TORONTO — What was being termed by fans and pundits alike as a "should win" game for Toronto FC ended up as the exact opposite, as expansion side New York City FC grinded out a 2-0 result at BMO Field on Saturday.
A determined NYCFC rode the line between physical and dirty as it did everything it could to clog up the field and neutralize star attacker Sebastian Giovinco, much to the chagrin of the 30,029 in attendance.
Giovinco was the main target of some rough stuff by the visiting side, but NYCFC managed to slow down the tempo all over the field and frustrate the Reds for almost the entire 90 minutes. The deliberate tempo set by Jason Kreis' side set the tone for a match that saw eight yellow cards shown by referee Allen Chapman.
Despite the high number of cards, TFC head coach Greg Vanney said that the officials actually didn't do enough to rein in a match that featured 34 foul calls and a postgame melee involving Toronto defender Damien Perquis and three or four New York City players.
"I think the game was choppy, physical, [and] never got a rhythm," Vanney said. "I thought [NYCFC] stalled and killed the game at every opportunity, which was clearly a tactic and the referees allowed that to happen. I thought it was a very naive performance in the middle."
At the center of Vanney's ire was the perceived treatment of Giovinco, who was rarely allowed any space to roam with or without the ball. Vanney felt that the New York players took too many liberties with the Italian star, and Giovinco himself showed signs of frustration on several occasions.
"A lot of the fouling was happening before the ball actually got to him," Vanney explained. "When the ball transitioned they were getting a piece of him before the ball was even in the area. He's got scratches all over him, he's been kicked a number of times, and as he's trying to then make a quick run in transition... boom he's getting hit.
"If that's the template [for opposing teams to stop Giovinco] then we're going to need officiating to take care of the players who people come to watch."
Despite clearly not being happy with the referees, Vanney stressed that his team should have been able to overcome the niggling fouls and physical play. It was sentiment echoed by team captain Michael Bradley, who credited NYCFC for having a game plan and sticking to it against a TFC team that had won three straight league matches heading into Saturday's contest.
"Everybody gets a chance to play for 90 minutes," Bradley said. "Everybody's free to go about it any way they want. That was their way to go about it today.
"If we're good enough in what we want to do and sharp enough then I don't think we're talking about that."
Ultimately, Vanney agreed that TFC will need to find ways around overly physical play, especially as New York City showed the rest of the league that it is a tactic that can ultimately work.
"I'm not going to sit up here and make excuses for all of that tonight, we lost the game," Vanney said. "However, we need to adapt as a team and this can't be acceptable for us to lose games like this in the future."