TFC running out of time as playoff hopes remain gloomy

Toronto FC midfielder Marco Delgado (18) reacts after being scored on in the first half of MLS soccer action against the NYC FC in Toronto on Sunday, August 12, 2018. (Christopher Katsarov/CP)

• New York City FC 3 (Villa 15’, Tajouri-Shradi 36’, 88’), Toronto FC 2 (Giovinco 27’, Vazquez 51’)
• TFC’s Jozy Altidore red carded in 11th minute
• Reds seven points out of playoffs with 11 games left

TORONTO – Make no mistake, Toronto FC has it all to do in order to make the MLS playoffs, and the reigning league champions are running out of time.

The alarm bells were loudly ringing once again following TFC’s 3-2 loss to New York City FC before 27,935 spectators on a gloriously sunny, summer Sunday evening at BMO Field.

NYCFC’s Ismael Tajouri-Shradi scored a highlight-reel goal late in regulation to sink the Reds, who were forced to play with only 10 men after forward Jozy Altidore was red carded in the 11th minute.

Toronto (6-12-5) remains on the outside looking in when it comes to the post-season picture. Greg Vanney’s side sits seven points and three spots behind the Montreal Impact, who hold the sixth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, with 11 matches remaining in the regular season. Toronto does have two games in hand on Montreal, and still has play the Impact twice. But there has to be genuine concern within the organization as to whether this team can muster up the consistency required to go on a run and secure its place in the post-season.

Captain Michael Bradley described Sunday’s result as a “brutal” setback for a TFC side that was unbeaten in its previous six games in all competitions, pointing out that his team “gave up some soft goals.”

“There’s no doubt about it that at the moment given the way this game went, it’s a tough one to take,” Bradley said.

Vanney lauded his players’ valiant effort in playing shorthanded, while also bemoaning his team’s self-inflicted wounds, which included indiscipline, and defensive and goalkeeping gaffes.

“When you put yourself in a position to play [most of the match] down a man unnecessarily, that’s self-inflicted,” Vanney stated.

Sunday marked the second consecutive game in which TFC had a player red carded. Last week, it was defender Chris Mavinga for shoving Atlanta United’s Leandro Gonzalez Pirez in the face during a fracas that the referee was trying to break up at the end of the game. This time around it was Altidore for petulantly kicking out at NYCFC defender Alexander Callens.

“It’s a concern for me generally when guys are getting caught up in things that don’t matter, because we don’t have time for things that don’t matter. We have to get points, we have to get results, [and] that’s about discipline,” Vanney offered.

“These things are so irrelevant in our mission to get ourselves back into the playoffs. … It’s unnecessary and all it does it undo our ability to take steps forward.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Bradley.

“When you play big games, when you play against good teams you can’t afford too many [acts of indiscipline]. Not just in the last week or two, but when you look at the season as a whole, we’ve killed ourselves in too many moments,” Bradley stated.

Bradley admitted Altidore deserved to see red, but he also felt Callens fouled him a few seconds before the tackle that led to his teammate’s expulsion.

“It’s a red card. The way things work these days, with three or four referees and VAR, that’s going to be a red card 10 out of 10 times. But for me the bigger issue is that it’s a foul [a few seconds] beforehand. The referee’s ability to manage the game, to manage some of these situations isn’t good enough,” Bradley opined.

Altidore was not in the locker-room after the game to speak to reporters.

TFC was missing Mavinga (suspension) and Brazilian full-back Auro Jr (hamstring strain). Vanney confirmed that Auro is expected to be out for a few weeks after suffering the injury in last Wednesday’s 2-2 road draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Veteran centre-back Drew Moor, out since April with a quad tear and calf issue, started on the bench, and entered the game as a second-half substitute. Newcomer Jon Bakero also came on as a late sub in making his TFC debut.

Toronto started brightly by putting New York under pressure with some pressing attacking play, but things immediately unravelled for the home side when Altidore was red carded for kicking Callens. It was a foul committed out of frustration by Altidore, who immediately jogged off the pitch when he was shown the red card. No arguments or complaints – he knew he deserved to be sent off.

Four minutes later, the visitors took the lead through David Villa as the former Barcelona star collected a deflected ball inside Toronto’s box, rounded defender Eriq Zavaleta and then beat goalkeeper Alex Bono with a low shot. It was the Spaniard’s eighth goal in eight regular season games against Toronto.

Undeterred, the home side levelled through Sebastian Giovinco, with the Italian firing into the far corner from an angle after some lovely setup play by Bradley and Victor Vazquez, and a defensive miscue by Callens.

New York regained the advantage when Tajouri-Shradi took a feed from Villa and then breezed by Toronto’s Marky Delgado, who jumped out of the tackle, and hit a shot from 20 yards out that slipped under Bono. It was a save the TFC goalkeeper should have made, but Delgado was just as much at fault for his lackadasical attempt to stop the New York midfielder.

“The second goal they had was nonsense. We lose a challenge at the top of the [box] and Bono should save that one,” Vanney stated.

Bono said he was partly screened at the top of the penalty area, and that he didn’t see the ball until late.

“I didn’t quite read it right,” Bono admitted.

TFC tied things up soon after the restart. Canadian Jonathan Osorio played a dangerous cross to the back post where Delgado headed it toward Vazquez. The Spaniard showed great bravery in heading it home as NYCFC defender Ronald Matarrita’s foot was high as he attempted to clear the ball.

Fatigue caught up with Toronto as the half wore on, as sloppy giveaways and harried defending became the order of the day. Tajouri-Shradi pounced on a nonchalant clearance by Toronto defender Nick Hagglund, blasting a laser beam of a shot from 22 yards out that whipped by Bono.

NOTES: TFC returns to action on Wednesday when they host the Vancouver Whitecaps in the second leg of the Canadian Championship final. The Reds then travel out west to face the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday in MLS play…


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