TFC withstand Bulls' charge to reach Eastern Conference final

Defender Drew Moor looked like he had been attacked by a wild animal Sunday, an ugly red welt adorning his neck after an abrasive, ill-tempered game with the New York Red Bulls.

Like Moor, Toronto FC was still standing. But the MLS league leaders were also showing a few marks after surviving on the away goals rule following an MLS Eastern Conference semifinal that ended 2-2 on aggregate after a 1-0 loss to the Red Bulls in Game 2 Sunday.

The game featured a freak goal, another two that were disallowed, a halftime melee in the stadium tunnel, six yellow cards and two straight reds. And you could fill a super tanker with the vitriol the 90 minutes produced.

Match Wrap: TFC advances to Eastern Conference Final2:44

Asked if he had ever seen anything like it, Toronto coach Greg Vanney said: “No, not in a professional soccer game. And I played in Bastia [a French league club based in Corsica] which is a crazy place to play.”

Added Red Bull coach Jesse Marsch: “It was one of those games that’s just wild, with cards, with goals and calls. Wild, wild game. I thought we kept our head though for the most part, and a little bit unlucky to come up short.”

Eye-grabbing stuff

The sixth-seeded Red Bulls, who finished the regular season 19 points below Toronto, needed to win and score at least two goals Sunday to avoid defeat in the series after losing Monday’s opener 2-1 at Red Bull Arena. That was always going to be a tall order, given Toronto’s stellar home record and its potent offence.

It was eye-grabbing stuff in an out-of-control-car-crash-sliding-off-the-bridge sort of way with referee Chris Penso struggling — and ultimately failing — to keep a lid on the bad blood that boiled through a wet, grey afternoon before a sellout crowd of 29,974 at BMO Field.


Jozy Altidore, right, of Toronto FC and Sacha Kljestan of the New York Red Bulls scuffle during first half MLS playoff action on Sunday. Both players would later receive red cards for violent conduct in the tunnel and would not feature in second-half play. (ESPNFC/Twitter)

Toronto’s Jozy Altidore and Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan, who had each been yellow-carded for a first-half confrontation, were shown straight red cards after the two teams clashed in the tunnel after the first half ended.

TFC will play either Columbus Crew SC or New York City FC in the Conference final. And it will have to do it without both star strikers, given Altidore was ejected and Sebastian Giovinco got his second yellow in as many games.

Vanney accused the visitors of trying to antagonize and create chaos on the field. And while he said the officials’ control was “lacking a little bit,” he also acknowledged his players needed to keep their cool.

“The game just became a little bit about soccer and a lot about nonsense,” he said. “And that’s irritating for, I’m sure, spectators, it’s irritating for coaches, players and it’s irritating for just what our league’s supposed to be about.”

Toronto captain Michael Bradley credited his team’s resilience for moving on.

‘They did nothing’

“We showed real balls tonight, plain and simple,” he said. “Any other team finds a way to lose the series. They did nothing. They score a deflected goal, which makes the last 30 or 35 minutes tight. But we kept our nerve. We made big plays when we needed to make big plays and we found a way to go through. Every guy should feel really good and really proud about what went into tonight.”

Bradley Wright-Phillips, notching his 100th career goal for the Red Bulls when Daniel Royer’s long-range shot deflected in off him, scored in the 53rd minute to give the visitors hope.

After New York pulled ahead, Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono came up big in the 62nd minute, coming out to stop Wright-Phillips from close range.

A Toronto goal by Jonathan Osorio in the 78th minute was called off due to a foul. And a late Victor Vazquez free kick goal was also negated after Penso ruled he had not signalled the Spaniard could go ahead.

Things got even uglier in the 80th minute when a drink was thrown from the stands at Penso after he booked Giovinco.

New York had more of the ball in a combative first half but failed to create chances while Toronto looked dangerous on the counter-attack. With 58.8 per cent possession and six corners but no shots in the first 45 minutes, the Red Bulls’ attack was like taking a butter knife to a pickup truck.

Holding a 2-1 lead from Monday’s first leg at Red Bull Arena, Toronto was content to absorb pressure and attack. Then Wright-Phillips’ goal gave the visitors a new lease on life.

The Red Bulls finished Sunday’s game with 58.1 per cent of possession but put just two shots on target. Toronto had just one shot on target.

Only 2nd loss at home this season

It was only the second loss at BMO Field for Toronto this season. Toronto led the league with an .853 winning percentage at home (13-1-3), posting nine shutouts and scoring three or more goals nine times during the regular season.

TFC also led the league with 74 goals, scoring in 31 of 34 games this season. It was last blanked at home on March 31.

History was also against the Red Bulls.


Jozy Altidore of Toronto FC reacts after receiving a yellow card during first half action against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday. At the half, Altidore would receive a red for a scuffle in the tunnel. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Going into Sunday’s play, home teams were 40-13-13 all-time in the second leg of a playoff series.

And only three times in MLS playoff history had a team hosted the first leg and lost, then won the second leg on the road to advance (Colorado Rapids, 2004; San Jose Earthquakes, 2010; and Los Angeles Galaxy, 2012).

Toronto came into the game undefeated in its last five home matches against the Red Bulls, who had last won at BMO Field in 2013.

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