By the time Toronto FC and D.C. United exited the field for halftime in their MLS is Back Tournament clash on Monday morning, it already seemed a foregone conclusion that TFC would be taking all three points.
Toronto were dominant, already up 2-0 and United had been reduced to 10 men just before the break. TFC continued to control possession, leaving D.C. to chase and defend in the stifling Orlando heat and humidity. It was their first game back, so full match sharpness and fitness wasn't to be expected.
Yet, somehow, D.C. United rallied against the run of play. A delightful Federico Higuain chip halved the deficit in the 84th minute before Frederic Brilliant scored following a set-piece in the 91st minute to stun Toronto. The game ended 2-2, with Group C of the MLS is Back Tournament wide open.
“It’s disappointing and frustrating," Michael Bradley succinctly told reporters after the game.
One moment that caught the eye of viewers was one decision by Toronto head coach Greg Vanney in the second half. He opted to substitute both starting center backs, Chris Mavinga and Omar Gonzalez, in the 65th minute. Though it wasn't entirely apparent when the changes were made, Vanney revealed he was forced into those substitutions.
"Ten minutes into the second half, Omar is cramping up and can't take a step," Vanney said. "Right before the water break, Chris is cramping up. This is the first game in extreme temperatures, so the question becomes: How much do you push guys in the first game of a tournament, the first game in months? So we went with the changes. It really disrupted our ability to start attacks, keep possession and also we struggled in some transition defending."
Those weren't the only potential injury-related issues on Vanney's mind.
Jonathan Osorio was unavailable through injury, with Vanney saying that his targeted return date is Toronto's third group game against the New England Revolution on July 21. Another key absence was Jozy Altidore, who wasn't involved in the matchday squad.
"[Jozy] only had like 10 training sessions under his belt, four of those were individual quarantine sessions," Vanney said. "We're just making sure we're getting him ready to play without putting him in harm's way. This event is important us, but it's the first part of this new season. We want to make sure Jozy's healthy and ready. ... He's getting close. We hope to have him ready for some minutes next game, but if not then definitely the third game."
Vanney turned to 20-year-old Homegrown forward Ayo Akinola in Altidore's place. Akinola enjoyed a strong game in just the third MLS start of his young career, scoring twice in the first half to give Toronto the advantage.
In the dying moments of stoppage time, Toronto nearly found a winner. Akinola looped a header towards goal, which also would have completed his hat trick had it found the back of the net, but D.C. keeper Bill Hamid came sprawling across his goal line to tip it away.
“As soon as I hit it, I thought it was going in," Akinola said. "But then when I saw Bill coming for it, I was like, damn, he’s gonna save it.”