Toronto FC manager Ryan Nelsen was disappointed but philosophical. Bruce Arena, his Los Angeles Galaxy counterpart, was clearly relieved.
Both of their teams emerged with a point Saturday in a topsy-turvy 2-2 tie that saw Galaxy star Landon Donovan make his comeback and teenage substitute Jose Villarreal score a wonder goal in the 92nd minute to pull the defending MLS champions even after a Toronto fightback.
“It would have been a crime to leave here without a point,” said Arena. “We played pretty well today. It was remarkable to me that we were actually in a position to be chasing that game. Give Toronto credit. I don’t want to take anything away from them but I think we played well enough today to position ourselves to have three points.
“We got the point and now we’ve just got to get the hell out of town, not even look back and don’t complain.”
Nelsen tried to be realistic.
“Late goals happen,” said the former New Zealand international. “They throw numbers in the box and balls go (in). It’s not an indictment of this team. Nobody’s blaming anybody, definitely not me. When you play against really good teams, this is going to happen.”
Toronto captain Darren O’Dea had a hard time seeing the glass half-full in the wake of the tying goal with the whistle about to blow.
“I’m obviously gutted at the minute,” said the Irish defender. “But I’ll probably get over it in the next 24 hours and look back and think we’ve got to work on things, of course, but realistically we’ve really really come far in a short space of time. It needs to keep moving forward and it will.”
Toronto may need reinforcements in midfield to do so. Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho bossed the centre of the park for Los Angeles, with TFC’s Jeremy Hall and Terry Dunfield often in full reverse. Only winger Reggie Lambe looked lively among the midfield starters for the home side.
The good news is that Luis Silva is healthy again. The sophomore attacking midfielder was an instant shot of adrenalin for Toronto when he was introduced in the 72nd minute.
Mike Magee had given the visitors the lead in the 16th minute, only to have Robert Earnshaw tie the game 13 minutes later and substitute Jonathan Osorio put Toronto ahead in the 78th minute.
Osorio’s first career MLS goal had the 18,355 fans celebrating on a sunny 10-degree day on Toronto’s lakefront. But the Galaxy had a sting in their tail.
“I feel very happy for the goal. The first one’s always the hardest,” said Osorio. “I’m happy to get it out of the way.
“But I think I’m more disappointed for the end result. We could have won this game.”
Silva made the Osorio goal, twisting and turning Los Angeles defender Omar Gonzalez on the edge of the penalty box before sending the ball across goal where Osorio, a 20-year-old rookie midfielder playing in his hometown, got a foot to it. It marked the first time the Galaxy, who had given up just one goal in three previous league outings, had trailed in MLS play this season.
The deficit didn’t last long.
Villarreal’s stoppage-time goal came after Gonzalez sent in a high ball into the Toronto penalty box. Toronto fullback Darrel Russell’s header went back in front of goal where the 19-year-old Vallarreal — all five foot eight and 160 pounds of him — twisted himself into a flying pretzel with a scissor-kick finish.
It was all the more impressive given that Villarreal had been laid low by a virus this week.
“He makes plays,” said Donovan. “And at any level, anywhere in the world, players that can make plays are commodities ... He won another point for us.”
Fresh from a sabbatical of nearly four months, Donovan returned to action as a substitute in the 61st minute. He could have celebrated his comeback with a goal a minute later when Magee found him behind the defence but he scuffed the shot and Toronto goalkeeper Joe Bendik gathered it in.
“Fitness-wise I felt great,” said the 31-year-old Donovan, the Galaxy’s all-time leading scorer with 92 goals. “Obviously I have a ways to go soccer-wise, but you’ve got to get minutes to get better. It was good to get some time today and obviously in the end it worked out with a good result.”
The Los Angeles starting lineup was missing more star power with the absence of striker Robbie Keane, who suffered a calf strain playing for Ireland in a World Cup qualifier against Sweden. Keane (123 games, 54 goals) and Donovan (144, 49) have 267 international caps and 103 goals between them.
Los Angeles (2-0-2) probably deserved not to lose on run of play but Toronto (1-2-1) seemed to have found a way to win. Nelsen promised to make BMO Field a fortress and his team has now won and tied its first two games at home — one of which came at Rogers Centre.
“Most people in this room, if you’re Toronto fans, would you have taken a draw at the start of the game?” asked Nelsen. “Probably would have.
“Yes, we’re all very disappointed that we didn’t walk away with three. We could have, but we move on. We take the point. We have to look at the bigger picture — the bigger picture is the MLS champions came here and we did extremely well and we’ve got one point, and we move on to (next opponent) Dallas.”
The visitors looked comfortable on the ball from the get-go, probing the Toronto defence and winning the battles in central midfield.
Toronto’s backline was ripped open in the 16th when Magee tapped in a mis-hit shot from Sarvas that angled through the penalty box. Jack McBean found time and space for the setup with a nice spinning move to elude Hall and feed the ball to Sarvas. Magee then beat Russell to get to the ball.
It could have been 2-0 in the 21st but a diving Bendik made a marvellous one-handed save off a Magee header after the Galaxy forward outjumped Danny Califf.
The opportunistic Earnshaw equalized against the run of play in the 29th minute after Toronto pressure led to a Galaxy mistake. Racing off his goal-line after a poor pass from Leonardo, Carlo Cudicini tried to reach a ball in another time zone. The speedy Earnshaw got to the ball first, flicking it past the floundering goalie and then firing it in from 35 yards out with his left foot.
The Welsh striker celebrated with his trademark somersault, adding his flamboyant matador finish. And why not? He has been a one-man scoring machine for Toronto, accounting for the club’s first four goals.
Los Angeles started Magee and the 18-year-old McBean up front. Gonzalez slotted back into the defence after being away with the U.S. team.
Toronto shifted Richard Eckersley from right back to left with fellow Englishman Russell entering at right back. Ashtone Morgan, the 22-year-old incumbent left back who had been away with Canada on international duty, moved to the bench.
Russell had a difficult afternoon, but he got little help from a sluggish John Bostock, who was playing ahead of him on the right side of midfield.
Up until Saturday, it’s been a smooth transition to MLS for Cudicini, who came into the game with two shutouts and just four saves in three league games. In his five previous games for L.A. in all competitions, the 39-year-old had three shutouts and allowed just two goals.
Toronto and Los Angeles have now played to six ties in their 12 league meetings. Toronto trails in the series with a 2-4-6 record.
Toronto’s last league win over the Galaxy came in 2008, when it swept the season series. But TFC tied and defeated Los Angeles in CONCACAF Champions League play last season.