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Toronto advances to round of 16 in MLS return tournament

Toronto FC has made it to the round of 16 at the MLS is Back tournament, wrapping up a challenging first round with a 0-0 tie with the New England Revolution in Florida.

The result left Toronto atop Group C, pending the result of the final group game between Montreal and D.C. United later in the day. While a D.C. victory would leave it tied with Toronto and New England on five points, Toronto can finish no lower than second based on tiebreakers.

The group winner takes on one of the four-best third-place finishers on Sunday in the first knockout round. The runner-up faces the Philadelphia Union, second in Group A, on Saturday.

“I’m pleased,” said Toronto coach Greg Vanney. “I’d be hard-pressed to say that there’s another team at a tournament that’s had as difficult a schedule as we have in playing two games at 9 a.m. and one off of two days’ rest. “So again it shows the strength and resiliency of our group. Even the depth, with some of our young guys coming in and helping us out.”

Toronto extended its club-record undefeated regular-season run to 15 (6-0-9) since a 2-0 loss Aug. 3 at the New York Red Bulls. And with group games counting in the regular-season standings, it now stands second in the Eastern Conference at 2-0-3 behind Columbus (3-0-1).

New England, now with a 1-1-3 record in the season standings, also assured itself of moving on.

The knockout round could see Toronto field a potent strike force of Jozy Altidore and Ayo Akinola.

“They’re two strong guys who are going to be a handful for defenders to deal with in the moments we use them together,” said Vanney.

“We’ll see how we play it out as we move through the tournament and into the rest of the year,” he added.

Altidore, who has been working his way back to full fitness, made his tournament debut in the 86th minute and had an impact within 30 seconds, finding Akinola racing towards the penalty box. The 20-year-old forward was taken down by DeJuan Jones but, after video review, it was ruled a free kick just outside the box and not a penalty. Akinola said he initially thought it was a penalty, but changed his mind after reviewing the skid marks made by the collision.

Toronto opened the tournament with a 2-2 tie with D.C. United before defeating the Montreal Impact 4-3. New England defeated Montreal 1-0 and tied D.C. United 1-1.

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