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Ricketts salvages a draw as Toronto FC’s bye hopes hang by a thread

Ignacio Piatti was again the Reds’ tormentor in Montreal but they avoided a second-straight defeat.

MLS: Toronto FC at Montreal Impact Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

A late goal from Tosaint Ricketts salvaged a 2-2 draw for Toronto FC against the Montreal Impact but they remain at a disadvantage in the race for a first-round bye in the MLS playoffs. The Reds missed a golden opportunity to overtake New York City FC, who lost 3-1 to D.C. United, on Sunday and are one point behind Patrick Vieira’s team going into the final weekend of the regular season.

The tie at Stade Saputo leaves the Reds winless in their past five games, though they have only been beaten once. Montreal can no longer catch up with Toronto but neither can Greg Vanney’s men haul in the New York Red Bulls following their 3-2 win against the Columbus Crew.

Just as was the case in August at BMO Field, Ignacio Piatti was a huge thorn in Toronto’s side. The winger opened the scoring by firing a quite brilliant 20-yard shot across Clint Irwin from his station on the left-hand side and then restored the hosts’ lead from the penalty spot after Justin Morrow had fouled Matteo Mancuso. Morrow, who was otherwise Toronto’s best player, crossed for Jozy Altidore to equalize shortly after half-time and Altidore was involved again, chesting the ball down in the box, for Ricketts to draw his team level for a second time in dramatic fashion late on.

MLS: Toronto FC at Montreal Impact Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Pre-match, the biggest news concerned the absence of Didier Drogba, who reportedly left Stade Saputo after learning he would not be in Montreal’s starting XI. Toronto, on the other hand, were boosted by Sebastian Giovinco’s return to the starting XI after injury.

Attacking excitement certainly was not in short supply despite Drogba’s absence. Armando Cooper was active at both ends in the opening stages, curling a shot narrowly over the crossbar before dashing back to block Mancuso’s goal-bound shot after Piatti had wriggled past Steven Beitashour.

Toronto then had two golden opportunities to take the lead. First, after good work from Marky Delgado, Jonathan Osorio released Jozy Altidore down the right-hand side. His low pass across goal found Morrow, but Evan Bush dropped down to his left to deny the full-back’s sidefooted effort from point-blank range.

MLS: Toronto FC at Montreal Impact Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Bush could do nothing but watch, however, when Cooper danced past two Montreal players into the penalty area only to slide a left-footed shot against the post.

Predictably, Greg Vanney’s side was made to pay moments later. Marco Donadel was consistently Piatti’s main supply line with his long passes from central midfield, and Piatti wonderfully flicked one such ball past Delgado before whipping a shot past Irwin.

Another Morrow raid down the left gave Osorio the chance to equalize from 12 yards, but the midfielder shot straight at Bush and at the other end, Toronto were reeling.

Their closest shave came when Hassoun Camara charged forward from right-back and slipped in Mancuso. He quickly cut the ball back into Piatti to pull the trigger in the centre of the box but Beitashour got his body in the way of the ball to deny a certain goal.

MLS: Toronto FC at Montreal Impact Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Giovinco had been bright in spells, hitting the top corner of the frame of the goal with one free-kick, but it was Altidore who drew Toronto level early in the second half. Morrow was given too much space on the left and supplied an inch-perfect cross that dropped behind Laurent Ciman for the American striker to bundle over the line.

The visitors’ relief, however, was short-lived. Less than five minutes later, Michael Bradley aimlessly wandered into the Montreal half with the ball and was tackled, launching a counter-attack. Mancuso drove into the Toronto box and was clipped from behind by Morrow, and though his fall to the ground was theatric there was certainly contact. Piatti beat Irwin low to the goalkeeper’s left.

That left Toronto back in the position they do not enjoy of chasing the game, but Giovinco drew another fine save from Bush with a shot similar to Piatti’s first goal. The Italian then tested Bush again with his left foot and when Ambroise Oyongo produced a miraculous flying block to prevent substitute Tsubasa Endoh from firing the rebound into the empty net, it seemed it would not be Toronto’s day.

If there is one thing Vanney’s team can be credited for during their most testing run of form of the season, however, it is that they do not give up easily. With both Endoh and Ricketts thrown on into the attack, Giovinco crossed from the left, Altidore did enough to bring the ball down and Ricketts crashed a shot past Bush to ensure the Reds did not return home empty handed.