The top two teams in the East so far are also the two top teams in MLS overall when it comes to points. NYCFC is No. 3 behind Toronto FC and Chicago, but not far off in the distance.
NYCFC returned Wednesday night after two weeks off for the international break and faced an opportunity to start climbing to the top of the standings. It had the first of two matches against Toronto, which are sandwiched around one with Chicago.
“It’s a given that this is the most important stretch for our season,” goalkeeper Sean Johnson said.
The first try at climbing looked like it was going to end well. But then Victor Vazquez scored on a penalty kick in stoppage time to give Toronto a stunning 2-2 draw at Yankee Stadium.
So it’s Toronto 39, Chicago 38 and NYCFC 34 in the race for first place.
“This one hurt for everybody,” Johnson said.
Toronto (11-3-6) was minus Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, two of their three All-Stars. They were away to play with the U.S. in the Gold Cup. And their other All-Star, Sebastian Giovinco, left with an injury in the 35th minute.
“I think they showed how good they are,” NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira said. “That’s one of the strongest rosters in the league, if not the strongest one.”
NYCFC (10-6-4) had Johnson back after two games away with the national team for Gold Cup group play. But he didn’t have much of a chance on Vazquez’s PK after R.J. Allen took down Jordan Hamilton in the box.
“Home games are very important,” Johnson said. “We can’t drop points like we did today, being in a position where had three points in the bag, ready to walk off the field and we give away something silly at the end of the game.”
Ben Spencer appeared to use his head to put Toronto ahead 2-1 in the 49th minute. But the goal was disallowed with an offside call.
Then David Villa fed Maxi Moralez, who beat Alex Bono on a deflected shot in the 56th minute to put NYCFC ahead.
Villa had scored to tie it at 1-1 in first-half stoppage time after Ashtone Morgan scored in the 11th minute. But NYCFC wound up with one point instead of three.
“We’re not thinking about the first position,” Vieira said, “because there’s still a really long way to go.”