October 17, 2016 - 2:39 PM
MONTREAL - It was perhaps the Montreal Impact's best game of the season, but it was only fair that it ended in a draw with rival Toronto FC.
A fast-paced game with big chances at both ends produced a 2-2 draw in wet weather Sunday afternoon between the Canadian MLS rivals when Tosaint Ricketts came off the bench to score the equalizer in the 87th minute.
The Impact got what it wanted — it clinched a playoff spot for a second year in a row — while Toronto stayed in the hunt for one of the top two Eastern Conference placings that would give it home field advantage and a bye into the conference semifinals.
"This is what you work for all year," said Impact coach Mauro Biello, who made the controversial decision to put Matteo Mancosu in at striker ahead of legend Didier Drogba, who opted not to even show up at Saputo Stadium. "Now we're in it and it's about going as far as we can."
Jozy Altidore also scored for Toronto (13-9-11), which remained winless in five games (0-1-4). Ignacio Piatti scored twice for the Impact (11-10-12), who ran their unbeaten run to three games.
Sebastian Giovinco was in the Toronto starting 11 as he returned from an injury and was a menace to the Montreal defence the entire match.
"I thought (Giovinco) was very good," said TFC coach Greg Vanney. "Whenever we play Montreal, they get numbers around him and it forces him hit to play a little deeper and stay a bit wider.
"I thought it was a good debut. It was good to get him 90 minutes. He had some good looks on goal. All things considered — he's been out six or seven weeks — that's a good day. And to get 90 minutes with him and Jozy together was good."
Giovinco hit a crossbar on a free kick and forced Montreal goalie Evan Bush into two diving saves. He was also key on the tying goal when he lofted a cross inside the penalty area, where Altidore chested it down and Ricketts pounded in his third goal of the season.
Montreal actually dropped one place in the standings, from fourth to fifth, one point behind D.C. United. They will have a chance to secure home field in the single-game knockout round of playoffs when they end the regular season next Sunday at New England, depending on how D.C. does against Orlando.
TFC ends its season next Sunday at Chicago hoping to move past New York City, which faces Columbus.
"We came in on the road and took two away goals — we'd be happy with that if it was the playoffs," said Vanney. "We wanted to win the game. That was our intention. Unfortunately we didn't make enough plays to win."
The teams traded chances in the first half but Montreal got the only goal when Piatti took a pass on the left flank from Marco Donadel, moved in and blasted it inside the far post in the 19th minute.
Just before Piatti scored, Armando Cooper dribbled past Victor Cabrera inside the Montreal area but saw his soft shot go off the right post.
Toronto tied it in the 52nd when Justin Morrow sent a perfect cross in on a run down the left side. Altidore was battling with two Montreal defenders and got a foot free to lift the ball past a fallen Bush for his 10th of the campaign.
"Both Laurent (Ciman) and I felt we could have saved it off the line," said Bush. "My hand and his foot kind of went into each other."
Referee Jair Marrufo pointed to the penalty spot when Mancuso went down after contact from behind by Morrow in the 55th and Piatti made no mistake for his second of the game and 17th of the season.
Biello hopes to patch things up with 38-year-old Drogba, and his teammates want him to stay.
"Didier made a decision,"said captain Patrice Bernier. "It sucks a bit.
"You understand as a player that sometimes it's not easy but you have to move forward. We qualified for the playoffs and that's the most important thing. The team comes first."
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version reported that Ricketts' goal was his first of the season.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016