stands firm as Toronto hold Columbus in first leg
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[November 22, 2017]
(Reuters) - Toronto FC missed
the attacking prowess of banned strikers Jozy Altidore and Sebastian
Giovinco on Tuesday but a solid display from goalkeeper Alex Bono
helped secure a 0-0 draw with Columbus in the first leg of their MLS
Eastern Conference final in Ohio.
In the Western Conference final, reigning MLS Cup champions Seattle
took the upper hand by beating hosts Houston Dynamo 2-0 in the first
With Giovinco and Altidore serving one-game suspensions, top-seeded
Toronto were left to contain the Columbus attack and Bono proved up
to the challenge, most notably when he was tested repeatedly late on
to keep his clean sheet intact.
Bono made a number of key saves but none more important than his
reflex stop in the 85th minute off a point-blank effort from
Ghanaian defender Harrison Afful, with the rebound falling to
Gambian forward Kekuta Manneh, whose shot was blocked.
"Anytime you go on the road in the playoffs your 'keeper is going to
have to come up with something, at least one," Toronto coach Greg
Vanney told reporters.
"And Alex was good today. He was cutting out things behind their
back line when they were trying to whip in crosses. Makes a great
save. He was good today."
Without Giovinco and Altidore, who together accounted for nearly
half of Toronto's goals in the regular season, the visitors adopted
a safety-first approach against fifth-seeded Crew.
Altidore missed the game after receiving a red card for violent
conduct during a fracas at halftime in the second leg of the East
semi-final while Giovinco's ban stems from an accumulation of yellow
Both players will be eligible to return for the second leg on Nov.
29 in Toronto.
Toronto did have a chance to open the scoring in the 43rd minute but
Canadian forward Tosaint Ricketts' header from the center of the box
missed to the right.
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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono (25) makes a save against Columbus
Crew SC in the first leg of the MLS Eastern Conference Championship
at MAPFRE Stadium. Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
Moments later Columbus nearly went in front through Norwegian
forward Ola Kamara but his close-range header missed the target.
Columbus stepped up the pressure after the break but only truly
tested Bono in the latter stages of the match.
"This is one of the best defensive efforts we had all season and
it's really something for us to build on. A huge confidence builder
for us going forward," the American goalkeeper said.
"Didn't get the goal we would've hoped for but a nil-nil draw here
is not so bad taking it back to Toronto."
Second-seed Seattle scored the all-important away goal early on when
Swedish midfielder Gustav Svensson sent a header past Joe Willis
from a Nicolas Lodeiro corner in the 11th minute.
Seattle had the chance to double their lead in the 29th minute when
Jalil Anibabe pushed Joevin Jones to the ground in the area, only
for Willis to save Lodeiro's penalty kick.
Anibabe was red carded for the push in the box and it did not take
long for Seattle to take advantage as American forward Will Bruin
headed home a cross from Jones in the 42nd minute.
Seattle host the return leg on Nov. 30.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by John O'Brien/Peter
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