TORONTO – It’s official: Toronto FC has qualified for Major League Soccer’s playoffs. No, honest. For real this time!
A week after the league prematurely declared that the Canadian club clinched, TFC officially booked their spot in the post-season on Saturday with a little help from the New York Red Bulls.
For the second week in a row, TFC came from behind to earn a draw, this time in a 1-1 stalemate against the Philadelphia Union on Saturday evening before 25,455 fans at BMO Field. Justin Morrow’s 70th-minute goal cancelled out a first-half strike by Philly’s Alejandro Bedoya.
A win would have allowed Toronto to secure a post-season berth on its own. The Red Bulls’ 1-0 win at home over the Montreal Impact later on Saturday night put TFC over the top.
As for the Philly game, Toronto coach Greg Vanney bemoaned a late penalty decision on forward Jozy Altidore deep into stoppage that didn’t go the team’s way, but he also admitted his side got off to a laboured start.
“In the first half, everything was just too slow. Too many of [our guys] were too deep in our half trying to pick up the ball at their feet. Once we were able to get forward we didn’t have any numbers… It was too easy for [Philadelphia] defensively,” Vanney stated.
He later added: “The first half cost us the three points today, in terms of our performance. Referee aside, our first half was not good enough.”
TFC’s coach said the team’s mentality changed in the second half, with his players playing a little higher up the field and in between the defensive gaps.
“We were able to really flip the game and become the aggressors. We created far more chances,” Vanney stated.
Top scorer Sebastian Giovinco missed his third straight game for Toronto as he is still recovering from strains to his quadriceps and adductor. He was allowed to return to Italy to consult with his physician. TFC said the Italian will return to training on Monday.
Toronto was also without forward Tosaint Ricketts (groin injury) and fellow Canadian Jay Chapman (MCL tear). Panamanian midfielder Armando Cooper was suspended. Starting goalkeeper Clint Irwin made his first appearance since injuring his hamstring on June 25. Backup Alex Bono started the previous 14 games.
Philly thoroughly dominated the opening 45 minutes, using its speed in transition and quick ball movement to unsettle TFC, whose play was marred by sloppy possession and silly turnovers. Altidore and Jordan Hamilton were isolated up front, with TFC’s midfielders unable to connect and play the ball into the path of their forwards.
The visitors were on the front foot right from the beginning, and it was Bedoya who gave the Union the lead after 25 minutes when he beat Irwin with a sublime chip shot from just inside the penalty area. Irwin made a pair of stellar saves on Fabian Herbers, in the seventh minute and again just before halftime, to give the Reds a lifeline going into the break.
Philly began to defend in numbers in the second half, with forward C.J. Sapong dropping deep in support, leading to Toronto dictating the pace of the game and putting the Union under long sequences of pressure.
TFC’s persistence paid off in the 70th minute when Jonathan Osorio displayed some fancy footwork inside the penalty area before delivering a smart layoff pass for Morrow. The defender took it in full stride and beat Philly goalkeeper Andre Blake with a shot from a tight angle that nestled inside the far post. The goal was Morrow’s fourth of the campaign, and he’s now the team’s third-leading scorer.
Altidore nearly scored a late winner for the Reds when his deft volley off a deflection from teammate Mo Babouli from inside the penalty area beat Blake but smacked against the post.
The American forward was also denied a penalty decision deep into stoppage time when Sapong appeared to bring down Altidore from behind. Not only did Altidore not get the decision, but he was called for the foul, leading TFC’s players to swarm the referee after the final whistle.
“Maybe it’s a penalty; maybe not. At the end of the day, I had a chance to win the game [and] at the same time we put ourselves in that position,” Altidore offered.
He later added quite coyly: “In our league the referees are what they are. They’re the best referees in the world, so we’re very lucky.”
NOTES: This was the second and final regular season meeting between these teams—Toronto won 3-1 in Philadelphia last month… TFC continues its four-game stint at BMO Field with matches against Orlando City (Sept. 28) and D.C. United (Oct. 1). The Reds then travel to Montreal to take on the Impact on Oct. 16, before wrapping up the regular season at home on Oct. 23 vs. the Chicago Fire.
Sportsnet’s Soccer Central podcast (featuring James Sharman, Thomas Dobby, Brendan Dunlop and John Molinaro) takes an in-depth look at the beautiful game and offers timely and thoughtful analysis on the sport’s biggest issues.