Defender Frederic Brillant completed a late comeback with a 91st-minute goal as 10-man D.C. United rallied to tie Toronto FC 2-2 Monday morning at the MLS is Back Tournament in a matchup twice delayed by COVID-19 concerns.
Ayo Akinola, in a rare start, scored twice in the first half to give Toronto a commanding 2-0 lead at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida. But things turned in the 84th minute as D.C. United scored against the run of play.
Substitute Federico Higuain, in his D.C. United debut after a decorated career in Columbus, started the rally with a chip over Quentin Westberg after the heart of a reshuffled Toronto defence was sliced open by a pass from Brazil’s Felipe.
Brillant completed the unlikely comeback, rising above Laurent Ciman to head in the tying goal in stoppage time, after Steven Birnbaum headed the ball to him at the far post from a Felipe free kick.
Akinola came close to restoring the Toronto lead in the 96th minute but Bill Hamid got a hand to his header.
There was some bad blood after the final whistle of a game that saw some ugly tackles.
D.C. United played the second half with 10 men after midfielder Junior Moreno received a second yellow for going through the back of Marky Delgado in first-half stoppage time.
Toronto used its man advantage in the second half, stroking the ball around the field, and seemed cruising to a commanding win until the bottom fell out.
Players negative in new round of testing
The two teams were originally scheduled to meet Friday night but that was pushed back to Sunday due to Toronto’s late arrival (July 6), caused by the need for additional COVID-19 testing after a member of the travelling part reported symptoms.
Sunday’s game was called off minutes before the 9 a.m. ET kickoff in the wake of a positive test for a D.C. United player and an inconclusive test for a Toronto player.
All other players tested negative in a round of new testing. The two players in question, neither of which was identified by their clubs, were isolated pending receipt of a second negative test.
The tournament, which marks the league’s first action since it shut down March 12 due to the global pandemic, has already lost FC Dallas and Nashville SC due to a rash of positive COVID-19 tests.
There was no evidence of rust as Toronto pressed D.C. and attacked on multiple fronts despite the absence of star striker Jozy Altidore.
Captain Michael Bradley, in his first game since injuring his ankle in the Nov. 10 MLS Cup final, was a force in the midfield. Fullbacks Justin Morrow and Brazil’s Auro bombed down the flanks in the first half.
Akinola scored in the 12th minute, beating one defender and then splitting two more before hammering in a right-footed shot from the edge of the box. The goal came after Hamid’s goal kick went straight to Bradley in the D.C. end, with an Alejandro Pozuelo pass eventually finding Akinola.
The 20-year-old scored again in the 44th minute after Pozuelo beat Brillant to the ball following an 11-pass Toronto sequence. Pozuelo floated the ball to the far post where an unmarked Akinola tapped it in.
Teams don masks, Black Lives Matter T-shirts
Akinola came into the match with one goal in 12 career MLS appearances (including two starts) spread over three seasons. It was his first MLS game action since June 29, 2019 — and first start since May 8, 2019.
The game finally kicked off at 9:08 a.m. in 28 C heat. Both teams arrived wearing masks and Black Lives Matter T-shirts, taking a knee before kickoff.
Pablo Piatti, making his TFC debut, had the game’s first chance in the sixth minute after Pozuelo found him on the edge of the box. But the Argentine winger dragged his shot just wide.
Akinola, a U.S. youth international, had a chance for a second goal in the 19th minute after Tsubasa Endoh found him with a slide-rule pass but Hamid stopped his weak shot from out wide.
Westberg made a remarkable one-handed save to stop Ola Kamara’s header from point-blank range in first-half stoppage time.
Akinola was scythed down by Felipe with 20 minutes remaining, earning the midfielder a yellow card. It was one of several ill-tempered tackles from D.C. United on the day.
Toronto coach Greg Vanney made changes in the second half, sending on Richie Laryea, Eriq Zavaleta, Ciman, Erickson Gallardo and Nick DeLeon.
Toronto’s next Group C game is Thursday against the Montreal Impact, who lost their opener 1-0 to the New England Revolution last Thursday.
Changes up front
The three group games count in the regular-season standings with Toronto now at 1-0-2 and D.C. United at 1-1-1.
Toronto went with the same starting 11 announced Sunday.
While it fielded the same back five as it had in its last league game March 7, there were four changes further forward — Bradley, Piatti, Endoh and Akinola.
Altidore did not make the matchday 23. He was late joining the team after spending the lockdown at his Florida home and had to train on his own while fulfilling quarantine.
Jonathan Osorio didn’t dress due to a quad strain, according to Toronto.
D.C. United made one change from the starting 11 that beat Inter Miami 2-1 last time out on March 7. Costa Rican Ulises Segura came in for Argentina’s Yamil Asad, who dropped to the bench.
Estonian international Erik Sorga, who played 75 minutes off the bench against Inter Miami, did not make the matchday 23.
It was another early wake-up call for the two teams, with Toronto planning a 5:30 a.m. pre-game meal for the second day in a row. That was pre-empted by a team Zoom call Sunday to discuss the COVID-19 tests.
Toronto knocked D.C. United out of the playoffs the last time they met, scoring four goals in extra time in a 5-1 first-round win in October.