One week after being on the wrong end of a late goal that led to an unsatisfactory tie with the Los Angeles Galaxy, Toronto FC learned how the other half lived.
Justin Braun’s 85th-minute header and Darel Russell’s 90th-minute rocket capped a remarkable late Toronto FC comeback in a 2-2 with FC Dallas, the hottest team in MLS, before 16,111 on a cold blustery Saturday afternoon at BMO Field.
“I’m sitting here now, the complete opposite of how I felt last week,” said a happy Toronto manager Ryan Nelsen.
Galaxy substitute Jose Villarreal’s 92nd-minute goal the previous week had resulted in another 2-2 tie.
How big was the Toronto comeback Saturday? Fullback Richard Eckersley may have injured his hamstring he celebrated so hard after the tying goal.
“We’re very close to being a pretty good team,” said Nelsen, who inherited a 5-21-8 club. “We’ve just to have a bit more belief and as you saw, that second half, we can compete with anyone.”
Adding to the Hollywood storyline feel was the fact that Russell, the hero of the day, had been victimized on both Los Angeles goals the previous week in his first start for Toronto (1-2-2).
“Football is a funny game, isn’t it,” Nelsen said with a smile. “It can be heart-breaking one week and it can be absolutely sweet as anything the next.”
Toronto now has five points from five games, not a bad return against teams that were a combined 14-5-5 going into weekend play. And last season it took TFC 13 games to collect five points — they reached that point on June 23.
Jacobson, in the 34th minute, and Blaz Perez, in the 59th, scored for FC Dallas (4-1-1).
For Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman, the tie was akin to a loss. But he gave credit where credit was due.
“For them, it was a great performance,” he said. “The last 10, 12 minutes they threw everything at us. We had difficulties with the pressure.”
Dallas also missed six-foot-three defender George John, who did not play in the second half after taking a ball flush in the face near the end of the first half.
“That hurt us,” said Hyndman, pointing to the last 10 minutes “when we needed a strong leader back there who was going to be a ball-winner in the air and had the muscles to not get pushed around.”
John will be evaluated back in Dallas.
Despite the late goal, Hyndman said the tie was not such a bad result given the wind, weather and “slow field.”
“At the end of it all, we only feel bad because we were winning 2-0. But all in all, I thought we had a good team performance, we scored two good goals.”
Russell’s finish was sweet. He showed great skill in controlling a high ball from Braun from the flank with one touch and then hammered the ball with his right foot from just outside the penalty box. Peruvian goalkeeper Raul Fernandez, who could have had a picnic in front of his goal the first half and not worried about missing anything, had no chance.
“A mistake last week and we end up drawing and it felt like a loss,” said Russell, a 32-year-old midfielder-turned-fullback from England. “And this week I redeemed myself. It feels almost like a win after being 2-0 down.
“But the way we played, we should have perhaps started the game as we finished and I think we would have had a different result today.”
For Nelsen, the goals came after a period of second-half pressure that eventually caused Dallas to crack.
Braun started the comeback on the scoreboard, heading the ball in from close range in the 85th minute after defender Matt Hedges failed to cleared. The goal came in his Toronto debut, which was delayed by a pre-season concussion.
Dallas dominated a first half that saw it outshoot Toronto 8-0 (1-0 in shots on target). But Toronto clawed its way back, turning the screws in the final minutes.
The home side outshot the visitors 9-4 (6-2 on target) in the second half.
“I think it was just how many (goals) we were going to score in the last 10 minutes,” said Nelsen.
Toronto’s Darren O’Dea had a legitimate claim for a penalty after the Braun goal when he was hauled down in front of goal by Andrew Jacobson. And the Irish defender almost scored himself moments later with a delightful flick from close range, only to see Fernandez pull off a marvellous save.
For most of the game, the visitors combined skill in attack with some hard work in defence, outclassing a Toronto side still rebuilding.
Dallas had won three straight, including two consecutive shutouts. Braun’s goal ended the Dallas shutout streak at 272 minutes.
While Nelsen celebrated the comeback, he was frustrated that it took adversity “to get the character out and get the personality out.”
“We’ve got to learn to show that from the start and show that from 90 minutes.”
O’Dea had the same thought.
“Another good step forward in a way that last year we probably would have lost that game 3-0,” he said. “So there’s positives. But I’ve said it before, it’s easy to take the shackles off and play football when you’re 2-0 down. There’s no pressure. It’s when it’s 0-0 and early on in the game.
“That game was there, waiting for someone to win it. We need to be braver but certainly it’s a point gained after the start we had.”
The first Toronto shot came in the 52nd minute, a weak long-range effort from John Bostock.
Bostock offered some of the best and worst of Toronto on the day. The slippery winger dug into his bag of tricks on a couple of occasions, with slick stepovers. But the 21-year-old Englishman also tried to do too much on his own at other times and his giveaway led to the second goal.
Toronto seemed more concerned with defence than offence in the first half with striker Robert Earnshaw treated like a leper up front.
Dallas began to show its class as the first half developed with its formation expanding at times into a four-man attack with Perez, Kenny Cooper, David Ferreira and Brazil’s Jackson.
Dallas went ahead on a set piece in the 34th minute after Ferreira was taken down. Goalie Joe Bendik failed to get to the ball, which Cooper flicked back to Jacobson who expertly hammered it home from close range.
Perez made it 2-0 in the 59th after Bostock lost the ball at centre field to Brazil’s Michel. He sent it over to Jackson who floated a pass behind the Toronto defence to Perez and the Panamanian international thumped it home.
Gale Agbossoumonde, 21, looked composed in starting in place of veteran Toronto centre back Danny Califf (stomach virus). Jonathan Osorio started in midfield for Terry Dunfield (knee).
Toronto’s career MLS record against Dallas is now 1-6-5. Toronto’s only win came in 2007 in the first meeting between the clubs.