Toronto FC, Philadelphia Union play to goalless draw

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CHESTER, Pa. — Toronto FC celebrated a baby and Sean Johnson’s 100th regular-season clean sheet in a scoreless draw with the Philadelphia Union in MLS play Wednesday.

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Toronto also surpassed its entire points total for last season.

Toronto (7-7-2) has 23 points, with 54 still on the table during the regular season. TFC finished with 22 points last year when it finished bottom of the league at 4-20-10.

Toronto was without Italian star Lorenzo Insigne, who was back in Italy for the birth of Mattia, his third son. Coach John Herdman said the absence was planned.

“It’s another Insigne hopefully that wants to play for Toronto in the near future,” Herdman joked.

Herdman said there was no definitive word yet on whether Insigne will be back for Saturday’s game at D.C. United. But given the team has a two-week break after that, it would not be surprising to see him get some more time in Naples.

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“Sometimes family has to come before football,” said Herdman.

It was a poised, professional performance on the road for Toronto, which had been challenged by Herdman to batten down the defensive hatches.

After conceding 14 goals in its first 11 league games, TFC had leaked 10 in its previous four outings (1-0-3). That dropped the Toronto defence to 21st in the league, conceding an average 1.60 goals a game.

“We wanted to put defending as a priority, but at the same time bring our attacking identity and continue to be brave,” said Herdman. “And I thought tonight we just got the balance right.”

“That’s our sixth clean sheet of the season and a good point on the road. And disappointed not to take three (points),” he added.

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Italian Federico Bernardeschi, returning from a one-game ban for yellow card accumulation, had Toronto’s best chances of the night. But scoring chances for both sides were not that plentiful.

Bernardeschi missed a glorious chance in the 42nd minute, firing a shot off the crossbar from close range after a deft setup by Derrick Etienne Jr. and Jonathan Osorio following an errant Philadelphia clearance. The Italian sank to his knees in disbelief after the miss.

Bernardeschi came close again in the 49th minute in the rain, poking the ball just wide of the far post after another Union giveaway.

Toronto outshot Philadelphia 11-10 (3-1 in shots on target). And Johnson was up to the challenge on the Union’s one dangerous chance, making a fine reflex save to block Alejandro Bedoya’s header in the 51st minute.

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Johnson is just the fourth goalkeeper in MLS history to record at least 100 regular-season clean sheets. The 16-year veteran, who also has three playoff shutouts, was making his 401st MLS appearance, including regular season (386) and playoff (15) matches.

“He’s starting to become, I think, a bit of an MLS legend,” said Herdman.

It was a third straight shutout for Philadelphia (4-4-7) but also more dropped points at Subaru Park.

“Overall not dangerous enough on the night, not scary enough,” said Philadelphia coach Jim Curtin. “Obviously it’s a positive to keep a clean sheet. We’ve been leaking a lot of goals at home. But at the same time we have to find a balance of being a little bit more brave.”

“A tie feels like a loss when we’re at home,” he added.

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Philadelphia has done better on the road (3-0-5) this season than at home (1-4-2) where it had lost a club-record four straight prior to Toronto’s arrival. The Union lost just one league game at Subaru Park the past two seasons (22-1-6).

Toronto went into mid-week play in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, two places and four points ahead of Philadelphia.

Despite recent bumps in the road, TFC had won seven of its previous 10 matches in all competitions (7-3-0).

Philadelphia had just one win in its last seven outings (1-4-2) after going unbeaten in the first seven league games (3-0-4) of the season.

Herdman made five chances to his starting lineup with Bernardeschi, Etienne, Deandre Kerr, Kevin Long and Alonso Coello slotting in.

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Philadelphia was without two of its stars in goalkeeper Andre Blake and forward Julian Carranza, one of the team’s designated players.

Blake, the three-time MLS goalkeeper of the year who has not played since April 30, is recovering from meniscus surgery. Carranza has an ankle injury.

Philadelphia hosts CF Montreal on Saturday.

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Toronto FC will play Canadian Premier League champion Forge FC in one Canadian Championship semifinal with the defending champion Vancouver Whitecaps taking on CPL’s Pacific FC in the other.

The draw for the two-legged semifinals was made Wednesday at halftime of the second leg of the Pacific-Ottawa quarterfinal in Langford, B.C. Pacific won 2-1 after the teams played to a goalless draw in the first leg May 8 at TD Place in Ottawa.

The draw also determined that the winner of the Vancouver-Pacific semifinal will host the stand-alone championship game.

The winner of the 14-team Canadian Championship hoists the Voyageurs Cup, collects $50,000 from Canada Soccer in prize money and qualifies for the CONCACAF Champions Cup, the confederation’s elite men’s club competition.

Toronto defeated Forge by a penalty shootout in the pandemic-delayed 2020 championship game, which was actually played in June 2022.

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