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Recap and Highlights: Toronto battle to 2-2 draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps

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It took a little luck, but the Reds come away with a point from their matchup with their Canadian rivals

SOCCER: APR 24 MLS - Vancouver Whitecaps at Toronto FC Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After a result to forget in their opening match of the season, Toronto FC came into the match against the Vancouver Whitecaps looking to steady the ship and set the tone for things to come ahead of the CONCACAF Champions League matchup with Cruz Azul next week.

Chris Armas made two changes two the side that played back-to-back against Leon and Montreal, with Nick DeLeon and Jayden Nelson coming in to add some energy to the attack and to the press. The bench saw the return of key figures Ayo Akinola, Jozy Altidore, and Jonathan Osorio, who are all returning from injury.

Toronto started the match with the majority of possession, pushing forward and asking questions of the Whitecaps’ backline right from the jump. It didn’t take long for that plan to bear fruit, as Luke Singh acted quickly to strike first for the Reds in the 7th minute.

After a quick restart from a free kick, Jayden Nelson caught the Caps defence cold with a great ball into the box from the right wing. Patrick Mullins met the cross with a header and did well to flick the ball to the back post where Omar Gonzalez forced a reaction save out of Crepeau with a point blank header. The ball dropped on the edge of the six-yard box for Luke Singh to come thundering in to put it home for his first senior goal for the club. After a few strong defensive plays early in the match, getting his first career goal is the perfect way to put his last outing well behind him.

The Whitecaps maintained possession for a spell after the goal, threatening Toronto from wider areas. In the 13th, a Caicedo interception in the Toronto half sprung an attack that eventually led to an easy Bono save from a corner, but the Caps were definitely looking to use space and pace against this Toronto backline to find a breakthrough.

In the 17th, Baldisimo looked to spring Caicedo on a quick break on a 1v1 situation against the vastly outpaced Omar Gonzalez, but Gonzalez showed him wide and forced a tame shot that was easy for Bono to save. After the defensive lapses on display last match, the boys at the back looked determined to make those a thing of the past early on.

Vancouver continued to look to catch Toronto stretched and to create spaces int their backline, but their final ball was leaving them wanting, with Alex Bono not being forced into too many difficult saves early.

In the 35th, Bono faced his first big test. After a Luke Singh headed clearance, the ball fell into too much open space at the edge of the Toronto penalty area and Deiber Caicedo jumped on the loose ball, leading to Nick DeLeon fouling him. Off of the resulting free kick, Bono got across to spectacularly claw away Caicedo’s free kick for a corner.

In the 41st minute, Toronto had a claim for a penalty waived away after Lareya was taken down by Andy Rose following a great through-ball from Michael Bradley at the edge of the Vancouver area. After Toronto pleaded their case, match official Jair Marrufo and VAR Ted Unkel were left unconvinced.

Singh and Gonzalez looked very solid throughout the first half, with much more support coming from the midfield two than in the last match- Bradley and Okello doing a great job of shielding their center-backs and taking space away from the Whitecaps attackers through the middle. Toronto looked much better in the first half than in their opening 45 against Montreal. DeLeon and Delgado looked lively and Patrick Mullins looked energetic up front, pressing the Vancouver backline and doing well to bring his teammates into the match with his solid hold-up play. TFC looked like they were in much better control of this match through the midfield and in the wider areas than against Montreal.

To start the second half, Justin Morrow came in for Jayden Nelson. Nelson looked lively in his wing position, but the young Canadian was finding the physicality of the Vancouver defenders a bit much and seemed to have his mind one step ahead of his feet on occasion, not getting the end product he would have liked in the first half.

In the 55th, the ‘Caps were given a lifeline as Richie Laryea bit on a Lucas Cavallini run to take his Canadian international teammate down inside the box. Toronto was caught by a quickly taken free-kick by the Whitecaps and didn’t have the positioning to cope with Cavallini charging into the box and trying to scythe through two defenders. Cristian Dajome stepped up and slotted just past the diving Alex Bono off the inside of the post to tie the match 1-1.

On the hour mark, Armas decided to really shake things up, making a triple-substitution to bring Jozy Altidore, Jacob Shaffelburg and Jonathan Osorio into the match to replace Nick DeLeon, Patrick Mullins and Auro, with Justin Morrow moving to left-back. A big swing for the manager, surely one with an eye towards the upcoming Champions League matches.

As the match wore on, Vancouver looked very much the more likely side to score the next goal and in the 70th minute, they found their moment. After a very cynical foul by Omar Gonzalez, Vancouver were able to take the lead through an Andy Rose header off of an excellent Christian Gutierrez free kick. Rose found himself in space with an easy header at the top of the six-yard box that really should have been defended better by the Reds. Once again they have found themselves conceding from a set-piece yet, something that will surely have Chris Armas pulling his hair out incensed and heading back to the drawing board.

The returns continued in the 78th minute as Ayo Akinola joined Altidore and Osorio in returning to the squad, coming on for Noble Okello, who looked more assured playing in a deeper midfield role than he did as more of a no.10 in previous matches.

In the 82nd minute, Toronto capitalized on a fortuitous defensive mistake by the Whitecaps to level things, as Andy Rose clattered a clearance straight into the face of the unsuspecting Michael Baldisimo. The ball came off the Canadian U-23 midfielder’s face right to the feet of Jonathan Osorio whose point-blank shot could only be parried by Crepeau on its way into the goal. They all count the same in the end, even the ugly ones, and Toronto won’t be asking any questions after that one crossed the line.

The goal seemed to shake Toronto awake as they immediately looked to hit Vancouver again in an attempt to capitalize on the stupor left by conceding in such a fashion and catch the Utah-residents punch-drunk. Jacob Shaffelburg, who had brought energy into the match after his introduction, timed a late run into the box to meet a cross with a Zidane-like volley to force Crepeau into a game saving stop, a chance that would have taken the proverbial roof off of the Exploria Stadium.

Shaffelburg and Akinola looked to inject some life into the otherwise listless Toronto attack in their cameos, with Shaffelburg testing the ‘Caps backline with his pace and movement, but his final ball continued to be an issue for the young winger— something he’ll have to improve upon if he wants to remain a consistent option out wide for Armas going forward.

Late into stoppage time, Alex Bono came up with his own game-saving stop as he was able to stretch to keep the rapid Ryan Raposo from breaking in and making an instant impact after entering the match. For what it’s worth, Bono showed well of himself in this match, despite conceding two. The Reds ‘keeper can hardly be blamed for either of the Vancouver goals, with the penalty just escaping his outstretched hand, and he made some excellent saves to ensure that Toronto left this match with a point.

Things came to a boil after the final whistle after a coming-together of Mark Delgado and Russell Teibert left the Vancouver captain worse for wear, as both teams looked to be letting the lid off of their respective frustrations for not getting more out of the match.

Toronto weren’t at full value today by any means, but with the team coming into this match without a designated player in the starting XI, they’ll know that this result isn’t truly indicative of what’s to come. With Altidore, Akinola and Osorio returning to the lineup today off of the bench and Pozuelo and Soteldo soon to join, TFC will have a much brighter outlook going into future matches.

Toronto will have hoped for more in this one, but can’t be too disappointed with the draw all things considered. With this imminent arrival of Yeferson Soteldo surely providing a spark, Armas’ men will look to harness that energy, build on the return of their key pieces and to tighten up some defensive lapses in the run-up to their first-leg match against Cruz Azul on Tuesday to keep their CONCACAF Champions League campaign rolling along.