Apr 28, 2018; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Chicago Fire forward Elliot Collier (28) tries to get around Toronto FC midfielder Marco Delgado (18) during the first half at BMO Field. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
It has been a miserable week for Toronto FC.
Alan Gordon scored with virtually the last kick of the game to earn the Chicago Fire an unlikely 2-2 draw at BMO Field on Saturday, wiping out what had been a 2-0 advantage for the home side.
TFC, which lost the Concacaf Champions League final on penalties midweek, appeared totally in control through a first half that featured goals from Jonathan Osorio and Victor Vázquez. A third — scored by Sebastian Giovinco — was ruled out by the video assistant referee.
And at the end of a wild match, the VAR was as much of a talking point as the result due to a number of contentious incidents.
Reds coach Greg Vanney felt the momentum of the game swung after a lack of review of Chicago’s first goal, which Bastian Schweinsteiger headed in with 20 minutes to play.
Schweinsteiger was onside when he nodded past goalkeeper Alex Bono from close range to make it 2-1, but Nemanja Nikolić, who had unsuccessfully attempted to play the ball in front of Schweinsteiger in the six-yard box, was not.
“I think the game was decided by a player who was offside,” Vanney said. “Not necessarily Schweinsteiger but the other player, right in front of or next to Schweinsteiger, who tries to head the ball, who is in an offside position, and makes a play for the ball who is two feet from Schweinsteiger is offside.
“The referee doesn’t take the time to review it and make a decision on his own, and it’s a goal. I think he has to review that. I think he’s offside. He certainly took his time to review ours — I think that would be respectful to do the same for us. And [he] didn’t.
“I think, as I look at it back, he’s offside. At least as everybody that I know of understands the interpretation of the rule: a player who is offside and in front of the goal and attempts to make a touch, a play on the ball, and affects the potential decision-making of anybody around him, is offside.
“That is the first goal. That leads to a momentum shift a touch, because now they’re back at 2-1 instead of a 2-0. And therein lies… again, the game is sometimes about chances, goals. Not necessarily the run of play.”
As Vanney alluded to, it was not the only incident in which VAR came to the forefront of the stadium’s attention. Alan Kelly, the referee, already declined to review whether or not Giovinco was offside in the lead-up to TFC’s first goal before he checked the replay for what would have been the hosts’ second.
Kelly concluded that Nicolas Hasler was offside when he received a pass from Giovinco, which was then returned to the Italian to score.
It did not take long, though, for TFC to add a legal second goal. When a corner was cleared to Michael Bradley on the edge of the Chicago box, he mishit a half-volley that spun to the left of goalkeeper Richard Sánchez and into the path of Vázquez, who superbly angled a side-footed lob into the far corner.
But despite TFC’s dominance of the game at that point, its lead was not nearly as safe as it seemed.
The first sign of danger — and yet more VAR controversy — arrived when Kelly reviewed a challenge by Ashtone Morgan on Nikolić, who ghosted in front of the left back and took the impact of Morgan’s attempt to clear the ball.
What appeared to be a dangerous challenge from behind by Schweinsteiger to win the ball from Bradley seconds earlier had not been noticed by Kelly and was not reviewable.
Kelly awarded a penalty after watching the video of Morgan and Nikolić’s tangle, but Bono leapt to his right to save Schweinsteiger’s shot.
Toronto continued to create chances thereafter — the best of them an Ager Aketxe ball that rolled across the goalmouth untouched — but could not add to its lead. And the Reds were made to pay when Schweinsteiger headed home, creating a frantic final 20 minutes.
A combination of Bono and Liam Fraser somehow kept the ball out of the net as substitute Gordon and Nikolić crashed the six-yard box, but it proved to be a brief stay of execution.
With seconds left in added time, a Schweinsteiger cross dropped in the box for Gordon, who made no mistake from eight yards to rescue a point and keep Toronto rooted to the bottom of the MLS standings.