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Toronto FC exits MLS is Back Tournament with Round of 16 loss to New York City FC

A poor start followed by some indifferent play ended Toronto FC’s run Sunday at the MLS is Back Tournament.

Jesus Medina, Valentin Castellanos and Maxi Moralez scored as New York City FC defeated Toronto 3-1 in round-of-16 play.

Toronto, which won Group C while NYCFC needed help from others to advance to the knockout round after finishing third in Group A, was second-best most of the night. TFC looked tired and short on ideas against a hungry NYCFC side.

It sounded like some TFC players may be headed to the woodshed in the wake of the loss.

“There’s a lot of individual and collective things that I will take away from the game — they’re not for the press conference — that we will deal with in terms of our group,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney said after the game.

“Everything was too slow. It lacked urgency, it lacked intensity.”

The two teams have history with Toronto knocking the New Yorkers out of the playoffs in 2016 and 2019.

Toronto now heads home, expecting the league will resume play in mid-August. Border issues may play a role in how the schedule looks given the pandemic.

“I assume and believe that that will include us. What does that exactly mean for the Canadian teams, I’m not 100 per cent sure yet,” said Vanney. “I think that’s still a little bit of (a) work in progress. But something will get worked out.

“We know we’re going to probably have to adapt given the circumstances. Again we’ll figure out what that looks like.”

Medina opened the scoring for NYCFC, taking advantage of an early Toronto defensive lapse. Castellanos and Moralez added second-half goals.

WATCH | Castellanos’ beauty sees TFC exit MLS tourney:

Valentin Castellanos scored a great game-winning goal as New York City FC sent TFC home from the MLS is Back Tournament. 1:13

Substitute Patrick Mullins added a consolation goal for Toronto in the 87th minute.

Toronto outshot New York 12-11 but only managed two shots on target compared to seven for NYCFC. TFC had 55 per cent of the possession and had an 8-3 edge in corners.

“We started the game very poorly, got ourselves going a little bit at the end of the first half but just in all ways weren’t good enough tonight,” said captain Michael Bradley. “That part’s pretty simple, there’s not much more to say.”

Costly mistakes 

NYCFC will face either the Portland Timbers or FC Cincinnati in quarterfinal action next Saturday. Portland-Cincinnati meet Tuesday.

The Montreal Impact’s tournament ended Saturday night in a 1-0 loss to Orlando City. The Vancouver Whitecaps played Sporting Kansas City in the late game Sunday at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex.

NYCFC went ahead in the fifth minute after some sloppy Toronto defending on a Ronald Matarrita free kick, needlessly given away by Alejandro Pozuelo off a Toronto throw-in.

Bradley’s attempted clearance went straight to Anton Tinnerholm with teenager Jayden Nelson unable to close him down. Tinnerholm found an unmarked Medina whose low shot went through goalkeeper Quentin Westberg’s hands. It marked the first time Toronto had gone behind in four games at the tournament.

Castellanos made it 2-0 in the 55th minute, outpacing Omar Gonzalez to a looping ball from Moralez and then rounding the centre back to fire a shot into the corner. Westberg got a hand to the ball but could not keep it out.

Brazilian fullback Auro was out of position after conceding the foul that started the play.

With Toronto pressing for a goal, NYCFC added to its lead in the 81st minute on a counter-attack with Moralez beating Westberg after being put in alone.

Mullins scored in the 87th minute, taking a cushioned header from Jozy Altidore off a Jacob Shaffelburg cross before beating Sean Johnson.

Brazil’s Heber, sent in alone, hit the Toronto crossbar with a chip in stoppage time. Seconds later he did it again, with his shot deflecting off a defender and the woodwork.

Missing leading scorer

Toronto’s Ayo Akinola, who scored five goals in his first two games of the tournament, sat out the game with hamstring tightness. Nelson, a 17-year-old voted Canadian Youth International Player of the Year in 2019, moved into the starting lineup with Pozuelo playing as a false No. 9.

It marked the Toronto FC and MLS competition debut for Nelson. Unlike the three group games, the knockout rounds at the tournament do not count in the regular season.

Altidore, who made his tournament debut last time in the 86th minute against New England, and Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who missed the first three games with a quad issue, started on the bench.

Westberg, Toronto’s No. 1 ‘keeper, returned to the lineup after being rested against New England.

New York lost attacking mdfielder Ismael Tajouri-Shradi in the 27th minute when he went down clutching the back of his leg. He was replaced by Moralez, who has been dealing with a quad issue at the tournament.

While Toronto had 60 per cent of the possession in the first half, it failed to put a shot on target in six attempts.

Vanney sent on Altidore, Osorio and Erickson Gallardo in the 57th minute. Shaffelburg and Mullins followed off the bench as Vanney looked for some offence.

17-year-old makes TFC debut 

Nelson, whose rise through the ranks has been swift, had a quiet 57 minutes although he showed flashes of his speed and industry.

“I was pleased with him. I thought he gave us some interesting stuff,” said Vanney.

Nelson made his pro debut with Toronto FC 2 in last April, turned 17 in September, represented Canada at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in October/November and was named Canadian Youth International Player of the Year in December. He kicked off 2020 by making his senior debut Jan. 7 and scoring his first goal three days later — in a pair of 4-1 wins over Barbados.

Less than two weeks later, Nelson signed a homegrown contact with Toronto on Jan. 23.

Toronto had gone unbeaten in its five previous games this season (2-0-3), including a 1-0 win over NYCFC in its home opener March 7.

Prior to Sunday, Toronto had gone unbeaten in its last 15 regular-season outings (6-0-9) dating back to a 2-0 loss Aug. 3 at the New York Red Bulls. Including playoffs, TFC had lost just once in its last 19 matches (9-1-9).

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