The fourth time was the charm for Nashville SC, as Daniel Rios scored in the second period of extra time and the expansion side knocked off Toronto FC in the MLS Cup Playoffs on Tuesday in Connecticut.
The game took ages to get its legs but finished with a furious few minutes in the Nashville box that included a penalty shout.
Rios smashed home a Hany Mukhtar shot that Quentin Westberg only partially thwarted as Nashville sealed a spot against Columbus in the Conference Semifinals.
It’s deeply disappointing for Toronto, who played most of their home matches in Connecticut due to COVID-19 restrictions at the Canadian border. TFC and Seattle had played in three of their last four MLS Cup Finals.
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For about 70 minutes, it felt like it wouldn’t be a bad thing if Tuesday’s Eastern Conference playoff match between Toronto FC and Nashville SC in Connecticut just disappeared forever.
The only balls to go into the net were ruled out for offside and each team otherwise registered one shot on target each in the first 70 minutes, the match nothing like the wildly-entertaining weekend that started the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Thankfully, the match rose to the occasion with the late intensity so driven by desperation. And true to the early spirit, Nashville had a third goal ruled offside in extra time.
Nashville’s Jhonder Cadiz had the ball in the goal but the assistant referee’s flag was raised to keep the score level following a bright start for the visitors Rentschler Field in Connecticut.
Toronto’s Alejandro Pozuelo and Pablo Piatti worked down the left to set up Nick De Leon centrally but Joe Willis blocked the veteran’s 26th-minute effort to make it 1-0.
Nashville had two solid chances to score before halftime, the second off a corner kick, but were unable to produce the opener.
Jonathan Osorio should’ve been sent off for a kick to Alex Muyl, but VAR did not deem it worthy of a sending off.
Randall Leal had the ball in the goal for Nashville in the 54th and the club was celebrating before the flag came up to keep it scoreless.
Hany Mukhtar flew past the Toronto backs to meet an Alistair Johnson cross but couldn’t get his 72nd header below the bar.
Jozy Altidore pumped a heavy shot into Willis’ chest in the 73rd. Could this open up?
Yeah. Leal lashed a side volley just wide of the upper 90 moments later, and Muyl thudded a Leal cross just wide of the far post from close range.
TFC went the other way, and Akinola’s bid to backheel Pozuelo’s cross was stopped by the palm of Willis.
Not to be outdone, Quentin Westberg made a tremendous save on Walker Zimmerman off a stoppage-time free kick.
It went to extra time and Mukhtar scored off a long run and chip but was, of course, offside again.
Nashville took its lead and TFC will feel aggrieved to not have got a chance to level from the spot when Walker Zimmerman and Ayo Akinola went to battle in the final moments of the match off a cross from Liverpool loanee Tony Gallacher.