Head referee Robert Sibiga initially pointed to the spot, setting the stage for a late equalizer that would’ve kept Toronto’s postseason quest waiting (a draw wouldn't suffice). But the initial call was reversed after a Video Review examination, and it was deemed that no foul was committed. You can watch the play above.
FC Cincinnati head coach Jaap Stam felt it was a clear penalty, adding that the initial call would've remained for a higher-profile club. His team now hasn’t scored in 455 minutes, and the PK was a golden chance to break that streak. Instead, they’ve lost four straight games and remain second-from-bottom in the league standings above D.C. United.
"The penalty, it was like 10 yards away from it, so he saw it very well from a very short distance," Stam said of Sibiga. "The first thing he does is give the penalty. I think if it was for one of the big teams in the league they would’ve had a penalty, but for some reason we don’t get it – and I think it was [one]. So it’s a strange decision."
Toronto head coach Greg Vanney had a different perspective, noting that things got “a little fuzzy” late as they waited for Video Review's decision.
“The ball was crossed in and Omar had a good line on the ball, his eyes were on the ball and he was attacking the ball the same time their player was moving backwards trying to get to the ball,” Vanney said, examining the sequence. “So I think our guy had the initial position. Their player runs into our player as he's trying to get to it and he goes down. That shouldn't be a foul on us if we're in the right spot. That was my read on it.”
Controversy aside, Toronto held onto first place in the Supporters’ Shield race and have now won five straight. The 2019 MLS Cup finalists are playing with confidence and relying on depth – Sunday’s goal was scored by reserve striker Patrick Mullins – as they become the first of 10 postseason-bound Eastern Conference clubs.
Toronto have reached this stage while playing their Phase 2 home games in East Hartford, Conn., one of several challenges amid a season that’s been reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I know the guys are proud of it, but they have their eyes on something a little bit bigger here over this stretch,” Vanney said. “So it's nice to have the playoff spot, but we're in that position where I know our guys – we don't talk about it, but they're looking at the fact they're at the top of the table and competing every play to try to stay there. But really, really proud of the group to stay focused.”
That confidence was reaffirmed by midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who wore the captain’s armband on Sunday.
“I think it goes to show [how] great of a club this is and the mentality that we have here to keep going no matter what's thrown at us,” Osorio said. “Obviously there's been a lot of obstacles that have been thrown to every team in the league, but I think us here at Toronto we have dealt with it in the best possible way, I think, from top to bottom and it just goes to show on the field when we're getting results."