Toronto FC head coach Ryan Nelsen had plenty to talk about after a controversial 2-2 draw against Sporting Kansas City on Friday at Sporting Park, which saw his side get a red card, concede a penalty and come back dramatically in the dying minutes to secure a point.
“I can’t say enough about the character and determination of this squad,” Nelsen told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “Everyone keeps telling them, keeps wanting them to fail but they keep rising to the occasion.”
The match was a difficult one to manage due to the tirade of refereeing decisions Toronto FC had to overcome, the first of which came when captain Steven Caldwell went after a ball and hit Sporting's Antonio Dovale with a high boot, drawing a straight red card for the play.
“If they gave Steven a yellow, nobody would have blinked an eyelid, nobody would have worried about it,” Nelsen said. “But because [referee Baldomero Toledo] has set a precedent throughout his refereeing career that he always likes to influence games, he decided to give a red for what was really a yellow card.”
The red card put Toronto FC in a difficult position, already down 1-0 to Kansas City from a Dom Dwyer goal. Five minutes later, though, substitute Luke Moore managed to find an equalizing effort, giving 10-man Toronto a lifeline back into the game.
Then, in the 84th minute, disaster struck again as Doneil Henry conceded a penalty in the box. Nelsen says that not only was it not a penalty, the rough decision had larger ramifications afterward.
“In all honesty, there’s not one person who has seen the replay that said that was a penalty,” Nelsen said. “So when you’re down to 10 men, in the 84th minute, you have to be 100 percent certain that it’s a penalty: 100 percent certain. The referee will watch the replay and he will say to himself ‘it’s not a penalty.’
“I’m looking forward to hearing the excuse from [PRO general manager] Peter Walton why it was called and all that,” Nelsen added. “I’d like to hear his excuse about it which will be quite funny.”
It was the third penalty is as many games conceded by Henry, which Dwyer tucked away to give Sporting a 2-1 lead. But Nelsen backed his defender, reiterating that the call should not have been a penalty and adding that “this is just a period that’s going to make him stronger.”
Toronto FC wrapped up the game with another equalizer late on, as Bradley Orr headed past KC 'keeper Eric Kronberg and securing a 2-2 result. Nelsen said he was pleased with the point, explaining that his side had just come off a victory against MLS Supporters Shield winners New York before drawing the MLS Cup champs while down a man just one week later.
“This is a major step forward for us,” Nelsen said. “I sat here last year when we were down to 10 men, we just buckled as a team. Here, we showed so much character and heart and to come to a place like this and take a point is extremely pleasing. Now we go home with two home games coming up in a nice situation.”