Alexander Bono made the big saves when he had to. (Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports)
COLUMBUS, Ohio — A scoreless draw was more like a moral victory for Toronto FC Tuesday night.
Despite playing without its two most lethal goal-scorers, the Supporters Shield winners managed to play Columbus Crew SC even in the first leg of the Eastern Conference final of the MLS Cup Playoffs at MAPFRE Stadium.
The second leg is set for BMO Field in Toronto Wednesday, Nov. 29.
Toronto FC was forced to play without both its strikers, Sebastian Giovinco (yellow-card suspension) and Jozy Altidore (red card), using Tosaint Ricketts as the lone striker up.
“We came here and ground out a result,” Toronto FC goalkeeper Alexander Bono said. “That’s what games are like in the playoffs.”
After an incredulous 16-day layoff after the conference semifinals were completed, due to the FIFA international date break, the teams finally got a chance to play.
All in all, the game really wasn’t worth the price of admission.
The opening half was evenly played, but as the game wore on the final 45 minutes, Columbus attacked in waves. Some stellar defense, saves by Bono and some luck saved the visitors.
Probably the most contentious moment of the match occurred in the 52nd minute, when Bono denied Pedro Santos at the top of the penalty area. It appeared the keeper had taken him down. The ball found its way to Ola Kamara, who fired a shot from the left side of the area that Drew Moor cleared from an open goal to keep the game scoreless.
Seconds later, Santos boldly signaled referee Robert Sibiga to use the Video Assistant Referee as the Columbus player was slapped with a yellow card.
Bono produced the save of the night in the 86th minute, when he denied Harrison Afful from point-blank range.
Barely a minute later, Justin Meram headed a Federico Higuain free kick off the crossbar.
Given its lack of quality firepower, Toronto was content in leaving the stadium without a goal as long as Columbus did the same.
In fact, head coach Greg Vanney made sure of that in the 70th minute when he replaced with Marco Delgado with Eriq Zavaleta to give his side three center backs.
The ploy worked and Toronto FC survived to play another day at full strength and a chance to reach MLS Cup for the second consecutive year.