When New York City FC attacker Valentín Castellanos rose from the box in stoppage time of the second half, bloodied from a clear blow by Toronto FC defender Chris Mavinga, he turned in stunned disbelief.
Referee Chris Penso had not called a foul on Mavinga, which would have given NYCFC a penalty to go ahead with just seconds remaining. NYCFC fans chanted “V-A-R” in one of the loudest moments of the evening, but no review was made by Penso and NYCFC’s cries for justice were left unheard.
After a slightly more explicit chant by fans, the final whistle sounded, handing NYCFC an underwhelming 1-1 draw at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday.
“Yeah, I think it’s a penalty. He should’ve gone to VAR and I think the referee just got confused," Castellanos said through a translator. "He told me that I committed the foul before that. But I think he made a mistake. We’re all human, everyone makes mistakes, but I think he got that one wrong.”
Officials told a pool reporter after the game that Castellanos committed his foul first by pulling on Mavinga's shirt and that a red card couldn't be issued to Mavinga for an infraction occurring while the ball is not in play.
City dropped points at home at a poor time as it aims to lock up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Currently in first place with 54 points and five games left on its schedule, NYCFC is three points clear of the Philadelphia Union and six points clear of Atlanta United, who hold a game in hand on New York. The club returns to action Saturday with another home match against the San Jose Earthquakes.
Sean Johnson came up big for NYCFC late. After guessing the wrong way on a first-half penalty, the keeper made a massive save on a late Toronto kick from the spot, keeping NYCFC level, but his side didn't match his level offensively and couldn't take the lead after.
"I think we look at the game over 90 minutes and to be fair, a 1-1 result is a fair reflection of the game," Johnson said. "They had their fair share of opportunities and we had ours, but that being said, they had some dangerous moments. Obviously with two PKs coming out of the game, conceding one goal and continuing our unbeaten run, especially at home, is important going into the weekend against San Jose."
NYCFC looked to be on its way to a sixth consecutive victory in the opening minutes. When Castellanos drew a foul just outside the 18-yard box in the fifth minute. Castellanos and Alexandru Mitrita lined up over the ball for the early chance. After a brief feint by Castellanos, Mitrita ran on the ball and fired with his right foot, sending the ball over the wall while moving left-to-right and beating Toronto goalkeeper Quentin Westberg to open the scoring.
Near the end of the first half, Toronto was denied a chance on an offside that negated a goal by Jozy Altidore, but the visitors leveled the score soon after on a penalty in the 40th minute. As Altidore attempted to gather the ball near the six-yard box, NYCFC defender Sebastien Ibeagha grabbed Altidore’s shirt and both players went to the turf.
NYCFC players argued Ibeagha’s innocence with Anton Tinnerholm receiving a yellow card for dissent, but those arguments proved fruitless as Alejandro Puzuelo stepped up to the spot for Toronto. Johnson guessed the wrong way and Puzuelo blasted the ball into the right side of the net.
At times, it was clear NYCFC was playing without a couple of its best attackers, specifically Maxi Moralez. The attacking midfielder was suspended for Wednesday’s match due to accumulation of yellow cards, and his presence as a facilitator in the final third was missed.
Despite controlling possession, City didn’t record a single shot on target from the run of play as Jesus Medina struggled to complete passes in Toronto’s half. NYCFC also was without attacker Héber Araújo dos Santos, who could miss the rest of the regular season with a quad injury.
City tried to improve its offensive output in the second half, pushing Alexander Ring into the midfield after playing as part of a back three early on, as well as brining on Ismael Tajouri-Shradi for Tony Rocha in the 63rd minute. But it didn’t make enough of a difference as the club spent much of the second half taking long shots from outside the box and sending them outside the framework.