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Frustration, controversy reign in TFC-Union deadlock

TORONTO — It was a second consecutive draw at BMO Field, but both Toronto FC and the Philadelphia Union felt they should have grabbed all three points.

Saturday night saw a goal in each half as TFC and the Union battled to a 1-1 deadlock, but both the home side and the visitors had legitimate gripes for not putting the game away.

Philadelphia rode a dominant first half to a 1-0 lead after 45 minutes, but Toronto woke up in the second half and was a goal post and a controversial penalty kick non-call away from storming back for the victory.

In the end, the teams shared the spoils, with neither side fully satisfied as the Eastern Conference playoff race continues to heat up.

"It worked out OK. Not perfect, but OK," Union coach Jim Curtin said of his team's attempts to clog up the middle of the park and neutralize TFC captain Michael Bradley. Curtin employed Alejandro Bedoya higher up the field than usual, but also had the midfielder shadow his U.S. national team counterpart throughout the game.

Bradley, like the rest of the TFC team, struggled to open the match but grew into the game as time wore on. After Justin Morrow equalized in the 70th minute, Bradley and the Toronto midfield pushed one-way traffic toward the Philadelphia goal for the remainder of the contest.

What resulted was several near-misses for Toronto, including a shot off the post by Jozy Altidore and, in stoppage time, the fateful non-call by referee Ismail Elfath that had TFC players, staff and fans screaming in disbelief.

Even the Philadlephia bench, minus Curtin, thought Elfath got that game-changing call wrong.

"I just talked to my staff about it," Curtin said. "I saw it one way. I actually thought CJ [Sapong] was in position, and they all said I was crazy. They said it was a [penalty]."

Curtin's counterpart, TFC coach Greg Vanney, was unsurprisingly angry on the sidelines when the call was made. However, after the game he wasn't prepared to blame the result on a single referee decision.

"The first half cost us the [full] three points today," Vanney stated. "Referee aside, our first half was not good enough and we put ourselves in a little bit of a hole. But once again we had a strong second half to get something out of the game."

Unlike several of TFC's recent matches, Altidore was held off the score sheet Saturday. He echoed his coach's sentiments that Toronto could have started better, and he took some of the blame upon himself.

"Maybe it's a penalty, maybe it's not at the end of the day, but I had the chance to win the game [and] at the same time we put ourselves in that position, which we shouldn't have," Altidore said. "We let Philly into the game. If we don't start like that I think we win the game quite easily."

Despite the frustration of a poor first half, Toronto wasn't going to let Elfath completely off the hook for the late decision. The referee and TFC have a bit of recent history, with Elfath having given Orlando City's Kaka a penalty kick 10 minutes into stoppage time that resulted in a 3-2 loss for Toronto back in June.

TFC hasn't forgotten that decision, which made the ending to Saturday's match all the more heated.

"That's my impression, yes," Vanney said when asked whether Elfath has cost his team points over the course of the season. "I think people can watch it and make their own opinions, but that would be my opinion from where I sat and what I saw."

Altidore, who was cautioned after he punted the ball out of the stadium following Elfath's decision on Saturday, was even more diplomatic.

"Sometimes in our league we have some different calls that maybe sometimes you don't agree with," Altidore said.

"In our league, the referees are what they are," Altidore added with a big smile. "They're the best referees in the world, so we're very lucky."