The cradle rocks as Toronto FC defend to earn a draw at Real Salt Lake

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There was no teenage awkwardness for a pair of Toronto FC players on Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.

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Two 19-year-olds – Jayden Nelson and Kosi Thompson – scored their first Major League Soccer goals in spectacular fashion to give Toronto FC a 2-2 draw against a strong Real Salt Lake side.

With TFC leading 2-1, Nelson, who was substituted into the game in the 74th minute, tied the game in the 79th minute when he stole the ball from a Salt Lake defender and fired a missile from the right foot into the upper right corner of the RSL goal well outside the box. A stunner. The goal was reviewed but was later ruled OK.

Thompson scored in the first half for Toronto and was equally impressive.

The tie gave TFC two wins, two losses and two draws on the season. The Reds were forced to close out the final minutes of the game, with the RSL pressing a man when centre-back Carlos Salcedo accidentally kicked a Salt Lake player trying to win the ball back.

The Rio Tinto stadium has been like a cemetery for the TFC. Every game at Real Salt Lake City has been a nightmare for the Reds. Whether it’s elevation, fatigue, or just a higher side, it’s been a long, dry stretch for Toronto in Salt Lake. The last time TFC recorded a win at Utah was in 2007. Given that, and the fact that RSL held the lead twice and had an extra man in the final minutes, the draw was almost as good as a win for TFC, who last scored a point at Salt Lake in 2017.

The Reds held a 52% to 48% advantage in possession, despite RSL shooting 16 to seven from Toronto. The hosts had four shots on goal on three of the visitors north of the border.

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TFC attacking midfield genius Alejandro Pozuelo – who Bradley has asked to play more of a full game this season – played his best game of the season after enduring a terrible 2020 – a good sign for TFC fans . Veteran midfielder Jonathan Osorio has been named Man of the Match for TFC, the third time this season he has received the honour.

RSL took a 2-1 lead in the first half. TFC killer Justin Meram gave the home side a 1-0 lead in the seventh minute after a gift from TFC left-back Jacob Shaffelburg, who clocked as many miles on Saturday as a marathon runner in training. But TFC first-year right-back Thompson tied the game three minutes later, helped by Shaffelburg. Thompson, a former TFC Academy player, has been a revelation – at least to TFC fans – since starting his first game on April 2 against New York City FC. The Toronto native played above his age and experience level. Reds manager Bob Bradley has spoken about Thompson’s play since pre-season camp and his faith in the young centre-back is paying off.

RSL captain Damir Kreilach scored with two minutes remaining in the first half.

Bradley was able to field the same starting XI as the previous Saturday, when the Reds beat NYCFC 2-1 at BMO Field.

RSL opened the scoring in the seventh minute on Saturday night after a gift from Shaffelburg on the sideline. Salt Lake took advantage of the steal with Meram scoring via a right foot just outside the box in the top left corner. Sergio Córdova picked up an assist.

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Three minutes later, TFC leveled the game after Shaffelburg, catching up, made a nice charge down the left side and crossed the ball towards Thompson who kicked the ball left-footed in the air in the corner farthest.

The Reds bit the ball in the 16th minute when Salcedo went down after sliding into an RSL player to collect the ball. It looks like Salcedo suffered a ribcage injury but stayed in the game.

Kreilach’s goal came after a sensational cross from Maikel Chang into the box in the 43rd minute. Chang had too much time on the play. The Reds had a chance to equalize again before the half-time whistle when centre-back Lukas MacNaugton received a perfect corner from Pozuelo just outside the far post. MacNaughton headed the ball over the goal.

MacNaughton, who picked up a yellow card in the 26th minute, was taken off the match at half-time and replaced by Kadin Chung.

Real Salt Lake kept the pedal on the metal from the start of the second half and missed a number of good chances.
Bono made a huge leg save early in the second half on Sergio Córdova as the RSL striker dribbled around Salcedo, who inexplicably stopped on the play. Minutes later, Thompson fell and was accidentally kneed to the head. He was taken out of the game midway through the second half for Deandre Kerr, another 19-year-old.

The Reds were without full-back Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, who underwent knee surgery last week, striker Ayo Akinola, who is still returning from knee surgery last year, and midfielder Ralph Priso, who has a calf problem.

TFC’s next game is Saturday at BMO Field against the Philadelphia Union. The Reds will be without Salcedo because of his red card. The DP defender played his worst game for TFC on Saturday.

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Twitter @Beezersun

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