QUEENS, N.Y. — Down goes the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed.
Toronto FC pulled off the first surprising postseason result in the east on Wednesday night, defeating New York City FC by a 2-1 mark at Citi Field. Alejandro Pozuelo led the way in the Eastern Conference semifinals victory, bagging a brace that included a game-winning Panenka penalty kick in the 90th minute.
For NYCFC, it was major defensive blunders that proved very costly. Both of Toronto FC’s goals came in part because of poor decisions, with Pozuelo first alertly pouncing on a misplayed ball from Maxime Chanot and Richie Laryea drawing the decisive spot kick after getting tackled in the penalty box by Ronald Matarrita.
The result means Toronto FC moves on to the Eastern Conference Final for the third time in four years. The Canadian outfit will next visit the winner of Thursday’s bout between Atlanta United and the Philadelphia Union on Oct. 30.
After a scoreless first half in which Toronto FC tested NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson repeatedly, Pozuelo opened the scoring at the 47-minute mark after racing to a poorly headed back pass from Chanot. The NYCFC defender tried to nod the ball back to Johnson on the play, but did not get enough on the pass and Pozuelo raced to the loose ball before finishing with aplomb.
NYCFC pulled level in the 69th minute via a well-taken volley from Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, who found himself all alone at the back post on a cross from Maximiliano Moralez. Tajouri-Shradi made clean contact on his effort, blasting the ball into the back of the net to send the home crowd into a frenzy.
Toronto FC prevailed near the death, however. Laryea beat Matarrita on the dribble just inside the 18-yard box, and the NYCFC fullback proceeded to lunge in with a slide tackle that got none of the ball.
Head ref Jair Marrufo quickly pointed to the spot, and Pozuelo capitalized on the game-winning opportunity by clipping the ball right down the middle as Johnson guessed incorrectly and dove left.
NYCFC almost found an equalizer deep in stoppage time when Johnson threw himself forward to join the attack and looped a ball into the penalty area. Valentin Castellanos’ ensuing header was saved well by diving Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg, though, and that cemented the 2-1 result.