It should have been a penalty. When C.J. Sapong clattered in Jozy Altidore’s legs in the dying moments of yesterday’s 1-1 draw with the Philadelphia Union, the vast majority of the 26, 455 at BMO Field were expecting to see the referee point to the spot.
Instead, he did the complete opposite, awarding Philadelphia a free kick moments before blowing the final whistle. It ended up being the defining moment of the match, and one that cost Toronto FC a precious pair of home points in the tight race for top spot in the Eastern Conference.
But that was the choice Toronto FC made when they once again came out flat to start the match, lucky to only be trailing by a single goal at halftime. They had several chances in the second half, but for the second straight match were only able to salvage a draw at home.
“We started bad again, we didn’t start well and we let Philly into the game,” said Jozy Altidore after the match. “If we don’t start like that I think we win the game quite easily.”
Toronto was dominated in the first half, and needed some big saves from Clint Irwin, in his first start since going down to injury in June, to keep things close. The home side didn’t even manage a single shot attempt in the first half, compared to seven by the Union.
Despite this being the second straight match Toronto FC has struggled out of the gate, Toronto coach Greg Vanney is not overtly worried. He said that his players were ready to go for this match, they just made early tactic errors.
“You put yourself on the back foot if you do what we did, which is too many [players] working backwards to try and get the ball,” said Vanney. “So we weren’t able to break their lines and get the ball moving forward. So they controlled field position.”
Vanney made some key adjustments in the second half, including changing the positioning of Will Johnson and Benoit Cheyrou in the midfield. When he did this, the game opened up for Toronto.
They were able to find a breakthrough as a result of some inspired play from Jonathan Osorio, Toronto’s man of the match, who found Justin Morrow open in the Union box. Morrow scored his fourth of the season to lead all MLS defenders.
It was all Toronto could muster on the evening, however. Altidore hit the post on a late half-volley before seeing his last gasp penalty shout go unanswered. He believes it was the wrong call, but didn’t elaborate much about it after the match.
“In our league the referees are what they are, they are the best referees in the World so we are very lucky,” said Altidore with a cheeky smile.
But he echoed the same sentiment as everyone else in the dressing room: they shouldn’t have needed a late penalty to get the win.
Toronto did end up finally qualifying for the playoffs last night, but only after a 1-0 win by the New York Red Bulls over the Montreal Impact. That result did Toronto no favours in the Eastern Conference standings, however, as the Red Bulls moved past them into first place.
TFC does still have a game in hand, which they will cash in on Wednesday against Orlando City. It is essentially a must win match if they want to control their destiny in terms of finishing the season at the top of the east.
“If we really want to go after the top of the eastern conference, and maybe even the supporters shield, we have to win the rest of our games,” said Osorio. “The [Orlando match] is crucial to get a W.”
One can only hope they get off to a better start in that match, as Toronto’s failure to wake up early in games is really starting to cost them.