For 83 minutes, New York City FC kept the high-powered offense of Toronto FC off the scoreboard, and appeared headed for a scoreless draw.
But late goals from Jozy Altidore (84th minute) and Tosaint Ricketts two minutes into stoppage time gave host Toronto a 2-0 win in leg one of the MLS Eastern Conference semi-finals. Leg two will be played this Sunday at Yankee Stadium, the first ever MLS playoff match at the ballpark in the Bronx.
“We knew it would be a difficult game,” said Patrick Vieira, NYCFC head coach. “We know the quality of their players and the physicality of the game. I thought we managed it well until the first goal.”
New York City, which was without Andrea Pirlo (injury) and Frank Lampard (substitute) in its starting XI, worked throughout the match to keep Altidore and teammate Sebastian Giovinco at bay. While both players at times had opportunities, they were limited.
In the 13th minute Giovinco was stopped in close by NYCFC keeper Eirik Johansen and again in the 41st minute when Johansen made a short hop save off a free kick.
Toronto’s first goal from Altidore came after the U.S. International found a loose ball deep inside the NYCFC box and fired home. Ricketts goal came off a rebound after Johansen made a difficult in-close save.
New York City’s best opportunity for a goal came in the 81st minute from RJ Allen, whose shot from just outside the 18-yard box was tipped over the crossbar by Toronto keeper Clint Irwin.
Trailing by two goals, New York City returns home on Sunday needing to score at least twice without conceding, just to get the second leg to extra time. A goal by Toronto in Yankee Stadium would give the Canadian side a near insurmountable lead.
“It makes it really difficult for us, but I think I have enough experience in the game to know that things can change,” Vieira said. “I look in the dressing room and we know anything can happen. We have to believe, we have to give ourselves a chance and go for it.”