Down 3-1 to lowly Toronto FC after 45 minutes, the Montreal Impact were clearly chomping at the bit for the second half to begin.
The Impact starters lined the BMO Field sideline, as if they couldn’t wait to get back on the pitch. Instead they contented themselves with a few drills while halftime contestants dressed as submarine sandwiches waddled off the pitch.
Watch: Impact rally to tie Toronto FC
As the Toronto players trotted out from the tunnel, the Eastern Conference-leading Impact were sprinting into position. And the Montreal fightback officially began.
Hassoun Camara and Marco Di Vaio scored one minute apart in the second half to lift the Impact to a 3-3 draw with Toronto in MLS play before a sellout crowd of 21,700 Wednesday night.
“Obviously I wasn’t happy at halftime,” said acting Montreal coach Mauro Biello. “We were very timid ... They were winning second balls and being more aggressive than we were. And I said ‘We could get one back and we’re going to be back in the game.’
“Credit to the guys. They came back out, they came strong. We were able to get that second goal and we saw the momentum turning. And we were able to get the third.”
Camara pulled Montreal (9-4-3) to within one after defenders Steven Caldwell and Ryan Richter failed to deal with a high ball. Camara pounced on it and banged it in past Joe Bendik in the 69th minute.
Di Vaio, with his 11th goal of the season, tied it up a minute later after a Richter clearing pass ended up on Felipe’s boot. The Brazilian midfielder slipped the ball into Di Vaio who made no mistake from in close.
“There’s still a lot of things we need to work on,” said Biello, filling in for the suspended Marco Schallibaum.
That includes shoring up a defence that has given up seven goals in the last two games. Star defenders Alessandro Nesta and Matteo Ferrari were on the back foot for most of the night, with little help from the midfield.
The Impact should be happy they lead the league in offence with 30 goals in 16 games. Because they need those goals, having given up 24 at the other end.
“There’s obviously a little bit of concern, there’s no doubt,” said Biello. “Normally you’re not going to win games [giving up] three goals on the road. It’s obviously a concern and it needs to be fixed. We’re working hard every day. We’re watching video on what we could do better. Everything is a learning progress. For us, we’re happy we took the points but yes, definitely we need to do a better job defensively.”
While Biello took solace from his team’s character in rallying for the tie, Toronto coach Ryan Nelsen was left to ponder a great opening hour that went south quickly.
“They punished naive mistakes by us,” Nelsen said of Montreal. “But I have to look at it as a [glass] half-full game for 60, 70 minutes. Am I happy? No. No one’s happy, of course, when you play that well for 70 minutes and give it up.
“But in saying that, Montreal’s a very good team. They’ve done that to a lot of teams this season. They get a chance and they take it.”
Up until the 69th minute, Toronto (2-8-7) seemed to be in cruise control after Jeremy Brockie, Caldwell and Darren O’Dea opened their MLS scoring accounts in the first half. Toronto seemed en route to posting its first league win at BMO Field in almost a year.
“We had them on their knees and we should have finished them off,” said O’Dea.
But the home side deflated quickly after Montreal — which stands 17 points ahead of Toronto in the standings — struck back in the second half. Suddenly the visitors seemed faster, with fresher legs.
“It’s tough to take but it’s sometimes a little bit easier to take when you know you’ve played well,” said O’Dea. “And we’ve let a lot of teams off the hook. But slowly and surely it will come.”
Brockie had a chance to give Toronto the win in the 89th minute but his long-range shot hit the post and deflected wide. And Montreal came close in stoppage time when a Caldwell header back to the ‘keeper almost found an Impact attacker.
While praising Montreal, Nelsen slyly got in a few digs. He said he liked his young talent, because it would be around longer than the veteran Impact. And he accurately surmised that the Impact go down at the touch of a feather.
Toronto could well have been awarded a first-half penalty when Nesta tugged Luis Silva’s arm like he was ringing a bell as the TFC forward raced into the box.
“Probably the kid’s too honest,” said O’Dea. “I could guarantee 100 per cent that they would have fallen down, as you saw every time they got touched today.”
Toronto has been anything but an offensive juggernaut this season. But it profited from an opportunistic attack, some good running off the ball and poor Montreal defending to take its 3-1 lead.
The Impact seemed to be moving backwards for much of the game. Toronto flank players were often seen waving their hands frantically for the ball as the Montreal defence left huge gaps.
Nelsen’s team had scored just 14 goals in the previous 16 games. But as the first half came to a close, Toronto was up 3-1 and stroking the ball the field around with considerable flair.
Toronto’s last league victory at its lakefront home was July 18, 2012 — a 2-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids. The team did defeat Sporting Kansas City in Toronto in the second game of this season but that was at Rogers Centre.
Some fans may have missed the four goals in the first 24 minutes due to major local traffic issues resulting from a major accident nearby
Montreal scored 23 seconds in after left back O’Dea failed to deal with a looping ball from Brazilian midfielder Felipe. Argentina’s Andres Romero then beat an onrushing Bendik and calmly slotted the ball past centre back Gale Agbossoumonde.
“Pretty horrendous,” was Nelsen’s assessment of O’Dea’s defending on the play although he also said the mistake was characteristic of the Toronto skipper.
Canadian Dwayne De Rosario holds the league record for fastest goal, after just 11 seconds, for San Jose against Dallas in 2003.
Toronto replied in the sixth minute when Bobby Convey found Brockie in the box, perhaps fortuitously with what looked to be a scuffed shot. Brockie deftly moved the ball from his right foot to his left and roofed a shot past Troy Perkins for his first MLS goal.
Brockie set up the next goal, firing in a 21st-minute cross that an unmarked Caldwell headed in.
O’Dea earned some personal vindication three minutes later, working a nice one-two with Silva before banging a left-footed shot in.
Toronto outshot Montreal 18-16 (7-5 in shots on target). The home side also pushed the visitors around for much of the game, earning three of the four yellow cards on the night.
The game marked the midway point of Toronto’s season. TFC was 2-11-4 at the same point last year, having started the 2012 season with a league-record nine-game losing streak.
With four players on international duty with the Canadian squad and Robert Earnshaw and Richard Eckersley injured, Nelsen was short of options on the bench. He had to dress striker Andrew Wiedeman, despite having an MCL injury.
“We’re down to bare bones,” Nelsen said.
Reinforcements are on the way, the coach promised, with forward one area where Toronto is looking for a new recruit.
Toronto has brought in 20 new faces since the end of last season. But some have been stopgap measures. Quality is still lacking.
“We’re a few players way from being a very very very good team,” said Nelsen.