Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney wondered what else could go wrong for his slumping team after Atlanta United midfielder Pity Martinez was awarded a game-ending penalty kick on Wednesday.
TFC appeared in the clear with a 3-2 victory at BMO Field, only to be called back to the pitch after a video review determined Toronto defender Nick DeLeon committed a handball inside the box.
Martinez lined up his kick. He went right. But so did TFC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg. Martinez wound up putting the ball over the bar. Toronto (6-7-4) had finally snapped its eight-game (0-5-3) win streak.
“I’m not sure I can say all the words that went through my mind,” Vanney said when asked about the anxious time after Martinez was awarded his second penalty kick of the game. “Unforlievable is a word I made up many years ago, which is unfortunately believable. This means the way our season was going, I thought it was another one of those nights.
“Fortunately, I feel like maybe for the first time in a very long time things went our way, and that was the fortune of a very good player missing. Maybe (Westberg) going that way made the net a little smaller.”
Vanney’s side was stung by international duty and injuries in his 200th match at Toronto’s manager. Once again, TFC was without Gold Cup participants Jozy Altidore (United States), Michael Bradley (United States), Ashtone Morgan (Canada) and Jonathan Osorio (Canada) as well as defenders Auro and Chris Mavinga, both out with hamstring injuries. Drew Moor sat out this match with an undisclosed ailment.
Vanney needed a spark so he made some alterations to his lineup. Newcomer Jacob Shaffelburg, 19, started up front on the left side and Japanese forward Tsubasa Endoh made his first appearance on the right side. TFC’s head coach also asked forward Alejandro Pozuelo to hang back in the middle in a formation known as the false nine.
Vanney hoped the speed of Shaffelburg and Endoh would make a difference. It did as Shaffelburg, from Port Williams, N.S., set up Endoh for the fastest goal in TFC history 29 seconds into the game and later Pozuelo for the 2-2 goal in the 27th minute.
“I had no idea (that was the fastest goal in club history),” Endoh said. “I’m very proud, but the most important thing is three points.”
The three goals were the most offensive production in a game since a 4-3 victory at home against Minnesota United on April 19. TFC had scored only five goals in its winless slide and had been blanked on four occasions.
“We needed them today,” Pozuelo said. “(Endoh) and (Shaffelburg) made a big difference.”
After a couple of near misses from defender Richie Laryea and Endoh in the late going, TFC was awarded a penalty kick in injury time when Laryea was brought down inside the box. Pozuelo was spot on to push his club ahead.
But then the drama became thick with referee Alan Kelly being overruled by video review after the game had seemingly ended. Martinez had scored on a penalty kick in the first half after another video review.
Endoh remarked that he didn’t know about Vanney’s milestone game at the helm of TFC until he heard the public address announcer inform the crowd as the match was about to get underway.
Then he and Shaffelburg went out and made a difference for their coach.
“It felt a like a microcosm of 200 games,” Vanney said. “One minute you’re up, one minute you’re down. That’s what this whole journey has felt like. Through resiliency, hard work and preparation, you come out on top.”