TFC blows late lead in Chicago
Austin Berry the Fire heads the ball over Richard Eckersley #27 and Doneil Henry #4 of Toronto FC during an MLS match at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois.
For the first time this season, Toronto FC entered halftime above bottom spot in the league.
Upon taking a 1-0 lead courtesy Ryan Johnson, the Reds entered the break in Chicago riding high off a first-half opener that had them poised to pick up maximum points for the fourth time in five league games.
"There were a couple of turning points," head coach Paul Mariner said of the match, "and you try to look at it as balanced as you possibly can ... You can't really legislate for Logan deciding to get himself sent off. The play was going nowhere-just ridiculous."
That was before a disastrous second half saw the home side register a pair of late goals amid TFC's Logan Emory being sent off 15 minutes from time - something that doomed Toronto to its second consecutive league loss as it failed to hold on while playing down a man for the final quarter-hour.
Before Marco Pappa's equalizer just after the hour mark, an opportune first-half finish from Johnson gifted the overmatched Reds an improbable early lead against the run of play.
But after Emory received his marching orders following a second caution in the 78th minute, it wasn't long before TFC gave up an eventual winner in familiar fashion.
For the ninth time this season, the Reds failed to deal with a restart just outside the area as Chicago rookie Austin Berry skied between a pair of TFC defenders to nod the ball into the corner past a rooted Milos Kocic in the 84th minute.
"I think it is plain to see that we gifted them two goals," Mariner said. "You can't do that to a very decent Chicago Fire team."
The 2-1 final gave the home side a crucial three points and ended any hope of a late season surge from Toronto, which remained in last place after threatening multiple times to climb up from the bottom of the table.
After being thoroughly outplayed seven days before in a loss to the Houston Dynamo, the match further highlighted the need for the Reds to get newly signed central defender Darren O'dea into the fold as quickly as possible, especially with the combination of Emory and Richard Eckersley getting ripped open throughout most of the 90 minutes.
"You've got to hold your hand up and say that you can't give decent teams opportunities like we gave them," Mariner said. "Other than that, we were fine. I genuinely thought we were going to win the game tonight. I was very confident at half time."
Johnson's 16th-minute opener failed to hold up when a missed clearance from Doneil Henry pinged around inside the penalty area before setting up perfectly for Pappa, who took a touch around an onrushing Kocic before finishing between Eckerlsey and the post to draw level in the 64th minute.
"Our play against set pieces was not good," Mariner said. "One, that clearance on the first goal. The second goal was a set piece, too. We need to learn as quick as possible. We lost too many points this year on set pieces."
The goal cancelled an improbable opener for Toronto after a costly Fire mistake saw Toronto score first when Johnson latched on to a poor back pass that rolled between the home side's two central defenders 16 minutes in. After running on to the errant pass, the Jamaican's one-on-one attempt with Chicago 'keeper Sean Johnson was partially blocked before trickling into the vacated net.
The Reds will look back on missed chances as they should have gone two goals up before the break when Luis Silva missed a point-blank attempt from 10 metres. Toronto's first-round draft pick collected a layoff from Johnson before cutting around a defender and putting his open look right at Chicago's 'keeper and off the post.
Kocic did his best to preserve the point, facing a number of one-on-one situations throughout the match, the first coming eight minutes in when Chris Rolfe was put in behind Toronto's struggling defence after a flick on deep in TFC's half.
His finest save of the night, one that likely broke his nose, Kocic was well off his line to meet Rolfe at the top of the area to keep the Reds in it early -- something that wouldn't matter as the Fire punished TFC's tired legs during the final 15 minutes.