So close, but still so far away.
Toronto FC delivered a nearly perfect tactical road performance against the Philadelphia Union on Saturday, with keeper Joe Bendik coming up with a number of remarkable of saves and striker Robert Earnshaw scoring his team-high fifth goal of the season.
But then came Ashtone Morgan’s ill-advised second yellow card in the 88th minute, and a stoppage-time goal by the Union’s Jack McInerney that left the Reds with a 1-1 draw that nearly went down as their first road win of the season.
“It kind of went according to plan, and unfortunately the sending off had an impact,” TFC head coach Ryan Nelsen said. “Unfortunately, we could not see the job done. I thought the guys were brilliant. They worked very hard. They defended really well. And when they were asked to be accountable, they were. It was a very silly sending off and it cost us.”
The sending off of the 22-year-old Morgan, a graduate of the TFC Academy program and a Canadian international, was the most critical moment of a match that often resembled the Toronto Maple Leafs via the Broad Street Bullies of years gone by. Head referee Sorin Stoica dished out nine yellow cards in the match, five for rough fouls.
“When you are 1-0 up going into the last couple of minutes, you like to see the game through,” Nelsen said. “I know we would have if we had had 11 men. Obviously the sending off caused a momentum swing and we couldn’t really get on the ball to kill time.”
Still, Nelsen defended Morgan, despite TFC’s missed chance at their first-ever win against the Union and first road win since July 2012.
“I thought he was fantastic,” Nelsen said. “He actually got smashed on the tackle and then he went up and won a head ball and he got sent off. I felt very sorry for him because I thought he played really well.
“He had a great game. He got a big kick and studs on the leg and he battled through it when he could have gone off. He really had an excuse to go off and he didn’t. He fought through it and he battled hard and he didn’t deserve what he got today.”