Toronto FC drew 2-2 against the Chicago Fire on Sunday evening in a wild one at SeatGeek Stadium.
Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez scored the goals for TFC, either side of a pair of Fire goals from Aleksandar Katai and Fabian Herbers.
"It was wide open,” said Greg Vanney post-match. “Neither team did a great job of stopping the other, so it was very end-to-end, which meant there were a lot of chances. It's something that can happen when you get around playoff time: teams get a little bit desperate and they are willing to throw caution to the wind, throw everything at it, especially towards the end of the game.”
“That's not really what you want – that's not really what we want ever – but for sure not in the seventh game in 23 days and coming off a midweek game that was a lot of work,” added Vanney. “Having said that, we had our chances to try to get it. We were here to try to get three points, but we weren't able to. When the game gets open, it's anybody's game."
After a first half that saw both sides miss decent chances, Altidore opened the scoring in the 59th minute when he turned on a Marky Delgado ball, powered past his marker, staying on his feet under pressure before sliding a finish under Kenneth Kronholm in the Chicago net.
Katai and Herbers, each off the bench, found the back of the net in the 68th and 77th minute, courtesy of some excellent service from Przemyslaw Frankowski and Nicolas Gaitain, respectively, putting Toronto behind, but Gonzalez found the equalizer in the 80th minute with a powerful header from Alejandro Pozuelo’s corner kick.
"We did some good things, the mentality continues to be good and strong,” assessed Michael Bradley. “If we were a little smarter, a little better, a little sharper, the opportunity was there to take three points. So, on one hand, disappointing to feel like you leave two points on the table. But, again, there were good stretches, and on the whole, we’re in a really good way. Just keep going. One more game to play next week, see how things shake out and then get ready for the playoffs."
Altidore’s goal was his 11th of the MLS season and the first in the four appearances since returning from injury earlier this month.
"It felt good – a long time coming,” said Altidore. “It felt nice, but the biggest thing is the result and we stayed unbeaten. That's the best. Everybody's a bit, (shakes head). We want to get those three points and we put in the work. It's not falling for us, but we’re unbeaten. The mentality has been good; going into the playoffs you want this momentum, so we still have it and we feel good about it."
With the draw, TFC are unbeaten in nine league matches.
"It was nice for Omar to get a goal, it was nice for Jozy to get [one in] the back of the net, feel that again,” said Vanney. “Pleased we battled out, got a result, and we’ve kept this form of being difficult to beat. For that I am happy. It's little bit of execution. As we go towards the playoffs, we don't want these games to look like this one did tonight. We need to do a little bit better job of controlling the tempo of things."
There was a concerning moment after the hour mark when Quentin Westberg went down while the ball was out of play, seeking treatment a few minutes after an awkward collision with Gaitan. He would be forced off the field by the MLS doctor as a precaution, leaving in the 75th minute.
"When he took the ball and kind of went over the player's back, he landed awkward,” explained Vanney. “The doctor chose to take him off the field. He recommended he come off the field."
Unexpectedly, Alex Bono made his 100th appearance for the club in those peculiar circumstances, coming on as a substitute for Westberg.
"It means everything to me,” said Bono of reaching the century. “It's been five years. This is the first milestone that you hit, your personal milestone you hit. To me, it means everything.”
“Obviously, you never wish injury upon anybody and obviously one of your teammates, one of the guys who you grind day in and day out with, so I wish Q a speedy recovery. You never want to see that,” continued Bono. “Situationally, not great, but at the end of the day, 100 appearances is 100 appearances. As a goalkeeper, it's a lot more difficult to get, you don't get to make a lot of sub appearances. I'm very proud, I am very honoured that I've been able to do this for this club and hopefully 100 more."
Sunday’s game ends a gruelling stretch of seven matches since September 7. The side now has a week to prepare for a Decision Day clash at BMO Field against Columbus Crew SC.
"It was hard,” admitted Altidore of this stretch. “Midweek in that Montreal game, that was our lowest point, in terms of I don't think we were able to get in that next gear, that we have been able to do at home during the course of the season.”
“We lost on penalties, but we won the game,” he continued. “But tonight we bounced back really well. It's a tough place to come and they were desperate, they had to win, and they threw everything at us and we were still able to come out of here with a result."
The draw and another between D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls saw Toronto remain in sixth spot in the Eastern Conference standings, one point behind Red Bull and two behind D.C., while the New England Revolution won their game to move within two points of TFC. The final positions will be decided in next weekend’s regular season finale.
“It's going to come down to the last day,” said Vanney. “We still have an opportunity at home to pick up three points and change our position in the standings. Maybe that includes a home game, maybe it doesn't, I don't know. We want to continue to be in the positive results category. We need to control our business and the rest will land where it lands."
Heading into the post-season, being difficult to beat is the best predictor of success.
"The teams that tend to do the best in the playoffs are the teams who are doing the best in the final ten games of the season. That so far has been the only indicator in MLS of teams that do well in the playoffs,” said Vanney. “You want to go in with some level of confidence, you want to go in where you’re really difficult to beat.”
“A little bit more execution in a few of these games and we would probably have more wins than draws out of those, but, at the same time, the group is very confident,” continued the coach. “We just worked through an incredible stretch of games, so from a fitness standpoint, the rest this week will do us well, but guys are fit, guys are healthy, guys are looking forward to the next stage."
The aim from the final match?
"Keep the momentum, play a good game, and win,” urged Altidore. “Regardless of what is going on, regardless of where we finish, you just want to keep that winning mentality, that unbeaten mentality going into the playoffs where obviously it's a knockout, lose you go home. We want that feeling of being unbeaten and having that momentum. We have that right now."