TORONTO — It was one of those nights at BMO Field that felt like a playoff game. But for a Toronto FC side that has never made the postseason, the end result was all too familiar.
Despite putting Sporting Kansas City on the back foot for large stretches of Saturday night's clash, TFC found itself on the wrong end of a 2-1 scoreline in a match that was contentious almost from the opening whistle.
Referee Ted Unkel quickly became the focus of Toronto coach Ryan Nelsen's ire after the official waved off a seemingly surefire red card tackle by Kansas City defender Aurelien Collin on striker Gilberto.
"It seems so obvious and it's not even a question, [Gilberto]'s pushed it past and the guy's taken him down and he's on goal," Nelsen told reporters after the match. "Collin should have been sent off. An under-12 ref can pick that one, it's pretty basic."
Gilberto also sounded off on the officiating, hinting that he's gained an undeserved reputation for flopping in his short stay in MLS so far.
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"I'm a little upset because I was all alone there on that play, the guy took me down and it should have been a call, it should have been a card," the Brazilian striker said through a translator. "If you look at my history in Brazil, when I play I'm not someone that dives, I'm not someone that takes cheap fouls, I only go down if I get hit or if I slip. For me going forward, I'm going to have to play a little harder then, so I'm going to show people that I came here to play.
"Maybe it's because they want me to learn how to play in the MLS and how the style of the league is here," the 25-year-old designated player added. "However, I want them to know that I'm not just going to roll over, I'm going to play my game and I going to play strong and I'm going to play hard and I'm not somebody that's going to be a pushover. I wanted to be treated fairly, just like any other player."
The game quickly devolved after the non-call on Collin, with Unkel eventually giving out eight yellow cards — two to SKC's Matt Besler — as both sides threw bodies forward and the officials struggled to keep up. Nelsen compared the evening to a boxing match, but lamented that TFC should have done more with its 17 attempts on goal and instead gifted SKC "two soft goals" for the victory.
"It was a performance that was extremely good," Nelsen said of Toronto's attack, which rung the ball off Kansas City's goalposts twice in the opening 45 minutes and missed a number of chances from inside the 18-yard box. "I'm more frustrated for the guys, because the game should have been over at halftime."