Crew rally to tie TFC with late goal in TFC home opener

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TORONTO — Substitute Jimmy Medranda’s 75th-minute goal gave the Columbus Crew a 1-1 draw with Toronto FC in TFC’s home opener Saturday night.

Aidan Morris put Medranda in behind the Toronto defence and the Colombian, just two minutes into his Columbus debut, chipped Sean Johnson for the goal only to see the offside flag go up. But referee Ismir Pekmic awarded the goal after reviewing the play on the pitchside monitor.

Columbus (1-1-1) had a chance to win it in stoppage time but Cucho Herndandez hit the goalpost and Alexandru Matan sent the rebound just wide.

Deandre Kerr had given Toronto the lead in the 25th minute. TFC (0-1-2) was looking for its first win of the Major League Soccer season after opening with a 3-2 loss at D.C. United and 1-1 draw at Atlanta.

It was a depleted TFC attack with Italian star Lorenzo Insigne, the league’s highest-paid player, missing a second straight game with a lower body injury. Starting striker Adama Diomande and Ayo Akinola, who replaced him mid-game last weekend, were also unavailable due to tight hamstrings.

Kerr slotted into the starting 11, earning his first minutes of the season.

And it was the 20-year-old Kerr who opened the scoring, taking a pass from Jonathan Osorio and turning Australian international defender Milos Degenek like a corkscrew before beating goalkeeper Eloy Room with a well-placed low shot for his fourth career goal.

Johnson was the victim of friendly fire early in the second half when, after a Columbus shot was fired high into the north end, he was accidentally hit in the head with the ball thrown back by a fan. Johnson stayed in the game, however.

Soon after, the PA announcer had to warn fans after several snowballs were launched onto the pitch.

Federico Bernardeschi was held off the scoresheet for the first time this season but the Italian still showed his ball-handling wizardry on several occasions, befuddling Columbus defenders. Bernardeschi and fullback Richie Laryea continued to combine effectively as well.

Veteran midfielder Victor Vazquez, recovered from a non-COVID illness, came on in the 72nd minute for his season debut.

Taking the 36-year-old Vazquez out of the equation, the Toronto bench averaged 21 years of age with three teenagers in 18-year-old Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty and Hugo Mbongue and 19-year-old Kobe Franklin.

Toronto fullback Raoul Petretta limped off in the 73rd minute.

It was minus-two Celsius at kickoff, said to feel like minus-seven. But the conditions fell squarely in the “better than yesterday” category.

After close to 10 centimetres of snow fell in Toronto on Friday, the BMO Field grounds crew was at the stadium before 6 a.m. Saturday.

“Hard to sleep watching the snow,” said Robert Heggie, director of grounds at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

The tarp protecting the grass came off after the snow was removed at the stadium, which has underground heating. The grass, which looked surprisingly good considering the time of year, was then trimmed using push-mowers.

Several players had issues with their footing, however.

Columbus coach Wilfried Nancy, in his first year at the Crew helm after leaving CF Montreal in December, went with the same starting 11 as last week.

Argentine attacking midfielder Lucas Zelarayan was coming off a two-goal player of the week performance in a 2-0 win over D.C. United. Columbus lost its season opener 4-1 at Philadelphia.

Columbus was without Christian Ramirez (foot), Will Sands (back spasm) and former TFC defender Josh Williams (ankle).

Both teams had early chances, bringing the crowd into the game from the get-go. Columbus began to take control, retaining possession and spending time in the Toronto half of the field.

But throwing bodies into attack, the Crew looked vulnerable at the back when TFC regained possession. And Columbus had more difficulty penetrating the Toronto defence as the first half wore on.

Room made a fine save to deny Osorio in first-half stoppage time after the veteran Canadian was put through by Bernardeschi.

The Italian came close to setting up a late winning goal twice, but one low cross failed to find a teammate and Laryea sent the second one off target.

The Crew have Toronto ties, with president and GM Tim Bezbatchenko, vice-president Jaime McMillan and assistant GM Corey Wray all former members of the TFC front office.

Columbus dressed Canadian wingback Mo Farsi and forward Jacen Russell-Rowe.

The 23-year-old Farsi, a former Cavalry FC player who was named the Canadian Premier League’s Best Canadian U-21 Player in 2020, made his third straight start for the Crew with Russell-Rowe on the bench.

Russell-Rowe made his first-team debut for Columbus in Toronto last June, setting up both goals in a 2-1 Crew win. The 20-year-old forward from nearby Brampton spent seven years with the Toronto academy.

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