Sports

Toronto FC ties Orlando City to regain top spot in East but drops points at home

Orlando City's goalkeeper Joseph Bendik makes a save at the feet of Toronto FC's Jozy Altidore during second half MLS action in Toronto on Wednesday September 28, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Orlando City's goalkeeper Joseph Bendik makes a save at the feet of Toronto FC's Jozy Altidore during second half MLS action in Toronto on Wednesday September 28, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — It's a measure of how far Toronto FC has come that the team regained first place in the MLS Eastern Conference, tied a franchise record for points and still felt disappointed.

Wednesday's 0-0 tie with Orlando City, which came with a controversial red card for the home side, marked the third straight draw at BMO Field for Toronto (13-8-10). While one of those was a gritty 3-3 comeback against the New York Red Bulls, there have been valuable home points lost in the final stretch.

Wednesday's match represented Toronto's game in hand compared to the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC, both 13-9-9.  All three teams entered the day at 48 points, with only Toronto in action.

The tie did allow Toronto to match its single-season record for points (49), set last year when the team went 15-15-4.

But Toronto players expected more.

"We demand more from ourselves, from our teammates," said veteran defender Drew Moor. "It's never a bad thing to not lose, but some games you have to win. I think if we win just one of these last three (at home) then we're in a little better mood and a little better position. But it's a quick week, it's a short turnaround. (Thursday) morning we'll wake up and look forward to the D.C. (United) game on Saturday."

Toronto will hope to have Sebastian Giovinco back then. The star striker, who has been out since Aug. 27 with quadriceps and adductor strains, did not dress Wednesday. 

Toronto clinched a playoff spot last weekend. It needed a win Wednesday or a Montreal loss or tie with San Jose to ensure finishing in the top four and getting a home playoff game. Montreal did not oblige, defeating San Jose 3-1.

A Toronto win would have helped keep in contact with West-leading FC Dallas (15-8-8, 53 points) in the Supporters Shield race.

"Three points would have gone a long way in doing that tonight," said captain Michael Bradley. "So there's big disappointment that we weren't able to find a goal and take the full three points.

"On the other hand, especially the first half, we played very very very well. (It's) almost impossible that we didn't score. And ultimately a point still puts us back in first place in the East and sets us up in a good way with three games to go, knowing that we've still got two games at home and a big game with Montreal on the road."

Bradley also pointed out that Toronto has lost just once in 12 games (7-1-4). But it has not won at home since Aug. 6 (going 0-1-3).

Toronto played the last 20 minutes a man down after Tosaint Ricketts got a second yellow card. Referee Alan Kelly ruled that Ricketts' boot made contact with Uruguayan defender Jose Aja during an attempted bicycle kick. Replays seemed to suggest otherwise but Aja seemed to make the most of it and Ricketts was penalized for dangerous play.

"I felt like I didn't touch him but if the referee thought that wasn't the case, there's nothing I can do," Ricketts said after the game.

Coach Greg Vanney said he will review the incident and contact the league as needed, noting there are harsh sanctions for embellishment.

Toronto had its chances against an Orlando team that has been an adventure in defending this season, having conceded a league-worst 57 goals coming into the game. Orlando (7-10-14) had lost its last three matches, giving up four goals in each.

Orlando lost ground to sixth-place D.C. United, which holds the last playoff spot. D.C. United beat Columbus 3-0 Wednesday to extend its lead over Orlando to five points. Orlando wraps up the season with games against Montreal, Philadelphia and D.C. United.

"We're still in this thing," said coach Jason Kreis.

Both teams had their moments in the first half but Toronto looked more likely to score before a crowd of 23,805 on a windy night at BMO Field.

Orlando captain Kaka showed his skill by dribbling past Armando Cooper like the Toronto midfielder was rooted to the ground. Cooper showed his flair later in the half, flicking the ball past Brek Shea.

Kreis replaced forward Carlos Rivas with Cristian Higuita in the 40th minute, strengthening a midfield that Toronto had started to boss.

Toronto substitute Will Johnson came close to deciding it, shooting just wide in stoppage time.

With Toronto playing three games this week, Vanney made four changes with Cooper, Ricketts, Alex Bono and Marky Delgado getting starts.

Orlando forward Cyle Larin had his own cheering section. The 21-year-old from nearby Brampton, Ont., estimated 30 friends and family were in attendance.

NOTES: Fullback Justin Morrow made his 100th appearance for Toronto in all competitions, joining Ashtone Morgan and Jonathan Osorio ... Shea will miss Orlando's weekend game against Montreal for yellow card accumulation ... Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment provided 1,500 tickets to the Canadian Arab Institute for Syrian refugees to attend the game.

 

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