Late Pozuelo penalty lifts Toronto FC to comeback win over Inter Miami
Toronto FC's Richie Laryea, left, and Toronto FC's Alejandro Pozuelo celebrates Pozuelo's goal during the second half of an MLS match against Inter Miami, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in East Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, November 1, 2020 10:11PM EST
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. - Second-half goals by Ayo Akinola and Alejandro Pozuelo lifted Toronto FC to a 2-1 comeback win over expansion Inter Miami in MLS play Sunday.
Pozuelo delivered the winner in the 84th minute from the penalty spot and Toronto staved off a late Miami charge for the victory.
Not for the first time, Richie Laryea created the penalty -- knocked down by Ben Sweat after slashing into the penalty box. Pozuelo left goalkeeper John McCarthy rooted to the spot as he converted his 11th penalty in MLS regular-season and playoff action.
The result means Toronto (13-4-5) is still in the hunt for the Supporters' Shield going into the final weekend of the regular season. But it will have to win at the New York Red Bulls next Sunday and hope Philadelphia (13-4-5) drops points against visiting New England given the Union have the tiebreaker edge.
It was Toronto's first-ever meeting with expansion Miami (6-13-3). And it marked Toronto's 13th straight game away from BMO Field. Local authorities were prepared to allowed in up to 5,000 fans, a first for Toronto on a rainy, windy night at Pratt and Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field. The elements likely kept more than a few at home.
Toronto was coming off back-to-back losses to Philadelphia and New York City FC that followed a nine-game undefeated run (7-0-2). Miami lost 2-1 at FC Dallas midweek and has won just one of its last five (1-3-1), its playoff hopes adding.
While Toronto had almost 65 per cent of possession in the first half, it managed just one shot on target.
Blaise Matuidi broke the deadlock in the 42nd minute after Toronto fullback Tony Gallacher lost the ball to Lewis Morgan on the right flank. Morgan's first attempt at a cross from the byline hit Chris Mavinga but it came back to him and his second attempt bounced off Michael Bradley to Matuidi whose low left-footed shot found the corner on the goal.
It was Miami's first shot on target and a first MLS goal for Matuidi, a World Cup winner with France whose club resume includes Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.
Toronto tied it up in the 55th minute when Akinola, returning from injury, outmuscled a Miami defender to get to a high ball from substitute Patrick Mullins. He controlled it with his chest twice as he headed towards goal, then poked a shot past McCarthy for his ninth of the season.
Miami star forward Gonzalo Higuain came close to a 79th-minute goal but his swerving shot -- after a magnificent touch to control a cross -- cracked off the crossbar
Pozuelo's penalty gave him nine goals on the season.
The Columbus Crew did Toronto a favour in the Supporters' Shield race by defeating the visiting Philadelphia 2-1 earlier in the day.
The Supporters' Shield goes to the team with the best-regular season record -- and the playoff home-field advantage and US$150,00 prize that goes with it.
Due to pandemic-related game cancellations, MLS has decided that 2020 playoff qualification will be decided by points per game rather than total points. The next tiebreaker is goal difference, where Philadelphia holds a decided advantage.
That is assuming COVID-19 doesn't affect the final day of the regular season.
Toronto coach Greg Vanney made six changes to his starting lineup.
Restored to health, Akinola and Mavinga made their first starts since Oct. 14. There was also a first MLS start for 18-year-old midfielder Ralph Priso, who had looked lively in two appearances off the bench since signing a first-team contract Oct. 14.
Priso was active from the get-go, making plays at both ends on the field.
But fullback Justin Morrow joined a crowded injury list that includes goalkeeper Alex Bono, midfielders Marky Delgado and Jonathan Osorio and forwards Jozy Altidore, Pablo Piatti and Achara.
Brazilian fullback Auro returned from suspensions with defender Eriq Zavaleta and Tsubasa Endoh also inserted into the starting 11.
Miami was missing three-quarters of its backline with centre backs Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Andres Reyes suspended and fullback Nico Figal injured.
Miami started designated players Higuain and Rodolfo Pizarro with Matias Pellegrini, a young designated player, on the bench.
Toronto had more of the ball in the early going although Higuain showed his playmaking skills with several fine passes in the TFC end. And despite its makeshift backline, Miami defended well.
Mullins came in for Endoh at the start of the second half, giving Toronto two attackers up front.
Entering weekend pay, Miami was on the fringe of the playoffs in 11th place in the Eastern Conference going into weekend play, just behind Chicago. The top 10 makes the playoffs in the East with No. 7 facing No. 10 and No. 8 meeting No. 9 in play-in games.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2020