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Fans salute Morrow as TFC ends regular season with loss to D.C. United


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Toronto FC finished the MLS regular season with a bang — as in TFC coach Javier Perez banging his head against the wall.

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The very thing that has killed TFC all season — sloppy defensive play early in games — reared its ugly head yet again on Sunday afternoon as a highly-motivated D.C. United side defeated the Reds 3-1 on the strength of three first-half goals as the Toronto faithful saluted long-time defender Justin Morrow, who is retiring at the end of the season.

Morrow, 34, arrived in T.O. ahead of the 2014 season and has been a rock on the backline, helping the Reds capture an MLS Cup, qualify for three MLS Cup final appearances, win a Supporters’ Shield, three Eastern Conference Championships, and three Voyageurs Cups. TFC broadcast a number of video tributes on the scoreboard and the club presented Morrow with a framed jersey while the fans chanted his name.

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“A little bit of everything, mostly joy,” said Morrow, when asked what it was like playing his final regular-season game on a beautiful autumn day at BMO Field in front of 19,351 adoring fans. “It was incredible. It felt like the old times out there. I’ve felt that rarely since the pandemic (started) so it was nice to go out like that. In the second half, we were pushing the game trying to get some shots on goal, trying to make something happen. It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t pull it out and get the three points for everyone that showed up, but I really appreciate all the fans who have stuck with us through thick and thin.”

Perez substituted Morrow out of the game just before the final whistle so he could be acknowledged by the TFC faithful.

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The loss dropped the Reds to six wins, 18 losses and 10 draws on the season, placing them second-last in the Eastern Conference, ahead only of perennial carpet-dwellers Cincinnati, though the Reds did play better under Perez in the second half of the season after he took over from fired head coach Chris Armas.

TFC does have one game remaining against 401 Derby rival CF Montreal in the Canadian Championship final. The date of that match has yet to be determined, though a loss to Orlando City on Sunday meant that Montreal did not make the playoffs and the Canadian Championship final will likely be played sooner rather than later.

Despite the win, D.C. United did not get the help they needed from other games across the league and fell just short of a playoff spot. TFC held a huge edge in possession — 68% to 32% — in the match but were outshot 17-14 with D.C. firing 10 shots on goal to four by TFC.

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The visitors jumped into a 3-1 lead after a wild first half on two goals by Ola Kamara and another by Steven Birnbaum while Richie Laryea replied for the home side. Two of the visitor’s goals came via corner kicks. Kamara’s goals were his 18th and 19th of the season, tying Valentín Castellanos of NYCFC for the MLS scoring lead.

While Sunday’s match represented the last regular-season game for Morrow, it was also likely the last TFC game for a number of other Reds. It’s almost certain that TFC management will make wholesale changes in the off-season. Word is that the front office will try to move DP’s Jozy Altidore and Yeferson Soteldo, even though they’re still under contract. Nick DeLeon, who came on in the second half against D.C. United and did well, also likely played his final regular-season game for TFC. DeLeon said earlier in the season that he almost certainly wouldn’t be back.

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Toronto FC midfielder Noble Okello controls the ball against D.C. United in the second half at BMO Field. DAN HAMILTON/USA TODAY SPORTS
Toronto FC midfielder Noble Okello controls the ball against D.C. United in the second half at BMO Field. DAN HAMILTON/USA TODAY SPORTS

TFC centre-back Chris Mavinga left the game after the first half with a possible concussion while Altidore left with a sore groin.

Kamara opened the game by right-footing a shot off the crossbar. Four minutes after that, Toronto ‘keeper Quentin Westberg made a good lunging save off from Kamara as D.C. fired out of the gate. Birnbaum scored in the 13th via a corner kick when he headed the ball into the goal from very close range.

The Red and Black came inches — actually less than inches — from jumping ahead 2-0 four minutes after Birnbaum’s goal. In a span of a few seconds, Toronto midfielder Jonathan Osorio rushed to the goal line to prevent a dribbler by Kamara from crossing the line and then Westberg made a leaping save off Kamara — both chances the result of horrendous defensive play by the Reds.

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Laryea’s equalizer came in the 18th minute when he picked up a pass from Osorio outside of the centre of the box and right-footed the ball into the left corner of the goal.

Kamara then put D.C. United ahead 2-1 when he scored in the 30th minute on a penalty kick after Westberg brought him down in the box.

Some bad luck prevented the Reds from tying it when a free kick taken just outside the centre of the box by Alejandro Pozuelo struck Osorio. A couple of minutes after Pozuelo’s free kick, the Red and Black jumped ahead 3-1 by Kamara via another corner kick.

Dom Dwyer, substituted to start the second half for Altidore, just missed scoring TFC’s second goal in the 53rd minute when headed a lovely cross from Pozuelo just over the D.C. United goal.

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TFC came out on the front foot and kept up the pressure for most of the second half. Shortly after Westberg made a good save on Nigel Robertha in the 66th minute, DeLeon right-footed a shot that hit the netting at the top of the D.C. United goal. Westberg then made another good save off Kamara following a turnover by Pozuelo, who played well on Sunday but still seems at less than 100%.

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Twitter: @Beezersun

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