TORONTO — Second-half goals by Richie Laryea and Alejandro Pozuelo lifted Toronto FC into a wild 2-2 tie with New York City FC in MLS play Saturday.
Toronto had looked down and out after a dominant first 45 minutes by the New Yorkers. But it changed the story with a turbocharged rally after the break.
Down 2-0 and with his team showing a lack of energy in its third game in seven days, Toronto interim coach Javier Perez replaced captain Michel Bradley and star striker Jozy Altidore with Ralph Priso and Ifunanyachi Achara to open the second half. The 34-year-old Bradley had played every minute of the previous 17 games.
The moves gave TFC an immediate boost, with Laryea scoring in the 49th minute and Achara setting up Pozuelo in the 55th to tie the game at 2-2. Priso, who turned 19 last week, played a key part in both goals.
Suddenly the tables were turned. Toronto went into overdrive and NYCFC was struggling to get into gear. The crowd of 9,331 at BMO Field was rocking.
NYFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson had to make a point-blank save on Toronto substitute Nick De Leon to preserve the tie.
The first half was all New York with goals coming from Santiago Rodriguez and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi.
Toronto (3-9-6) still has work to do, languishing near the bottom of the standings after a terrible start to the season. It has taken just four of a possible 12 points in its four games (0-0-4) back at BMO Field since returning home last month from its pandemic home away from home in Orlando.
Still it has lost just once in seven games (2-1-4) since Perez took over July 4 for the fired Chris Armas. Perez served as an assistant coach with the NYCFC under Patrick Viera and Domenec Torrent from 2016 to 2019 prior to joining Armas’ staff in February.
NYCFC (8-5-4) came into the game unbeaten in four games (3-0-1).
Playing its third match in eight days and facing a Leagues Cup quarterfinal games against Mexico’s Pumas on Wednesday, New York coach Ronny Deila dug into his roster.
But even with Argentine playmaker Maxi Moralez and leading scorer Jesus Medina, both designated players, starting on the bench, NYCFC looked dangerous and led 2-0 after 21 minutes.
It was deja-vu all over again. Toronto trailed 3-0 after 36 minutes in a midweek 3-0 loss in Philadelphia.
The New Yorkers outshot Toronto 13-3 (4-1 in shots on target) in the first half and had 58 per cent possession. But the second half was a different story as Toronto came out with real purpose.
Priso won a battle in midfield and the ball found its way to Pozuelo, who unlocked the NYCFC defence with a slick pass that put Laryea in alone for his second goal of the season. It was the first goal NYCFC had allowed from open play in 364 minutes, since a July 17 loss to Columbus.
Priso then found Achara behind the New York defence with a long pass and the Nigerian-born forward unselfishly fed Pozuelo for an easy goal with three NYCFC defenders trying to catch up with them.
With his first of the campaign, Pozuelo became the 16th TFC player to score in MLS play this year.
TFC came into the game having conceded a league-worst 36 goals — and had given up three goals five times this season, tied with FC Cincinnati for most in MLS this year. Toronto had conceded 2.12 goals a game on average, compared to just 1.00 for NYCFC.
Eighteen of those goals yielded by TFC have come in the first half, including a league-worst 10 in the first 15 minutes.
Toronto has now given up more goals in 18 outings than it did in the entire 2017 season when it conceded 37 goals in 34 regular-season games en route to the MLS Cup.
Toronto got a boost with the return of Pozuelo, the reigning league MVP who had missed the two previous games with a lower body injury. That means TFC had all three designated players — Pozuelo, Altidore and Yeferson Soteldo — starting together for the first time.
Pozuelo, who started in all 23 regular-season games last year, has appeared in just nine of Toronto’s 18 league outings this season. Centre back Chris Mavinga dropped out of the matchday 18 with a lower body injury. Toronto reverted to a four-man backline from a back three.
Toronto spent most of the first half reacting rather than creating.
The New Yorkers looked crisp from the get-go and pulled ahead in the 12th minute on a beautifully worked goal. Under pressure, Bradley lost the ball in his own end and NYCFC opened the home side up with tick-tack-toe passing that finished with Taty Castellanos feeding Rodriguez behind the defence.
The 21-year-old Uruguayan, in his first MLS start after six substitute appearances, beat Alex Bono with his right-footed shot for his second MLS goal.
Nine minutes later, the Toronto defence failed again. An errant pass by Eriq Zavaleta did not make it to Bradley and NYCFC pounced. With Zavaleta put of position, Castellanos found an unmarked Tajouri-Shradi, whose left-footed shot went through Bono’s legs.
It was the seventh goal in the last 11 games for the Libyan international.
The New Yorkers’ scoreless draw midweek at Chicago ended a run of three straight wins, all at home, that saw NYCFC outscore the opposition 10-1. Prior to the Chicago tie, NYCFC had scored in 26 straight regular-season and playoff games.
There was some bad blood in Saturday’s game.
Soteldo picked up a yellow card in the 25th minute after referee Robert Sibiga bought NYCFC defender Maxime Chanot feigning being struck in the face by the diminutive Venezuelan when the two tangled by the sideline.
Laryea and NYCFC’s Alfredo Morales traded shoves in the 35th minute, prompting a melee in the south end. Laryea was cautioned on the play.
Moralez was sent in the 76th minute as NYCFC looked regain control of the game. Medina came on in stoppage time as NYCFC looked to kill time.
Toronto welcomes league-leading New England to BMO Field next Saturday.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press