Late Penalty Thwarts NYCFC

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By JACK BELL

NYCFC logoRevenge? Not quite. Three points? Close, but no.

New York City FC remained unbeaten in Major League Soccer’s regular season against Toronto, but Wednesday night’s 2-2 draw will make no one happy at Yankee Stadium.

The hosts, coming off a 14-day international break during the CONCACAF Gold Cup, were within minutes of erasing — at least a little bit — the sour taste from being bounced from the playoffs by Toronto last year by a 7-0 aggregate. But a late penalty kick left both teams with a point on a hot, steamy night in the Bronx.

“It doesn’t feel like a tie, it feels like a loss,” NYCFC defender Ben Sweat said after the game. “We had chances to put them away, but didn’t take advantage of those chances.”

NYCFC (10-6-4, 34 points) again conceded the first goal in the sixth of its last seven games. But goals by David Villa and Maxi Moralez stake dthe club to a 2-1 lead until the dying moments.

Toronto (11-3-6, 39) took a 1-0 lead only 11 minutes into the game. From a throw-in Ben Spencer took the ball to the end line for a cross that was deflected in the NYCFC defense, with the ball falling to Ashtone Morgan for a shot inside the near post.

NYCFC came away with nothing from a furious sequence in the 23rd minute. Jack Harrison‘s cross from the right was headed back by Villa at the far post to the lurking Tommy McNamara. McNamara’s blast was saved by goalkeeper Alexander Bono, but the rebound caromed to McNamara for a left-footed shot off the the post and out. McNamara was not happy after the doubly frustrating turn of events and his demonstration of displeasure drew a yellow card from Referee Jorge Gonzalez.

Minutes later Sebastian Giovinco nearly made it 2-0 when goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who was dropped by the U.S. national team after the group stage of the Gold Cup, needed to stretch to push away a wickedly curling shot that looked to be ticketed for the far corner. Giovinco came close again off a two-pass sequence from the back to Morgan on the left. Morgan first-timed a cross and Giovinco struck a left-footed volley high over the crossbar. He bumped with NYCFC defender Alexander Callens and had to be helped off the field and was replaced.

NYCFC, against the run of play, got the equalizer in first-half stoppage time courtesy of Villa, who scored his 13th goal of the season. Villa actually lost the ball on a challenge, fell to the turf, but saw it skip to Harrison, who gave it back to the Spanish former international for a shot from the top of the area that beat Bono low to the far post.

At halftime, NYCFC Coach Patrick Vieira was asked what positive there was to take from the first half. “Not much,” he said. “They are well organized and did not give us much. We are lucky to be even.”

The Reds appeared to have taken the lead only minutes into the second half. Callens coughed up a bad turnover that led to Benoit Cheyrou skipping down the left side for a cross. Spencer’s flubbed shot at the near post deflected off off the leg of Jay Chapman and into the goal. After consulting with his assistant referee, Gonzalez waved off the goal for an apparent offside. Toronto Coach Greg Vanney was apoplectic and drew a red card for his remonstration.

Was it offside? It was close and could have gone either way. MLS is about to adopt video replay, but not until league play resumes on Aug. 5 after the all-star game in Chicago on Aug. 2.

Then the Pigeons got to work. Villa and Moralez played a one-two, then another one-two, first from Moralez to Villa, then Villa to Moralez for a shot from an extreme angle that deflected off a defender and landed behind Bono for a 2-1 lead in the 56th minute. It was Villa’s seventh goal of the season.

Just when it seemed that NYC FC was about to pocket three points, defender R.J. Allen took down from behind Toronto’s Jordan Hamilton in the penalty area. Gonzalez quickly pointed to the penalty spot and Víctor Vázquez calmly planted the ball off the far post and in as Johnson dived the other way.

NYCFC was playing without Miguel Camargo (Panama) and Rodney Wallace (Costa Rica), who returned to the team after being injured in the Gold Cup. Toronto was missing Jozy Altidore, Justin Morrow and Michael Bradley (U.S.),  Armando Cooper (Panama), Jonathan Osorio and Tosaint Ricketts (Canada) — all at the Gold Cup.