Toronto FC Designated Players Alejandro Pozuelo and Pablo Piatti combined for one of the cheekiest moments of the 2020 MLS season thus far, botching a penalty-kick attempt in first-half stoppage time of a 1-0 rivalry defeat against the Montreal Impact.
Pozuelo, rather than shooting the penalty, delicately touched the ball forward for an onrushing Piatti, who slammed home past Impact goalkeeper Clement Diop to seemingly tie the game. But head referee Drew Fischer called off the would-be equalizer, as Piatti encroached in the penalty arc and an indirect free kick was awarded.
You’ll need to consult page 124 of the IFAB Laws of the Game for a deeper explanation, but head coach Greg Vanney had a straightforward assessment of the head-scratching play.
“Not sure what is going on on the penalty kick,” Vanney said after the Canadian Classique setback. “We're down a goal, we should just be burying the ball in the back of the net and moving on. We gift them the fact that they don't even have to make a save or do anything on a penalty kick, and we have a number of other opportunities [after].”
The maneuver was successfully used by world stars Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez while competing for Barcelona in February 2016, and it was also famously used by Ajax national team teammates Johan Cruyff and Jesper Olsen during a 1982 match. But you rarely see it deployed, as players almost always pick a corner or smash it down the middle.
Before his miscue Tuesday night, Pozuelo had never missed a PK in a Toronto FC jersey and he converted from the spot in their last match, a 1-0 win at Stade Saputo last Friday. He twice misfired while competing for KRC Genk in Belgium, but not in MLS. And when asked about the play after the defeat, the Designated Player said it was pre-planned with Piatti. He was also dismayed at Fischer’s ruling.
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“I speak with [the referee] in the second half, I said to him we saw the video in the dressing room,” the Spaniard said in English. “I think normally it's a goal. I saw in other countries they do and they score like this. I don't know here why they say no goal. He'd been checking the VAR also, I saw also two players on Montreal also inside [encroaching]. Normally he needs to redo, we need to shoot again the penalty. But we don't know, we don't know exactly what he [did].”
Addressing the Pozuelo-Piatti play, Impact goalkeeper Diop had some choice words for his opponents.
“You’ve got to respect us,” said Diop, who robbed a surefire Jozy Altidore goal in the 43rd minute on one of his season-high six saves on the night. “Probably they were a bit cocky because they beat us two days or three days ago. This is what happens when you don’t respect your opponent. You try to do tricky stuff. You’re down 1-0 and you try to do tricky stuff.
"You don’t respect the game and you don’t respect your opponent. So that’s why I’m very happy even more that we won here tonight. Everybody was very strong, like I said before and we left it all on the field. That’s all I have to say on that particular play.”
Mic drop from Diop aside, Vanney’s comments make it unlikely that Pozuelo will turn to that trick again. It cost Toronto a chance at tying the MLS regular-season record for consecutive unbeaten games (19). A win or draw would've equalled the mark that Columbus Crew SC and FC Dallas both reached over a decade ago.
“I just think it's unnecessary when we're down a goal,” Vanney said. “It's something that you might want to do when you're up, but it's just unnecessary in my opinion at this moment. I'll share that with him and talk about and try to get the logic behind it. I don't have any more answers other than that.”