Late Toronto rally spoils NYCFC playoff debut

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by CHRISTIAN ARAOS

TORONTO – Eventually, New York City FC were going to pay.

After too many loose clearances and too many opportunities allowed, NYCFC conceded a goal six minutes from time to Toronto FC in Sunday night’s Eastern Conference Semifinal First Leg and then allowed a second in stoppage time to fall 2–0 at BMO Field.

Jozy Altidore was alone to shoot into an empty net after Frédéric Brillant failed to clear from inside his own six-yard box. NYCFC were on the back foot for most of the second half testing fate by dropping deep, allowing Toronto to create chances that should have been rewarded earlier.

Tosaint Ricketts may have decided the tie with a goal in second half stoppage time.

“Giving up the second goal makes it really difficult for us,” head coach Patrick Vieira said. “I think with my experience in the game and with the players in our dressing room, anything can happen in football. We just have to believe it and we have to give ourselves a chance and we’re going to go for it.”

Eirik Johansen got the start once again for NYCFC and stopped Giovinco twice in the first half. Johansen kept his position to block Giovinco’s shot after he got in behind the City defense 12 minutes in then stuck an arm out moments before halftime to deflect a knuckling free kick.

Johansen was fortunate to keep a clean sheet through the first ten minutes of the second half as Toronto had a goal disallowed for handball followed by Drew Moor’s header hitting the crossbar then a near-miss from Giovinco. Maxime Chanot was fortunate not to give away a penalty for bear-hugging Altidore inside the area.

“Obviously we’re disappointed to be 2–0 down and I don’t know if you can say we deserve it,” Chanot said. “0–0, 1–0 would be a better but this is football. We’re looking forward to seeing what’s going to happen on Sunday.”

City struggled to create many chances and were pinned in their own end. R.J. Allen said the team could have been braver in attempting to play their way out of their end. However, Johansen acknowledged that the wind blowing in their faces also may have played a role.

Pressure and the forces of nature may have had their effect but NYCFC were outmuscled, outhustled and outplayed in their first playoff game.

“It’s that time of the year where people do what it takes to win,” Jack Harrison said. “It comes down to a scrappy goal then that’s what happens. That usually happens around this time of year so we just have to concentrate even more so going into the next game and see if we can get those two goals to equalize.”

Andrea Pirlo was a late scratch after suffering a calf injury in training. Vieira said Pirlo only took part in the 15 minutes of open training on Saturday and will undergo more scans when the team returns to New York. Vieira said David Villa grew tired as the match wore on and was subbed off in the 78th minute for Khiry Shelton.

Villa did not speak to reporters after the match and could face disciplinary action if MLS determines that he purposely kicked Armando Cooper early in the first half.

The two teams will meet in the second leg of the Semifinal next Sunday at Yankee Stadium. Kickoff time has yet to be determined.