New York City FC’s club record five-match winning streak was snapped, but the Cityzens extended an unbeaten run to six matches following a 1-1 draw Wednesday night with Toronto FC at Yankee Stadium.
While NYCFC (15-5-9, 54 points) stretched their lead atop the Eastern Conference to three points over the idle Philadelphia Union, Toronto FC (11-10-9, 42 points) moved level on points with fourth-place D.C. United and three points above the playoff line with their sixth straight match without defeat.
“I’m happy because in the last six games, 18 points, we got 16 points,” NYCFC coach Dome Torrent said. “If you ask me about that, I say I sign right now here. It’s good news for us. That is the reason why we are in the top of the [Eastern Conference].”
Both teams converted spot kicks to share the spoils.
New York City FC jumped in front in the sixth minute courtesy of an Alexandru Mitrita free kick from just outside the 18-yard box after Omar Gonzalez fouled Taty Castellanos. Mitrita placed his free kick around the Toronto wall and past a diving Quentin Westberg for his eighth goal of the season.
Toronto FC leveled in the 40th minute with Alejandro Pozuelo slipping his penalty kick to the left of goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who dived the other way. Pozuelo’s 10th goal of the season came after referee Chris Penso ruled Sebastien Ibeagha pulled back Jozy Altidore, who had his back to goal receiving a cross in front it.
“I felt he was backing into me, his momentum was bringing both of us down,” Ibeagha said. “And he actually had my jersey more than I even had his and we just fell. I didn’t even think it would even be up to a decision for penalty and when the ref pointed to the spot, I was just kind of confused at first.”
Altidore thought he had a goal four minutes earlier when he was played behind the NYCFC defense by Nicolas Benezet and tapped past Johnson inside the far post. But the offensive flag was raised.
Toronto came out of halftime on the front foot and controlled play for much of the first 15 minutes of the second half.
In the 47th minute, Benezet fired a first-time attempt just over the crossbar and Altidore remained active and dangerous, pressing Johnson into making a save before being called for handling the ball off the bounce.
Tsubasa Endoh, who came on for Erickson Gallardo in the first half, put a left-footed attempt on frame just inside the 18-yard box following a Keaton Parks giveaway deep in his defensive third. But Johnson parried it over for a Toronto corner in the 59th minute.
NYCFC had a chance to regain the lead in the 70th minute when Ronald Matarrita pounced on a failed headed clearance by Auro and unleashed a left-footed blast from distance that hammered the near post.
Toronto FC were awarded their second penalty kick of the game when Penso pointed to the spot after it was determined following video review Ben Sweat handled an Endoh cross, which rolled off his chest and onto his raised arm while sliding in the box.
“He tried his best to make a play on the ball,” Johnson said of Sweat. “And obviously Penso went back and looked at the VAR, I guess that was the only real time he went back to look at VAR. It turned out to be against us, which was a bit unfortunate, but I’ve seen it given both ways. I think Ben did his best to make a play on the ball with his body and then the ball popped up and they said it hit his top arm. I didn’t see the replay.”
This time, Johnson got the better of Pozuelo, diving to his left to push away the PK with his right hand.
“If you get a good jump, obviously now it’s just reading,” Johnson said. “Is it a low strike, is it a high strike. It was just in that range where I had one hand maybe covered low. I just used my top hand to see it out. I don’t use my top hand often, especially in those situations, but it’s just what it called for.”
The game ended controversially with the crowd at Yankee Stadium chanting “VAR, VAR, VAR,” after watching replays of Chris Mavinga lash out his arm to make contact with Castellanos in the box. The Argentine forward, who was whistled for the initial foul, was bloodied and needed treatment. But Penso didn’t go to replay and moments later blew the final whistle. Mavinga was booked for unsporting behavior.
“Castellanos was whistled for a holding foul. Immediately after the whistle had blown and while the ball was not in play, Mavinga swung his arm in a reckless manner,” the officials wrote in response to a pool reporter’s question. “Mavinga was cautioned for unsporting behavior and play restarted with a direct kick for Toronto. A penalty kick cannot be awarded for an offense that occurs while the ball is not in play.”
As for why the offense wasn’t deemed violent conduct, the officials said “the action by Mavinga was reckless and disregarded the danger to, or consequences for, the opponent. Mavinga did not use excessive force or brutality when swinging his arm.”
Not surprisingly, Castellanos had a different take.
“It’s a penalty, for me it’s a penalty,” he said. “It should have went to VAR and I think the referee just got confused.”
NYCFC are back in the Bronx for an early Saturday afternoon kickoff against the San Jose Earthquakes, while Toronto FC host the Colorado Rapids Sunday at BMO Field.
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