TORONTO – It was anything but pretty, but Toronto FC will simply be relieved to fight another day after advancing to a second straight Eastern Conference Championship by defeating the New York Red Bulls on away goals.
Despite losing the second leg at home, 1-0, the reigning Supporters’ Shield winners advanced on the away goals tiebreaker following a 2-2 aggregate scoreline and will now make preparations to face Columbus Crew SC with a chance to host a second consecutive MLS Cup on the line.
“We deserved to go through. They scored a goal… a really weird goal,” TFC midfielder Victor Vazquez said afterwards. “We don't have to be happy [with] the way that we go through, but we have to be happy because we go [to the Eastern Conference] final.”
In a chippy game that saw the ejection of both Jozy Altidore and Red Bulls captain Sacha Klejstan for the continuation of a first-half tussle in the tunnel at halftime, Toronto had its championship credentials put to the sternest of tests.
“Any other team finds a way to lose this series,” Toronto captain Michael Bradley said. “They did nothing. They score a deflected goal, which makes the last 30, 35 minutes tight. But we kept our nerve, made big plays when we needed to.”
Following a first half devoid of a New York shot for the first time since 2012, Bradley Wright-Phillips’ redirection of a Daniel Royer drive on 53 minutes threatened to give the visitors a lifeline back into the series.
However, after being put clean through on goal nine minutes later with a chance to put his team on top in the two-legged tie, Wright-Phillips pulled the trigger, but Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono responded with a reflex save to his right.
The two-time MLS Golden Boot winner said it might take him some time to get over the miss.
“We should have won the [series]. We were the better team,” he said. “… The chance that fell to me at the end, I’ve got to score that and we’re in the next round.”
After holding Toronto to just three shots on goal over 180 minutes of play, New York coach Jesse Marsch said the Canadian club should feel fortunate.
“They should be feeling like they escaped because they did,” he said.
Adjusting his formation to a midfield diamond with Tyler Adams deployed at the apex to disrupt Bradley, Marsch said his tactical plan was to slow down Toronto’s usually high-powered offensive flow. Knowing his team needed to score at least two goals to stand any chance of advancing, Marsch said the onus was on his team to take the game to the home side. Though the Red Bulls started slowly, his plan nearly worked.
“We … didn’t want it to be a game where we possessed the ball and they sat back and countered so we did a lot of little things to try and combat their conservative tactics and for the most part I thought that a lot of what we did was successful,” he said. “We just weren’t able to capitalize enough.”