1. Pressure, weather hamper TFC at BMO Field.
With a 2-1 lead on aggregate and two away goals plus the home crowd, TFC had everything in its favor heading into the second leg, but seldom did it display the confidence and efficiency by which it set a league record for points (74) and racked up goal differential of plus-37.
It had little trouble containing New York in the first half, but nervousness set in after a shot by Daniel Royer deflected off Bradley Wright-Phillips and rolled past keeper Alex Bono in the 49th minute. Leading in the match, 1-0, the Red Bulls pressed for a second away goal that could have won them the series, 3-2 on aggregate.
Bono had just come up with a huge save when Bradley Wright-Phillips wriggled free to hit a low shot the keeper got enough to divert wide. But when Royer took a very hopeful shot from a long way out, the Red Bulls got the goal they needed to unsettle TFC.
An apparent goal that would have eased TFC’s nerves bounced into the net off Red Bulls Tyler Adams and keeper Luis Robles as they jostled with Jonathan Osorio, but it was disallowed for offside. At first glance, it appeared Osorio might have fouled Adams though the contact was not severe.
Though TFC prevented the Red Bulls from getting any clean chances as the minutes ticked down, its players failed to settle the game down for any significant length of the time and in the 80th minute Sebastian Giovinco protested a Chris Penso decision so vituperatively he earned a caution that suspends him for the first game of the conference finals. He had been cautioned for time-wasting in the first leg.
2. USA internationals don’t emerge for second half.
The teams combined for just two shots in the first half and none were launched by the Red Bulls, but there were several harsh fouls and chippy incidents.
Late in the first half, USA teammates Sacha Kljestan and Jozy Altidore got into a heated discussion that ended with Kljestan giving a playful push that somehow uprooted Altidore, and sent him to the ground. Referee Chris Penso cautioned both players for unsporting behavior, yet still the nastiness persisted.
TFC captain Michael Bradley confronted Penso and was cautioned. TV cameras showed players and head coaches Jesse Marsch and Greg Vanney trading words in the tunnel, and when the second half started both teams were down a man. Penso had issued red cards to Kljestan and Altidore.
With more space in the middle of the field, despite the absence of Kljestan the Red Bulls were able to create the chance for Wright-Phillips that was saved by Robles and control more possession in the middle third. Vanney used all three of his subs -- defender Nick Hagglund, and holding midfielders Nicolas Hasler and Jonathan Osorio -- to shore up his team’s resistance yet still it was a jittery team that closed out the final minutes.
The tunnel fracas is costly to TFC, which won't have Altidore and Giovinco for the first game of the Eastern Conference finals at Columbus that will be played after the FIFA break.
3. Red Bulls regain some credibility but must find solutions.
After playoff fizzles the past two years as the regulars-season conference champion, the Red Bulls faced an uphill battle as the sixth seed. They dismantled Chicago, 4-1, in the Knockout Round only to lose the first game against TFC, 2-1, at home.
A decent showing at BMO Field despite elimination on the away-goals rule leaves the fans frustrated and Marsch with some major issues regarding personnel. A move of Tyler Adams to the center didn’t produce all that much effect, though neither Felipe nor Kljestan played particularly well in either game against TFC.
Adams is clearly an outstanding talent who must be on the field regularly in a role that can showcase and enhance his abilities. Whether he’s ready to carry a major share of the attacking burden consistently is something Marsch must address.
Subpar performances in the last two seasons directed some criticism at Kljestan, and after a good game against the Fire his foolish antics in the tunnel at BMO may cloud his future in New York. At age 32 and Los Angeles Football Club starting up in his homeland of Southern California with Bob Bradley in charge, a move might be afoot.
The Red Bulls' back line has been a patchwork job for much of the year with Aurelien Collin in and out of the lineup. Aaron Long is a young player with immense upside, and Kemar Lawrence and Michael Murilloare solid on the outside. Marsch needs to forge a reliable unit and add depth.
Nov. 5 in
Toronto FC 0 NY Red Bulls 1.
NY: Bradley Wright-Phillips (Daniel Royer) 53
Toronto FC -- Bono; Morrow, Moor, Mavinga (Hagglund 54), Beitashour (Hasler 64), Zavaleta (Osorio 66), Delgado, Bradley, Vazquez, Giovinco, Altidore.
NY Red Bulls -- Robles; Murillo (Davis 64), Perrinelle, Long, Lawrence, Felipe, Royer, Adams, Kljestan, Veron (Etienne 80), Wright-Phillips.
Red Cards: Toronto FC -- Altidore 45; NY Red Bulls -- Kljestan 45.
(Aggregate: 2-2; Toronto FC wins on away goals.)