TORONTO — Riqui Puig's first MLS goal, a spectacular strike in the 89th minute, rescued a point for the Los Angeles Galaxy on Wednesday in former coach Greg Vanney's return to Toronto.
The 23-year-old former Barcelona player ghosted past two Toronto defenders before sending the ball to teammate Gaston Brugman for a give-and-go that removed another two TFC players from the equation. Puig then unleashed a right-footed rocket from outside the penalty box that beat goalkeeper Alex Bono for a 2-2 draw that felt like a Toronto loss.
"We're all disappointed … Just off a throw-in, (Puig) gets away from people too easily," said Toronto coach Bob Bradley, rueing two badly needed missed points.
With five games remaining in the regular season, 10th-place Toronto (9-13-7) is three places and two points out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. TFC hosts second-place CF Montreal on Sunday.
Federico Bernardeschi had looked to give Toronto a comeback win with his 81st-minute penalty. The Italian winger was cut down by former TFC player Raheem Edwards as he sliced into the box. Bernardeschi took advantage, slotting home his sixth goal in eight league appearances for Toronto.
A Galaxy goal in the seven-minute stoppage time was ruled offside.
It marked the Galaxy's first point in Toronto since a 2-2 draw in March 2013. And it followed a 2-1 weekend victory at New England that snapped a four-game losing streak away from home as the Galaxy posted back-to-back away wins for the first time since June 2021.
"Very happy with the performance," said Vanney. "I wish we would have got out of here with three (points) but … four points in (two games in) the Eastern Conference, we're pretty happy with that."
Vanney said his return to Toronto left him in a "weird emotional place" because the reunion was mixed with the desire to win against his former team.
"It was a little bit of a strange emotional week for me," he said
Los Angeles (11-11-5) has lost just one of its last six games (3-1-2). It came into midweek play in the seventh and final playoff spot in the West, one point ahead of Portland with two games in hand.
Jesus Jimenez ended an 11-game scoring drought in the 62nd minute to bring Toronto even after Douglas Costa's 24th-minute strike for Los Angeles.
Toronto scored on both of its shots on target on the night, with six other shots missing the goal and another five blocked.
There was plenty of emotion on the night, before a crowd of 29,130, as befitting two teams fighting for playoff position.
Costa opened the scoring for L.A. with an elegant free kick, curling the ball over Toronto's four man-wall and out of the reach of a diving Bono for his third of the season. Defender Chris Mavinga had yielded the free kick, bundling over Galaxy captain Javier Hernandez.
With Victor Vazquez also standing over the ball for the free kick, Bono had to position himself more in the middle of the goal not knowing whether to watch for Costa's left foot or Vazquez's right.
Costa, who has had stints with Brazil's Gremio, Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk, Germany's Bayern Munich and Italy's Juventus, opened his MLS scoring account in March against Seattle with a free kick from near the same spot. The Brazilian becomes the second Galaxy player to score multiple direct free-kick goals in a single season, joining Romain Alessandrini who did it in 2017.
Toronto tied it up in the 62nd minute, one minute after a triple change by Bradley. Captain Michael Bradley found Ifunanyachi Achara in the Galaxy penalty box and he fed fellow substitute Jimenez, who found a pocket of space among three defenders in front of the goal.
It was the Spanish striker's ninth goal of the season and his first since June 29.
Vanney, who became the ninth head coach in TFC history in August 2014, stepped down in December 2020 after having taken Toronto from league doormat to champion. Vanney holds franchise coaching records for games (250) and wins (112) and led the team to three MLS Cup finals, winning the title in 2017, and three Canadian Championships.
Vanney's technical staff in L.A. is replete with former TFC staffers in Dan Calichman, Nick Theslof, Jason Bent, Mike Munoz. Jim Liston, Michael Rabasca and Tom Williams, not to mention former Toronto players Vazquez, Mark Delgado, Edwards and Eriq Zavaleta.
Toronto fell on hard times in the wake of Vanney's exit with Bob Bradley, the third TFC coach since Vanney's departure, wielding an axe to the roster.
After a rough start to the season, Toronto came into Wednesday's game having lost just one of seven outings (4-1-2) since the arrival of Italian stars Lorenzo Insigne and Bernardeschi.
Bernardeschi (six goals and three assists), Insigne (four goals, two assists) and fellow Italian Domenico Criscito (one goal) have been involved in 14 of Toronto’s last 17 goals in MLS play, including eight of the last nine.
Insigne set up Bernardeschi for a goal in the 56th minute Wednesday but the play was ruled offside.
Toronto had recorded three shutouts during its previous seven games after failing to keep a clean sheet in its 27 previous league matches (5-15-7).
It was an attractive opening to the game with both teams showing quality in possession. But while Toronto was missing the injured Jonathan Osorio and Mark-Anthony Kaye in midfield, Los Angeles boasted former Barcelona products Puig and Vazquez.
Puig showed his vision, spraying passes across the pitch. Then he showed his finishing touch.
Toronto managed eight shots in the first half but none on target.
Tempers flared early in the second half when the ball went into touch and Toronto defender Lukas MacNaughton booted it back into play, catching Vazquez in the stomach. Referee Ted Unkel reviewed the play on the pitchside monitor but stuck with his initial yellow card for MacNaughton.
Insigne showed his skills in the 66th minute with an acrobatic bicycle kick that went wide off a corner.
Michael Bradley and Richie Laryea mixed it up with Hernandez in a heated tussle in the Toronto penalty box in the 74th minute.
Toronto was also without injured forward Deandre Kerr. Mavinga made his 150th appearance in all competitions for the club. Los Angeles was missing Delgado (due to non-COVID health and safety protocols).
TFC has lost just one of nine home matches (3-1-5) against the Galaxy. The lone Galaxy victory at BMO Field was a 2-1 decision in June 2009. Still, L.A. holds a 7-5-7 edge in the overall series.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press