For Toronto FC and its vociferous fan base, it was a well-deserved, well-earned 2-0 first-leg victory over New York City FC. There were times, many times actually, throughout the game when you felt that bad refereeing or bad luck would keep them from this result, but in the end it their relentless pressure bore fruit. Jozy Altidore finally, and really you have to say it with emphasis, Altidore FIN-A-LY opened up the scoring in the 83rd minute as the ball pinballed off of a few players before landing at his feet and he slammed it into the back of the net. A few minutes later in added time, substitute Tosaint Rickets slotted in his own rebound and a very important second goal. Neither were highlight reel type goals, but they both fit perfectly with the narrative of how this team won. They worked extremely hard and never gave up. It wasn’t easy though as there was plenty of frustration throughout another historic night.
For the first time in each of their respective team’s history, TorontoFC and New York City FC are involved in a home-and-home playoff series. After TFC defeated the Philadelphia Union 3-1 on Wednesday, the main question arose as to whether they could maintain that intensity. NYCFC on the other hand had the week off so the question for them would be were they ready for playoff soccer, especially on the road. As the first half came to a close, we weren’t really focusing on these new questions; instead we were asking the same old question over and over again. Why is the officiating in MLS so poor?
I hate to keep discussing poor officiating but it is difficult not too. Referee Silviu Petrescu did not cost any of these teams the game (as the refereeing cost KC earlier this playoffs) but it was bad enough for it to overshadow the play on the pitch. There was a number of soft calls early (in favour of TFC) that should not have been called but were and then those that should have been called were not. The most obvious was a David Villa kick that should have easily led to a red card and his ejection for the rest of this game and the return. There were close to a dozen questionable calls which again, didn’t determine the outcome of the game (thankfully) but it does undermine any confidence that players or fans have in the officiating. Throw in a very close Altidore handball call that overturned a goal and you can easily tell sense the frustration that both teams had. NYCFC were called for five yellow cards as they tried to be physical with Sebastian Giovinco and the Atomic Ant didn’t may have been rattled as some of his free kicks were done with nowhere near with the same class as we are accustomed too. But instead of throwing their hands in despair and giving up, they continued to battle.
For most of the game and especially in the second half, TFC controlled the play in NYCFC’s zone for the majority of time. They outplayed them, out hustled them and even out chanced them. TFC were tireless throughout the 90 minutes causing the illusion that they had extra players on the pitch. Where ever the ball was, there were three red shirts. Wherever David Villa was, there were three red shirts. Whenever they lost the ball, there were three red shirts. It was quite enjoyable watching them play in this manner as they choked the life out of NYCFC. This hardworking style was rewarded in the end and they are in very good position as they go to Yankee Stadium next week. NYCFC didn’t have their star playmaker Andrea Pirlo who was out due to a calf injury and their other designated player Frank Lampard, started on the bench. With the way that the Reds are playing, it will take something special next week for New York to advance. If the Reds continue to play as they have, not even bad luck or bad refereeing will be able to stop them from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals… but that would be another story.
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