Alexandru Mitrita is about to score on a free kick. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
BRONX — You might want to give U.S. national team head coach Gregg Berhalter an assist for New York City FC’s 1-1 draw with Toronto FC Wednesday night.
If Berhalter hadn’t allowed Sean Johnson to leave camp and miss Tuesday night’s 1-1 deadlock with Uruguay, he would not have been able to perform some heroics to help the Eastern Conference leaders to leave Yankee Stadium with a point.
This was the situation:
Toronto FC had just been awarded a penalty kick after the Video Assistant Referee determined that defender Ben Sweat had handled the ball, which was intended for Jozy Altidore, in the penalty area in the 78th minute.
Up stepped Alejandro Pozuelo, who had beaten Johnson on a penalty kick earlier in the match. Pozuelo decided to go the same way he had converted before — Johnson dove to his left. This time, however, Johnson wouldn’t be fooled as he dove to his right and batted the ball away.
“Honestly, you don’t know what you’re going to do in the moment,” Johnson said. “You just rely on your experience.”
NYCFC (15-5-9, 54 points), which had its club-record five-game winning streak snapped, increased its lead over the idle Philadelphia Union (15-8-6, 51). Toronto (11-10-9, 42) moved past the idle Red Bulls into fifth place.
City performed without four starters, including star midfielder Maxi Moralez, who was serving a yellow-card accumulation suspension, striker Heber (injury) and center backs Maxime Chanot and Alex Callens, on international duty with Luxembourg and Peru, respectively.
That necessitated head coach Dome Torrent to start captain Alex Ring, usually a central midfielder, in the middle of the defense.
Asked about the team’s depth, Johnson replied, “It says everything. We have amazing talent from top to bottom on our roster. All these guys he’s [Torrent] just intregrating to the team. It’s a great feeling we are going forward toward the end of the year with guys who are raring to go.”
With the game barely six minutes old, City drew first blood after U.S. international defender Omar Gonzalez knocked down Valentín Castellanos just outside the penalty area. Alexandru Mitrita then rifled the ensuing free kick into the top right of the net past goalkeeper Quentin Westberg.
Altidore deposited the ball behind Johnson in the 36th minute, but he was called for offside.
Two minutes later, NYCFC defender Sebastian Ibeagha pulled down Alitdore by his jersey in the box as referee Chris Penso awarded the visitors a penalty kick.
Pozuelo powered his PK into the lower right corner as Johnson dove the other way to equalize the match at 1-1 in the 40th minute.
City defender Ronald Matarrita drilled a shot from outside the box off the left post in the 70th minute.
NYCFC continues its homestand as it hosts the San Jose Earthquakes at the stadium Saturday at 12:30 p.m.