Orlando City scored first but the BMO Field hex continued as a fortunate bounce on a set piece fell perfectly for Toronto FC to equalize in an unsatisfying 1-1 road draw. Benji Michel came off the bench to give the Lions (8-11-6, 30 points) a 1-0 advantage in the 69th minute, only to be called for a penalty that was overturned after video review. Patrick Mullins scored on the ensuing set piece anyway and Orlando made up no ground on Toronto (9-10-6, 33 points) in the playoff race.
City is just 0-4-2 at BMO Field in six games there and remains three points behind Montreal for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
James O’Connor kept a lot of his full-strength side intact despite the heavy fixture schedule, showing the importance of every league match the rest of the way. Nani slid back into the midfield with Carlos Ascues and Uri Rosell, behind a front line of Chris Mueller, Dom Dwyer, and Robinho. The starting central defense tandem of Robin Jansson and Lamine Sané were flanked by Kamal Miller and Kyle Smith in front of goalkeeper Brian Rowe.
Orlando City started a bit on the back foot but didn’t allow Toronto much room in the defensive third. Tsubasa Endoh got the game’s first shot six minutes in but he fired it wide after gathering in a wayward pass from Smith.
The Lions then won a couple early corner kicks but did nothing with them as they were either taken short and fell apart quickly or the crosses in were poor. Nani got Orlando’s first shot attempt at the 22-minute mark. Quentin Westberg made a diving stop to knock it out for a corner but it was drifting just wide anyway.
The most dangerous opportunity of the half came 29 minutes in, when Alejandro Pozuelo was given too much space and he picked out a chip pass intended for Jozy Altidore. It was just over the U.S. international striker’s head and skipped wide of the far post.
Nani sent another shot wide in the 40th minute and that was about it for the opening half, as neither team did a whole lot in the final third. Orlando was too hesitant to get balls into the area or botched their crosses after making good moves to get free in wide spaces. Some more quality on crosses would have perhaps given the Lions more threat in the attack.
Toronto led in first-half shots (4-3), shots on goal (1-0), and passing accuracy (86%-84%). Orlando had 51% of the ball. Neither team was particularly dangerous but the hosts seemed the likelier team to score in the opening 45 minutes.
The Reds came out with a lot more jump after the break, pressed relentlessly and held onto the ball through much of the second half. Toronto’s first good opportunity came in the first minute of the second half, with Pozuelo finding Marky Delgado down the right. Delgado’s cross for Altidore was picked off by Rosell at the last second.
Former Lion Richie Laryea, who won several 1-v-1 battles all night against his former teammates, got into the area in the 53rd minute and went down easily, then got up and fired a shot that Rowe saved.
Five minutes later, Laryea lifted a cross to the back post for Altidore but Smith did just enough to head it toward the sideline. Endoh then fired onto the roof of the net in the 59th minute after a nice pass from Chris Mavinga and a dummy from Altidore freed up his chance from the top of the area.
Toronto kept coming, winning corners and keeping the ball. Pozuelo fired a shot off the back post after a short corner as the warning bells continued to chime for Orlando.
The Lions finally got a shot on target in the 64th when a long cross from Nani found Dwyer’s head and the striker directed one right at Westberg.
Toronto then had the ball pinballing around Orlando’s area in the 66th after Delgado smashed a tough-angle shot off of Rowe that was parried into the middle of the six. A blocked shot later and the Lions cleared.
Michel came on in the 68th minute for Robinho, who pitched in well defensively but didn’t do much on the attacking end. The rookie made an impact immediately.
A ball fell to Dwyer’s feet at midfield and the striker turned and played Mueller into space down the right. Mueller surveyed the field and crossed a ball that Ascues let go through to the onrushing Michel, who took a touch and then passed the ball into the far corner past Westberg to make it 1-0 in the 69th minute.
The Reds almost pulled that back three minutes later. Rowe made a good save in tight on Altidore and the ball fell to Laryea with the whole net to shoot at. The former Lion missed the target badly with his shot.
Two minutes later, Laryea got around Michel, who grabbed him and gave him a tug before letting go. Laryea went to ground inside the area and referee Kevin Stott pointed to the spot in front of an incensed group of Orlando players. Stott went to video review, which showed a clear error, as Michel both made the grab and released Laryea outside the area.
It didn’t end up mattering that it wasn’t a penalty because Toronto scored anyway on the free kick. Pozuelo pushed the ball out to Michael Bradley outside the area and the USMNT midfielder fired a shot that was blocked in front. Unfortunately, the rebound squirted just behind the defensive line and set up perfectly for Mullins to turn and fire home in the 77th.
Altidore tried to find a game winner on a free kick in the 84th from just outside the area, but he fired his shot over the bar. Time wound down and the teams entered six minutes of stoppage time.
The 92nd minute was a crazy one, with both teams getting an excellent shot at a winner. First, Altidore got behind the defense and tried to chest down a cross but his touch was too heavy and Rowe collected. Then, on the other end, the ball found second-half sub Ruan, who crossed to fellow substitute Tesho Akindele. The Canadian flicked the ball toward the back post but couldn’t keep it on frame.
Rosell fired way off frame in the 93rd and then Toronto saw Laryea, Omar Gonzalez, and Bradley all fail to hit the target with shots before the final whistle blew.
Toronto out-shot Orlando 18-8 (5-2 on target), and won the possession (56%-44%) and passing (87%-82%) battle as well.
The Lions return home to Exploria Stadium for a Wednesday night match-up with Sporting Kansas City at 7:30 p.m.