Pozuelo penalty helps Toronto FC topple Montreal Impact

Alejandro Pozuelo converted a penalty in the 50th minute as Toronto FC blanked the Montreal Impact 1-0 on Friday to take top spot in the Eastern Conference.

The game was the first in MLS since postponing five of six matches Wednesday night after NBA players decided to not play their playoff games in the wake of the shooting by police of Jacob Blake, a black man, in Wisconsin over the weekend.

The victory extended Toronto’s unbeaten run to 18 games dating back to last season. It is the second-longest streak in Major League Soccer history.

TFC (5-0-3) can tie the record when it faces Montreal (3-3-1) in a rematch on Sept. 1 at BMO Field.

MLS resumes play following protests

Kickoff Friday between the soccer rivals was not always a guarantee.

Both Montreal and Toronto cancelled pre-game media availabilities that were planned for Thursday afternoon, putting the encounter in doubt. But MLS resumed activities following a meeting between players, the players association and the Black Players for Change (BPC).

Players from both teams wore “Black Lives Matter” t-shirts in the pre-game warmup and took a knee in a moment of reflection prior to the game’s opening whistle. Most players also knelt during the anthem.

WATCH | Sporting world unifies in battle against racial injustice:

Devin Heroux of CBC Sports reflects on a week in sports that saw a united show of solidarity across professional leagues in support of racial justice. 2:48

Early in the second half, Toronto was awarded a penalty shot when Emanuel Maciel handled the ball in the box. Pozuelo calmly slotted the ball into the bottom right corner of the net with Clement Diop diving the wrong way.

For a second straight contest there were 250 supporters in the stands at Saputo Stadium — the maximum allowed by Quebec’s department of public health. Fans were also in attendance for Montreal’s 2-0 win over Vancouver on Tuesday.

They made a small dent in the 20,801-seat venue but chanted and cheered throughout the game. Some waved rainbow-coloured flags in support of Pride Night in MLS. Fans outside the stadium provided even more atmosphere by setting off fireworks every few minutes.

Toronto came close to scoring twice in an otherwise uneventful first half.

WATCH | Pozuelo penalty kick helps TFC beat Impact:

Alejandro Pozuelo scored on a penalty kick to help Toronto FC blank the Montreal Impact 1-0 and extend their regular season unbeaten streak to 18 games. 1:07

Pozuelo found himself alone in the box in the 13th minute but waited too long before shooting. Defender Luis Binks cleared the ball and the chance was gone.

The visitors celebrated a goal in the 36th when substitute Nick DeLeon headed the ball into the net. The goal was overturned for offside after video review.

Montreal also had a goal called back in the 78th minute with Romell Quioto narrowly in an offside position.

The Impact were coming off back-to-back wins but could not generate anything else offensively. Montreal’s only shot on target was a Victor Wanyama header in second-half stoppage time saved by Quentin Westberg, who earned his fourth clean sheet this year.

Toronto has blanked its opposition in four consecutive regular-season games.

Both teams were missing a handful of regular starters.

Montreal’s Samuel Piette and Saphir Taider skipped the game because their wives recently gave birth. Toronto’s Jozy Altidore, Richie Laryea and Ayo Akinola (hamstring) were also out of the lineup.

It was the fourth of nine games between Canada’s three MLS teams. Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver are in an all-Canadian phase of the season, with results counting toward the MLS regular-season standings. The best team through nine matches will play in the Canadian Championship final.

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Johny Watshon

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