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Tie with Toronto puts Union in MLS Cup playoffs

The Union admitted that it wasn't the ideal way to move into the postseason, but getting there was always the first goal.

The Union admitted that it wasn't the ideal way to move into the postseason, but getting there was always the first goal.

And if it took a tie against the team that entered the day having allowed the most goals in Major League Soccer, so be it.

In their second season, the Union will be making their first MLS Cup playoffs appearance, following Saturday's 1-1 draw with Toronto before a record crowd of 19,178 at PPL Park in Chester. The tie secured one of the league's 10 playoff berths.

"We would have liked to have done it with a victory instead of a tie, but all the work we have done from offseason to preseason and all throughout the year, it pays off, and you just have to celebrate and enjoy it," Union midfielder Brian Carroll said.

Team manager Peter Nowak said the Union felt the pressure about finally nailing down a postseason spot with one regular-season game left.

"For this group as well, you can feel the difference on the field. In some certain moments, we weren't sure if we were going to be in the playoffs or not," Nowak said. "I think we were a little scared to win this game today, you can see the difference between the two teams."

The Union (11-7-15) have 48 points and are tied with Sporting Kansas City for first place in the Eastern Conference. Columbus, after beating New England, 3-0, on Saturday, has 47 points and Houston has 46. All four teams have one game remaining.

What is significant is that the top three teams will earn a first-round bye and avoid the wild-card playoff.

So the Union's final game on Thursday in Harrison, N.J., against the New York Red Bulls is huge. If the Union win, they will definitely avoid the wild card. And New York still hasn't clinched a playoff spot, so it will be important for the Red Bulls, who will be without standout striker Thierry Henry. In Saturday's 2-0 loss to Kansas City, Henry was ejected for violent conduct and now must sit against the Union.

The Union came out lethargic against a team that they beat, 6-2, on May 28 in Toronto.

Late in the half, the Union got on the board first, and it was no surprise that Sebastien Le Toux provided the goods. Playing as well as anybody in MLS recently, Le Toux has scored 10 goals in the last 12 games after depositing a goal in the 42d minute.

He took a pass from Justin Mapp - who had another active game in the midfield - took a few dribbles, and then fired a shot from 22 yards inside the far post for his 11th goal of the season.

"I had some space, so I just took my chance at the far post and it went in," Le Toux said.

Why he had so much space is probably a reason Toronto entered the game having allowed 56 goals, most in MLS.

Earlier in the half, the Union saw Toronto keeper Milos Kocic make a diving save on a Freddy Adu blast and later he slid to beat Mapp to the ball on a potential breakaway.

Toronto (6-13-14) got the equalizer when Ryan Johnson tapped in a Nick Soolsma cross in the 57th minute.

Union keeper Faryd Mondragon, playing his first game since suffering a fractured finger on Sept. 3, didn't face any other serious scoring threat by Toronto.

In fact it appeared Toronto was playing not to lose, especially at the end, an assessment that coach Aron Winter denied.

"We came here to win the game," Winter said.

So did the Union, and now the postseason awaits.

"We're in the playoffs, and that is the most important thing in the past seven months," Nowak said. "The rest - well, we'll see what happens."

Playoff tickets

With the Union clinching a playoff berth following Saturday's 1-1 draw with visiting Toronto, tickets for MLS Cup playoff matches at PPL Park in Chester are now on sale.

A maximum of two playoff games will be hosted at PPL Park. According to the team, fans can purchase tickets to Home Game 1, Home Game 2, or both by visiting or by calling ComcastTIX at 800-298-4200. To purchase discounted group tickets (15 or more) to either potential playoff home match, call 877-21-UNION (877-218-6466).

The wild-card round will be Oct. 26 or 27. The conference semifinals consist of two games (one home, one away) against the same opponent. The first leg is either Oct. 29 or 30. The second leg is Nov. 2 or 3. The conference championship is Nov. 5

or 6.

The MLS Cup championship game will be played Nov. 20 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.

- Marc Narducci