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Toronto FC bowed out of the Major League Soccer playoff picture on Saturday night, though the Reds, with apologies to Dylan Thomas, certainly did not go gentle into that good night.
Atlanta United came away with a 2-0 victory against TFC at BMO Field on goals by Luiz Araújo and Marcelino Moreno, officially eliminating Toronto from the MLS Cup playoffs with five games left in the regular season.
The match, a very competitive and often times chippy affair, ended with a brouhaha late in the game and big chances by both sides in added time, with Moreno scoring in the 97th minute to seal the deal for Atlanta.
Frustrations began to boil over late in the game after Atlanta midfielder Ezequiel Barco hit the dirt rather pathetically after being touched from behind by Toronto’s Auro Jr.
A couple of minutes later, Jozy Altidore found himself in the middle of a scrum near the Atlanta goal, which escalated with Auro and Barco being given red cards in the 84th minute. Players from both teams pushed and shoved and argued for a few minutes more and the bad blood spilled right over to the tunnel that leads to the dressing rooms, with a member of the Atlanta coaching staff reportedly accosting Auro in the tunnel, which didn’t sit well with Toronto coach Javier Perez.
Even worse for Toronto, midfielder Mark Delgado took a yellow card in the 92nd minute and will miss Wednesday’s match against Inter Miami.
Down 1-0 at the start of added time, TFC centre back Omar Gonzalez was robbed of a goal on a header on a great save by Atlanta keeper Brad Guzan. That was a major turning point. TFC keeper Alex Bono made a good save on a Moreno breakaway shortly after.
TFC is now officially playing for pride now, and to win the Canadian Championship title, starting with a semifinal match against Pacific FC on Nov. 3 at BMO Field.
Perez expressed pride in the way his club has played since he took over from Chris Armas in early July. Heading into the Atlanta match, TFC was unbeaten in five games and was riding a two-game win streak.
“The team really fought all the way through, never gave up,” Perez said. “Neither do I expect them to give up now. We still have to fight for points and we’re not a team that gives up easily. I’m proud the way we (played through). It’s been an extremely difficult season for us. Many of the games didn’t go our way and that reflects the characteristics of the season and I think it will make us stronger. We still have a championship to play for and having that objective towards the end of the season will help us stay strong and motivated (and) we’ll be a team that will come back and fight for titles.”
The Reds welcomed back a trio of veterans to the lineup on Saturday — Altidore (foot), Alejandro Pozuelo (quad), and Eriq Zavaleta (concussion).
Pozuelo most recently played on Aug. 27, Altidore saw action on Aug. 7 and Zavaleta hasn’t played since Sept. 25. Altidore and Pozuelo came into the match as substitutes in the 61st minute with TFC down 1-0 — a rare time this season when all three Toronto Designated Players were on the field at the same time, along with Yeferson Soteldo. Their presence seemed to spark Toronto’s attack, though the home side was unable to find the back of the goal despite firing 15 shots, with four on goal. Atlanta had nine on target.
There was a worry that Soteldo wouldn’t be up to play after returning from South America last week, where he represented Venezuela in the World Cup qualifying tournament. But he did start up front alongside Jacob Shaffelburg and Ifunanyachi Achara.
The trio of TFC players who played in Canada’s 4-1 victory over Panama on Wednesday night — Shaffelburg, Richie Laryea and Jonathan Osorio — were in the starting XI against the Five Stripes, though all three appeared to be somewhat fatigued and lacked their usual energy. Atlanta was without star striker Josef Martinez due to injury.
TFC almost drew first blood in the fourth minute when Achara made a nice cross to Osorio just outside the middle of the box and the Brampton native right-footed the ball off the cross bar.
Atlanta’s best chance early came via a Barco free kick which was denied by Bono, who made a second good save seconds later on George Bello.
TFC defender Kemar Lawrence then deflected an Atlanta shot off the Toronto cross bar.
Achara, who committed the foul which led to Barco’s free kick, hurt himself on the play and was forced to leave the match a couple of minutes later. He was replaced by 17-year-old TFC sensation Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, who will likely get a lot of playing time as the season winds down.
Lawrence, who was acquired by TFC in May, has really come into his own on the Toronto backline of late and played another solid game on Saturday.
Araújo’s goal came in stoppage time at the end of the first half starting with a nice give and go with Bello finding Araújo in the box, and the Brazilian winger made a nice chip shot with his left foot over Bono and into the goal. Shortly after that, Gonzalez prevented an Atlanta goal by making a save off Araújo. Moreno had another good chance in the 55th minute from just outside the box with Bono making a good save.
Delgado appeared to draw a penalty kick in the 62nd minute when he was pulled down in the box by Bello, but referee Timothy Ford gave Delgado the foul.
TFC next plays on Wednesday night against Inter Miami at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.