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Toronto FC beats NYCFC 2-0 in Game 1 of the MLS Eastern Conference semifinal

NEIL DAVIDSON, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Oct 31st, 2016

Toronto FC's Michael Bradley bangs on a drum after his team defeated the Philadelphia Union in MLS soccer playoff action in Toronto, Wednesday October 26, 2016. There is finally something to celebrate at Toronto FC as the MLS club won its first ever playoff game, 3-1 over the Union. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

TORONTO – Jozy Altidore scored in the 84th minute to break a feisty stalemate and substitute Tosaint Ricketts added a stoppage-time goal to give Toronto FC a 2-0 win over New York City FC on Sunday in Game 1 of the MLS Eastern Conference semifinal.

The go-ahead goal came from a Michael Bradley free kick that NYCFC failed to clear. The ball bounced around the penalty box with Ricketts taking a swing before it went to Altidore, who buried it in the net with a high shot.

Toronto had been pushing the pace and deserved the goal. Ricketts made it 2-0 in injury time, poking in a Nick Hagglund cross on a second attempt. Ricketts, who came on in the 83rd minute, started the play by winning the ball from a NYCFC player.

After a tight opening 45 minutes, Toronto came out flying to open the second half and put New York under all sorts of pressure. But the visitors weathered the storm before 28,220 on a windy night at BMO Field until the dying minutes.

The rematch goes next Sunday in New York at Yankee Stadium where NYCFC has not lost since June 2 (a 7-0-1 run). If the aggregate score is tied after 180 minutes, away goals count as the tiebreaker with extra time and penalties if needed.

There was plenty of niggle Sunday which made for a choppy game for fans and referee Silviu Petrescu alike. There was some shoving at the final whistle with Altidore involved on the Toronto end.

After tempers cooled, Altidore banged the drum to lead the Viking clap in front of the south stand.

Tempers flared in the 20th minute when New York city star forward David Villa and Toronto’s Armando Cooper got tangled up. Villa appeared to kick out at the Panamanian as the two separated but escaped sanction. Villa could be punished retroactively if the MLS Disciplinary Committee decides action is needed.

“It’s tough when the 30,00 fans see it but the four (officials) don’t,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney said in a halftime TV interview with TSN.

Cooper got a yellow in the 23rd minute when the two bounced off each other contesting a ball.

There were six yellows in all with one to Toronto and five to New York, including one to midfielder Mikey Lopez for a nasty tackle on Steven Beitashour.

New York came out looking to keep its defence tight with Spanish international Andoni Iraola dropping into defence to create a back five when needed. And that was in addition to two holding midfielders.

Bradley led the way for Toronto, constantly harassing NYCFC players and robbing them of possession. He paid particular attention to Villa, frustrating the Spaniard on several occasions.

The anticipated matchup between the teams’ marquee designated players was not quite as expected. Only Villa started for New York City FC with Frank Lampard coming on in the 61st minute. Andre Pirlo did not dress due to a “tight muscle” in his leg.

Bradley, Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco all started for Toronto. All three played their part with Giovinco showing off some beautiful touches on the ball.

Norwegian Eirik Johansen made his second consecutive start in the New York goal, replacing Josh Saunders, who had made 59 consecutive league starts in goal dating back to April 24, 2015. Saunders played every minute of the season prior to the finale against Columbus when Patrick Vieira inserted Johansen.

The six-foot-seven Johansen denied Giovinco in the 12th minute after Altidore, taking a pass from Hagglund, found the Italian streaking into the penalty box.

Johansen came up big again in the 41st minute, parrying a swerving Giovinco free kick away.

A 51st-minute Justin Morrow goal was whistled dead due to an Altidore handball in the buildup play. Giovinco triggered the attack with a wonderfully weighted cross into the box.

Two minutes later, Drew Moor’s header off a corner hit a defender and then the woodwork as Toronto began to turn the screws on offence.

Toronto appealed unsuccessfully for a penalty in the 62nd minute when Altidore went down with defender Maxime Chanot all over him.

NYCFC came close with 10 minutes remaining, forcing several corners.

Toronto came into the game having lost just two of its last 16 games (9-2-5) while NYCFC had lost three of its last 12 games (6-3-3). TFC had never beaten New York City FC, with a career 0-2-3 mark that included two ties earlier this season.

The two teams were separated by just one point during the regular season, with NYCFC finishing ahead in second place to secure a first-round bye. Toronto, which lost its post-season debut in Montreal last season, defeated Philadelphia 3-1 Wednesday to advance.

Sunday marked the first ever playoff game for New York City FC, which entered the league in 2015.

The New Yorkers came into the game with the league’s most potent offence (57 goals) and its best road record (7-7-3). But they also ranked 17th on defence, conceding 57 goals.

Toronto ranked seventh in scoring (51 goals) and tied for second on defence (39).

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

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