s] frustrating from that standpoint. It’s a difficult day that gets thrown even more out of whack with the [choppy condition of] field, the VAR. … Having said that, at the end we should know how to close up shop and take our three points,” Bradley said.

With TFC still dealing with a rash of injuries – most notably to defenders Drew Moor, Chris Mavinga and Justin Morrow – Vanney had to tinker with his starting lineup. Bradley partnered Gregory van der Wiel in the centre of defence. Jozy Altidore was out, which meant Sebastian Giovinco played up front alone in Vanney’s 4-1-4-1 formation. Spanish midfielder Ager Aketxe started in central midfield, and there was a second consecutive start for Victor Vazquez, who had been battling back problems for several weeks.

An eventful first half saw Nico Hasler nearly open the scoring in the fourth minute with a cheeky back-heeled attempt.

Vazquez played a sublime ball over the top of Chicago’s defence for Giovinco that he beautifully controlled before scampering down the right flank and centering a pass for Osorio to stab home. The Italian looked to be offside on the pass from Vazquez, but the goal stood. Giovinco looked to have doubled Toronto’s advantage shortly thereafter. This time, though, Kelly correctly overturned it for offside after reviewing it.

Vazquez made it 2-0 on a bit of a broken play. Chicago’s clearance off a corner kick landed at the feet of Bradley, who shanked his shot on goal from distance. Fortunately for the TFC captain, the ball fell fortuitously for Vazquez who expertly controlled it with his chest and beat Chicago Fire goalkeeper Richard Sanchez with a gorgeous chip shot that landed inside the far post.

Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono came up big on three occasions before half time, making a pair of incredible saves on Elliot Collier from in close, and stopping Schweinsteiger’s penalty attempt following another video review by Kelly.

Schweinsteiger redeemed himself when he nodded home off a corner kick to make it a one-goal game in the 69th minute. Nikolic was in an offside position and attempted to head the ball past Bono from inside the six-yard box, but the play wasn’t reviewed by the referee after being alerted by the VAR team.

The home side survived a major scare in injury time when a wild goalmouth sequence saw Bono make a save to deny Gordon, Liam Fraser make a goal-line clearance and a Chicago rebound attempt hit the crossbar.

Toronto’s luck wouldn’t hold out, though, as Gordon scored from in close in the dying seconds to help Chicago salvage a point.

NOTES: Marky Delgado on Saturday become the seventh TFC player in franchise history to appear in 100 games (in all competitions)… The club honoured former midfielder Benoit Cheyrou, who retired after last season, prior to kickoff on Saturday. Also, a moment of silence was observed to honour those who died in the horrible van attack in Toronto earlier this week… TFC returns to MLS action next Friday at home versus the Philadelphia Union…

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