Old nemesis Jozy Altidore came off the bench and played the hometown hero by giving Toronto FC a second-half lead. But Benji Michel won a penalty (after video review) and Nani did just enough to get his spot kick over the line as the Lions drew the Reds 1-1 at BMO Field. It was Toronto’s first home match in front of its own fans in more than a year. Still, Orlando City (6-3-4, 22 points) finished the season unbeaten in three matches against Toronto FC (2-8-3, 9 points) with two wins and a draw in the season series.
Orlando still has never won in Toronto but the draw was the team’s second straight in the Canadian city.
“I think it was a good reaction from our players today against a good rival who was playing at home again after a long time,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “I know their emotions were high and it was not easy to handle players with that energy. Just going on the road and take a point, you should be happy — happier if we would have scored in the couple of options we had at the end. ”
Pareja’s lineup welcomed back starting goalkeeper Pedro Gallese and left back Joao Moutinho, who lined up alongside Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Kyle Smith. Sebas Mendez got his first start since he left for Copa America in the central midfield with Junior Urso. Benji Michel and Mauricio Pereyra connected the attack to Nani and Tesho Akindele up top. Silvester van der Water didn’t make the trip after picking up a knock on Thursday.
Former Lion Dom Dwyer started up top for Toronto FC.
The Lions played a sloppy first half in their own end, with miscommunication and poor passes leading to possession in the attacking half for Toronto. The Reds failed to capitalize on an early miscommunication on defense between Smith and Jansson when Alejandro Pozuelo fired right at Gallese in the fourth minute. Seconds later, another turnover led to a chip from Yeferson Soteldo into the area that Gallese caught.
Three minutes later, the Reds sent a ball into the box for Dwyer that was cut out and on the recycle, there was a nervy moment when Mendez tried to clear and hit a teammate. Pozuelo fired off target in the eighth minute as Toronto kept the early pressure on.
Orlando’s first opportunity to score came in the 11th minute off a handball by Marky Delgado. Nani took the free kick from distance on the left side and smashed a shot just wide of the near post.
Seconds after the miss, Mendez was stepped on accidentally by Smith and had to be subbed off. It was the second case of friendly fire for the Ecuadorian, who had kicked Michel early in the match trying to line up a shot. Andres Perea came into the match for Mendez officially in the 14th minute.
“Things happened in the first half that obviously made us change some plans,” Pareja said, referring to the unexpected lineup change. “Sometimes one individual changes many connections and the sequence — sometimes you have to modify those. But I think the guys did a good job in that part, just adapting to the situation.”
In the 18th minute, Gallese did well to get off his line and cut off a cross intended for Dwyer on the doorstep. Auro Jr. fired in the 24th minute but it was no trouble for El Pulpo.
A turnover by Urso in the midfield led to a Pozuelo shot that sailed over the net in the 28th minute as the Lions continued to give the ball away cheaply. Urso gave it away again in the 35th minute and ignited a 3-v-1 break for Toronto. Dwyer carried into the box, changed direction and tried to round a defender but the touch was a bit heavy and Gallese scrambled off his line to jump on the ball before the former Lion could take a shot.
Pereyra served Nani a great square ball across the top of the six in the 41st minute but Auro Jr. made a sliding block to force a corner. The Lions took the ensuing corner short and cycled it around the top of the box to Nani, who fired a shot right at Alex Bono in the 42nd.
Toronto fashioned a couple of more chances, with Soteldo fizzing a shot wide and Michael Bradley sending a cross in that was just inches too high for Tusaba Endoh to head home in the 44th minute.
Each team had a decent chance late that was wiped out by an offside call and the teams went to the break deadlocked at 0-0. The Lions seemed fortunate to be even at the half, with Toronto creating more danger but not being clinical enough with its chances.
The Reds out-shot the Lions 5-4 (2-1 on target), and held slim advantages in possession (50.3%-49.7%) and passing accuracy (84.4%-84.3%). Orlando had more corners (2-1).
Chris Mueller came on for Akindele at the break. He was able to provide energy and a bit more of an outlet for Smith on the right.
“With Soteldo on the left, in the first half we were missing some company for Kyle,” Pareja said. “He was stretching the field and the field was getting too wide there. But we corrected in the second half, bringing (in) Chris created longer sequences for us and refreshed a little bit more the defensive side. It helped us. We had more energy to take the ball back.”
Just after the break, Perea fired a shot right at Bono in the first look of the second half.
Moments later, Soteldo fired a free kick wide of goal from a dangerous position just outside the penalty area.
Smith got forward in a promising attack in the 56th minute but fired a shot right at Bono, with seemingly better options available.
Soteldo put another shot over the bar in the 57th minute, just before Orlando City fashioned its most dangerous threat of the match to that point.
Michel worked the ball into the area and sent it in front for Mueller. Justin Morrow got a foot on the ball and sent it off the left post before it ricocheted back to Bono.
Altidore came on for Dwyer in the 64th minute and it took him only eight minutes to make an impact. Smith was left to cover two players in an overload situation on Toronto’s left side (Orlando’s right) and Morrow sent a cross into the box. Jansson left Moutinho to deal with Altidore in front and the big striker just overpowered him and smashed a header through Gallese for the opener in the 72nd minute.
Smith did a solid job defending Soteldo all night and it ended up being a second player down that side that did the damage. The veteran fullback took responsibility for not switching quicker, though it would have been difficult for him to have had an effect on the play while keeping an eye on Toronto’s newest Designated Player.
“I was worried about (Soteldo) because, you know, he’s very tricky,” Smith said. “So, I was late on the switch and then the (Morrow) puts in his 2-v-1, but I should switch quicker. They got a cross in and Altidore is a big guy, so he finished it.”
“When we conceded the goal, obviously the team was a bit down,” Nani said. “But we knew we had to come back on our feet and (have) a strong mentality to get back in the game and try to score our goal, and we did well.”
Just a minute after Toronto took the lead, the game changed. Michel went forward after a long ball forward and collided with Bono in the box. The foul was initially given Toronto’s way but Michel had been trying to avoid Bono after getting to the spot first. Referee Marcos de Oliveira went to look at the replay and awarded a penalty to Orlando.
Nani stepped up to the spot, took a stutter step in his approach and smashed a ball more or less toward the middle of goal. Bono appeared to leave his line early and got a hand to the shot but it had too much power on it and it still found its way in for the tying goal in the 77th minute.
“That’s why I kicked a little bit in the middle, and I had to change a little bit at the last second,” Nani said, of seeing Bono leave his line early. “But the most important (thing) is the ball got in the goal and we scored.”
It was Nani’s seventh goal of the season to go along with his three assists in just 11 games (10 starts).
Orlando had some chances down the stretch to go on and win the game. Nani crushed a shot on target in the 79th but hit it right at Bono. A ball into the box bounced perfectly for Perea who got his head on it but pushed his shot wide in the 89th minute. Auro Jr. did just enough to bother Perea on the play.
Ultimately, that was the last truly good look for either side and after five minutes of stoppage time that grew into more than six, the game came to an end in a 1-1 stalemate.
Orlando finished with more shots (10-9), shots on target (5-3), and corners (3-1). Toronto held more possession (51.4%-48.6%) and passed more accurately (84.9%-82.9%).
“I think it’s a fair result because both teams played well,” Nani said.
The Lions return home next for a Thursday night match-up against the Philadelphia Union.