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Toronto FC’s Champions League hangover continues in draw against Chicago Fire


                                                                                                                CHRIS YOUNG/THE CANADIAN PRESS

It has been quite a week for Toronto FC. A grueling CONCACAF Champions League campaign came to an end with a decimated team from injury and a heartbreaking defeat in penalty kicks. After sacrificing matches for the Champions League, resting starters for their recent MLS matches, Toronto FC sat dead last in the league coming into Saturday’s fixture against the Chicago Fire. The Reds struggles continued on this day, as a 2-2 draw was the end result.

The match started off with a beautiful tribute and a moment of silence in solidarity for the victims of a violent attack earlier in the week that claimed the lives of 10 people in Toronto. Toronto FC went with much of the same lineup as the mid-week match against Chivas Guadalajara which included a makeshift back four. Gregory van der Wiel and Michael Bradley acted as centrebacks for the second straight game as all of Toronto’s natural central defenders were injured. The match started off well for TFC who had most of the possession early on. Jonathan Osorio opened the scoring 8 minutes in. A through ball from Vazquez found Giovinco who passed across the back post where a sliding Osorio made no mistake. The Canadian youngster was the top scorer of the Champions League tournament and is playing the best football in his career.  In the 13th minute it should have been 2-0 for the hosts as Giovinco worked a great give and go with Nico Hasler. The goal however, was overturned by VAR, more on that in moment. Soon after in the 22nd minute Victor Vazquez hit a cheeky lob over goalie Richard Sanchez to make it 2-0.

The Chicago Fire despite the lack of possession were no pushovers. Alex Bono was called into action early on with an excellent save off a counter attack. VAR was called into action for the second time in the 37th minute when Ashtone Morgan was called for a foul in the box. Up stepped Bayern Munich legend Bastian Schweinsteiger but Bono was step for step with the German as he dove to his right and parried the ball away.

                                                                                                                                            John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

It seemed like a much needed win for Toronto FC in the second half but a moment in the 69th minute turned the game on its head. A cross into the area was deflected by Nemanja Nikolic and then found the head of Bastian Schweinsteiger. The Serbian seemed to be an offside position when he deflected the cross to the German. Referee Alan Kelly not consult video replay this time and it had a major effect the rest of the way. Toronto FC kept surging forward with shot after shot but no goal came. Then in the 94th minute sloppy defending, again from a cross from the right, Alan Gordon slotted the ball in to tie the game. This puts Toronto FC at a 1-4-1 record, still last in the league.

Reds coach Greg Vanney was not too fond of the way the referee utilized VAR, stating post-game “He certainly took his time to review our (goal), I think that would be respectful to do the same for us and didn’t. I think, as I look at it back, he’s offside. Everybody that I know of understands the interpretation of the rule, player who is offside, in front of the goal and attempts to make a play on the goal, and effects the potential decision making of anybody around it, is offside. That is (their) first goal, that leads to momentum shift a touch because now they’re back at 2-1 instead of 2-0.”

Michael Bradley also echoed the same sentiments of frustration saying post-game “Nobody has any idea what VAR is, when it can be used, when it can’t be used. Check takes five minutes, sometimes five seconds. It’s a joke.” Bradley has played in a similar role and style as Leonardo Bonucci, a ball playing centerback over the last two games. The bounces have clearly not gone Toronto’s way over the last week and the draw puts them further behind the pack to retain their Supporters Shield. There is still plenty of time left in the season and what is paramount right now is the health of the squad. The Reds are no strangers to adversity but this period will definitely test the team in new ways. Greg Vanney’s men have always been able to bounce back. They’ll have to do so quickly as their next match comes up this Friday at BMO Field against the Philadelphia Union.

Football is not a game nor is it a religion, rather it transcends sport. It is the very essence of humanity: the good, the evil, angst, anger, community & ecstasy. Crisp, cut grass, smoldering flares, colourful banners, the roars of the crowd united as one. Follow me into the beautiful world of Calcio. @joeantonioc

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