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Depleted TFC and Red Bulls play to scoreless draw

New York Red Bulls' Peter Stroud and Toronto FC's Themi Antonoglou New York Red Bulls' Peter Stroud and Toronto FC's Themi Antonoglou - The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Another draw for Toronto FC and two more injuries, to boot. Plus pockets of empty seats at BMO Field.

But given the circumstances, there were positives in a 0-0 draw with the New York Red Bulls.

Toronto and the Red Bulls faced off in what was essentially an MLS war of attrition with the two teams, now both 2-4-7 in the Eastern Conference basement, missing a combined 20-plus players due to injury, suspension or international duty.

With both sides sporting makeshift defences, there were scoring chances at each end — most of which went astray with each team managing just two shots on target. Still, the Red Bulls defence hung on as Toronto pressed in the final minutes.

TFC snapped a three-game losing streak with the tie. But it still has only won one of its last 10 games (1-4-5) in all competitions.

"It's football. Teams go through stretches like this," said fullback Richie Laryea, who excelled in an emergency appearance at centre back. "We have a good team. We're missing a lot of people. We have young guys playing that haven't had a ton of experience.

"Everyone's growing right now so it's good. I think it's better to go through stretches like this now versus (in the) summer or later in the season."

Toronto's injury crisis at centre back was exacerbated by the surprise omission of Mark-Anthony Kaye, a midfielder who spent time helping out the backline in the weekend 2-0 loss in Montreal because of the absence of the first-choice centre back pairing of Matt Hedges and Sigurd Rosted plus backup Shane O'Neill.

Kaye has been dealing with a hip flexor, Toronto coach Bob Bradley said.

The two teams came into the game just three points out of a playoff position despite their records. Still, TFC's recent woes seemed reflected in the stands, with plenty of seats available and an announced attendance of 22,560 at BMO Field on Pride Night.

Laryea lined up beside Aime Mabika in the heart of the TFC defence. Toronto had three 20-year-olds in the starting 11 in Kobe Franklin, Deandre Kerr and Kosi Thompson and its six-man bench — which included TFC II loanee Anthony Couric — had an average age of 22.

To make matters worse, Kerr was forced to exit in the 40th minute after taking a second knock to the head.

The Red Bulls were also without their first-choice centre back duo due to suspension.

Italian stars Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi were at the TFC forefront.

Bernardeschi had a glorious chance in the 29th minute, off a give-and-go with Insigne after a New York turnover, only to see his shot blocked by defender John Tolkin. Soon after, Toronto forward C.J. Sapong's header off an Insigne corner was off-target.

Red Bulls goalkeeper Carlos Coronel made a fine save to stop Insigne's downward header in the 79th after a perfect cross from Bernardeschi found his compatriot at the far post.

The Italians were also guilty of attempting too much at times, with several turnovers.

Bradley, whose name drew some boos when it was announced during lineups prior to kickoff, is looking at the long game with the Italians.

"When a team goes through a tough stretch, then you're trying to keep everybody going — not just mentally but so that when plays comes their way, they're sharp," he said. "Yes there have been days lately where you can tell they're frustrated. And we're trying to help them understand the league, understand the moment.

"Neither of those guys have been around a situation where when you have some injuries you're digging as far down into our roster as you have to do in MLS. That's new for them. And in some moments you can see the frustration on their faces. But by and large I thought that was better tonight."

The Red Bulls were missing the suspended Sean Nealis, Andres Reyes and Cristian Casseres Jr. (yellow card accumulation), while Daniel Edelman is away with the U.S. team at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina.

Belgian international winger Dante Vanzeir, one of the Red Bulls' designated players, is serving a six-game ban for racial abuse in an April 8 game against the San Jose Earthquakes.

The Red Bulls injury list included defenders Matt Nocita and Kyle Duncan, midfielders Frankie Amaya, Luquinhas, Lewis Morgan and Steven Serwadda, and forward Serge Ngoma.

Toronto was also without midfielders Michael Bradley, Alonso Coello, Jonathan Osorio and Victor Vazquez and forward Jordan Perruzza. Toronto midfielder Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty was suspended after being sent off Saturday.

The Red Bulls, who host CF Montreal on Saturday, are unbeaten in their last eight matches (5-0-3) against Toronto.

TFC plays at Austin FC on Saturday.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2023