Toronto FC II was knocked out of MLS NEXT Pro Cup contention on Sunday evening, losing 4-3 in extra time on the road to Columbus Crew 2.
In a match that seemed to have it all, Toronto FC II fell just short of a spectacular result away to the best regular season team in the league.
After Themi Antonoglou levelled the match at 2-2 in the 93rd minute and scored from half in the extra frame, it seemed as though Toronto would come out of the Ohio capital with a massive win. Columbus never gave up though, scoring in the 109th and Coleman Gannon’s last gasp winner pushing his team through to the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro Cup.
Columbus Crew 2 got the scoring underway midway through the first half when former Toronto FC man Ryan Telfer crossed it to Noah Fuson, who got on the wrong side of the defending Antony Curic and tapped it in.
MLS NEXT Pro golden boot winner Jacen Russell-Rowe almost made it 2-0 just minutes later, but struck a shot off the crossbar. The TFC academy product was held scoreless in the fixture and subbed out in the 69th minute after featuring for Columbus’ senior team on Saturday.
The home side dominated proceedings in the first half, not allowing a shot on goal in the first 45 minutes.
Toronto head coach Gianni Cimini decided to make an attack-minded move following the break, switching out defender Adam Pearlman for midfielder Steffen Yeates.
TFC II came out of halftime hoping to up the pressure on Columbus and the plan worked.
Jordan Perruzza pressured goalkeeper Patrick Schulte into making a poor pass to defender Philip Quinton. The centre-back gave away possession to Paul Rothrock who slid the ball past the 2022 MLS Next Pro Goalkeeper of the Year to make it 1-1.
The Young Reds looked more comfortable on the ball in the early stages of the second half, but the positive momentum would be short-lived. In an attempt to block a dangerous-looking cross from the wing, Curic was called for a handball in the box on the hour mark. Isaiah Parente stepped up to shoot from 12 yards out and regained the lead for the hosts.
In need of an equalizer and with the last seconds of the match winding down, TFC was awarded a lifeline in the way of a free kick on the edge of Columbus’ penalty area. Antonoglou stepped up to take, and put the free kick through the Columbus wall and into the back of the net, sending the match to extra time at 2-2.
Antononglou wasn’t done there though. On the other side of the 90 minutes, the 21-year-old scored a spectacular goal from the halfway line of Historic Crew Stadium. The ball fell to Antonoglou following a corner kick from the Crew 2. The full-back then rushed up the pitch and noticed Schulte off his line so he took a chance from long range.
Toronto would mostly sit deep in hopes of keeping Columbus out and holding onto the 3-2 lead.
That plan worked for about 20 minutes, but the Capybaras brought themselves back into the match in the 109th minute.
Another free-kick opportunity and another equalizer. Jordan Knight retrieved the ball from a set piece and rounded Yeates to beat Luka Gavran at his near post, scoring his first goal in MLS Next Pro at the perfect time.
The drama would not stop there. In the 119th minute, Fuson unleashed a shot from close range and had it stopped by a sprawling Gavran in goal. The rebound fell to the substitute Gannon who netted the winner deep into extra time, to advance Columbus Crew 2 to MLS Next Pro Cup.
Columbus Crew 2 will host MLS NEXT Pro Cup on October 8th. They will face the winner of Saturday’s Western Conference final between St. Louis City 2 and Tacoma Defiance.