Toronto's perfect start to the MLS season ended Saturday in a 2-2 draw with the Chicago Fire.
It was an uneven performance against a Chicago team that stacked its defence and looked to counter-attack. Toronto dominated the first half, when it had 75.6 per cent of possession, but went into halftime tied 1-1 after giving up a C.J. Sapong goal in stoppage time.
After Chicago (1-2-2) pulled ahead 2-1 in the 65th minute on a Nemanja Nikolic goal, Jonathan Osorio's 76th-minute goal rescued a point for Toronto (3-0-1) before 26,256 at BMO Field.
Toronto coach Greg Vanney saw the game as a learning experience against an opponent that sat back in numbers.
"Disappointed because we feel like we dropped two points out of it," said Toronto coach Greg Vanney. "But obviously in the end we gained one because we had to come from behind."
Still an unbeaten record after four games is nothing to sniff at, especially given TFC's disappointing 2018 league campaign.
"A lot of positives to take away," said captain Michael Bradley.
"You're going to have days like this over the course of the season," he added.
Thanks to D.C. United's 4-0 loss to Los Angeles FC, Toronto moved into top spot in the Eastern Conference pending the result of Columbus' match later in the day.
Chicago also left disappointed.
"We allowed them to tie the game up in the end and gain a point out of it," said Sapong. "I think we showed a lot in regards to grit, positive there, but we also have to be a little bit hungrier so we can walk away with all the points."
Jozy Altidore, who had given Toronto a 1-0 lead in the first half, set up the tying goal. Positioned on the flank near the Chicago penalty box, the burly striker twisted and turned Jeremiah Gutjahr before delivering a perfect cross for Osorio to head in.
Both Chicago goals came off Toronto defensive miscues.
"We turned over balls in some bad places," said Vanney.
At times in the first half, it seemed like the game was played entirely in Chicago's half.
Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo, who dazzled in his MLS debut last week with two eye-popping goals and an assist, set up the 31st-minute Altidore goal with a perfect cross that stranded three defenders and goalkeeper David Ousted before the American headed it in at the far post for his third of the season.
Chicago drew even in first-half stoppage time after Gutjahr's long ball found Sapong, who held off Chris Mavinga and then chipped goalkeeper Alex Bono for a goal against the run of play. Bono would likely have done better to stay in the goal rather than head toward the ball, only to find himself in no-man's land.
Vanney called the Sapong strike a "ridiculous goal." Defender Drew Moor put his hand up for the bad pass that led to a turnover in possession.
A Toronto giveaway set the scene for Chicago's go-ahead goal in the 62nd minute. Richie Laryea, filling in at fullback for injured Brazilian Auro, lost the ball in midfield and Aleksandar Katai raced through the area where the Toronto fullback was supposed to be. With no one closing him down, he headed toward the penalty box and sent in a cross that Nikolic tapped in as Toronto defenders watched.
Toronto outshot Chicago 16-7 (8-3 in shots on target) and had five corners to the Fire's two. The home side ended with 71.4 per cent possession over 90 minutes.
Pozuelo delivered some fine balls and ranged around the field looking for room to operate in. He was unimpressed by Chicago's tactics.
"They come only here (to) defend and kicking (opponents) and not football. I think this is not football," the Spaniard said dismissively. "We are disappointed."
Laryea, a 24-year-old from Toronto, did not look out of place for the most part in his first TFC start — and fourth career MLS start.
The Toronto coach said he had other options — noting that Laurent Ciman has played right back for Belgium — but wanted to see how Laryea, usually a midfielder, fared at fullback.
"I thought he did a nice job," said Vanney.
Laryea was taken off in the 68th minute as Toronto changed its shape.
"It felt very nice. A dream for me. I'm extremely happy," Laryea said of his first start for his hometown team.
Toronto had the bulk of early possession, searching for ways to penetrate a dense defence. Content to hit off the counter-attack, Chicago lay back with a line of five defenders when Toronto had the ball.
The Fire had no problems being physical when needed. Chicago had four players booked to two for Toronto over 90 minutes.
Referee Armando Villarreal awarded Toronto a penalty in the 21st minute when Sapong bundled Laryea to the ground in the penalty box. Laryea was ruled offside on the play, however, so the penalty was negated.
Toronto extended its undefeated streak against Chicago to 10 (8-0-2), a run that dates back to Sept. 26, 2015.
Chicago made one change from the team that beat the New York Red Bulls 1-0 last time out, with Djordje Mihailovic coming in for the injured Przemyslaw Frankowski.
German star Bastian Schweinsteiger remained in central defence.
Toronto returns to action next Saturday in Seattle.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press