NEW YORK, Oct 23 (Reuters) - Toronto FC’s Alejandro Pozuelo added to his glittering debut year in Major League Soccer (MLS) on Wednesday, sending off goliath New York City FC 2-1 with a pair of goals to advance his underdog team to the Eastern Conference finals.
Pozuelo’s icy-veined performance included a penalty kick straight down the middle in the final seconds of regulation time, flummoxing New York goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who had otherwise put up a stout defense.
“It’s a gutsy play by Poz,” said Toronto coach Greg Vanney, who heaped praise on the 28-year-old midfielder after the match.
“He held up the ball for us, he brought people into the play. He moved around, he fought for things, he helped lead us defensively - it was great.”
The match was a bit of deja vu for Pozuelo, who seven months ago scored two goals against New York during his maiden MLS match, which Toronto won 4-0.
The Reds showed no signs of fatigue from their 5-1 extra time thriller over DC United on Saturday, as New York showed the rust of more than two weeks sitting on the shelf since their last match, despite being heavily favored in their fourth consecutive MLS postseason.
Pozuelo scored the first goal of the night less than two minutes into the second half, lighting a fire under the New York team, with forward Ismael Tajouri-Shradi rocketing a score-equaling shot 20 minutes later.
But a costly penalty set up a shot for Pozuelo and let the Reds take the lead.
“When things are going a million miles an hour, we need him to be able to slow down and have the composure to make plays that make a difference,” midfielder Michael Bradley told reporters. “He can do that.”
Despite claiming home turf advantage, the Pigeons were forced to compete on relatively unfamiliar grounds at Queens’ Citi Field, after the New York Yankees’ ALCS berth forced them from their home in the Bronx.
Undeterred, a robust and raucous crowd flocked to the home of the New York Mets, only to meet with bitter disappointment.
Toronto next faces either Atlanta United or Philadelphia, who play on Thursday, in the Eastern Conference final. (Reporting By Amy Tennery; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)