No team likes playing the role of spoiler. After all, it’s the ultimate admission of “We know we’re not good enough. So we want you to be as miserable as we are.”
But, for Toronto FC, buried near the bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference standings and already mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, this is all it has left at this point: Knock off a team that still has post-season hopes alive perhaps ruin its season.
That was the task at hand for TFC here Saturday night on the outskirts of Philadelphia, where the host Union needs every point it can get to secure one of the five coveted playoff spots. With less than a full hand of games remaining on the schedule, Philadelphia found itself on the outside looking in when the night began.
Not anymore, after former Brazilian World Cup midfielder Kleberson bent a free kick around the wall and past a screened Joe Bendik in the fifth minute of extra time, giving the Union a dramatic 1-0 win. That vaults Philadelphia over both Chicago and New England into fifth place in the sardine-tight packed standings with 45 points.
Chicago (43) and New England (42) are right behind. Montreal (46) and Houston (47) are just ahead.
Until Kleberson struck, though, it appeared as if Toronto’s patience was going to pay off in no worse than a tie, with a chance to pull off the upset if Philadelphia desperation led to a counterattack at the other end and a TFC goal.
“We knew they’d come with numbers because it was a must-win for them,” said TFC coach Ryan Nelsen, who kept the locker room closed nearly a half hour afterwards before coming out to meet with reporters. “We knew there was going to be a lot of space for us to play in. It turned out as we hoped. We had a two-on-one and three-on-one, but couldn’t capitalize.”
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