Toronto FC were a minute away from a big road victory against a team close to them in the standings before a veteran just back from the World Cup helped steal away what seemed a sure three points.
Red Bulls midfielder Tim Cahill, who scored twice for Australia in Brazil just a week ago, knocked a header at the feet of New York’s Bradley Wright-Phillips in the 93rd minute to beat Toronto goalkeeper Joe Bendik for a 2-2 draw Friday.
The result left an often dominant Toronto (6-4-2) club with just a point in its first match following a league-wide World Cup break.
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t hold out, disappointed that I couldn’t make that last save. I thought we were the far better team the entire game,” Bendik said.
While New York (4-5-7) held a slight edge in possession, Toronto outshot the Red Bulls 20-14 with a 7-6 advantage in shots on target despite still missing midfielder Michael Bradley to the World Cup.
Toronto manager Ryan Nelsen felt it was a match they could learn from and a sign they were gaining momentum after an opening three months that saw them play the fewest league games in Major League Soccer.
“We had a couple of weeks (during the break) and sort of benefited off that,” Nelsen said. “Guys are staying a bit healthier, and hopefully we can just keep on it.”
Despite a quality first half, Toronto trailed heading into halftime as Peguy Luyindula headed a cross from Ambroise Oyongo past a diving Bendik to make it 1-0 in the 36th minute.
The Reds jumped out to their best period of the game to begin the second half, as Jermain Defoe beat New York’s Carlos Robles against the grain to even the score in the 55th minute. The goal is Defoe’s eighth in nine league matches.
Toronto made a sub designed on going for at least a draw by bringing on Brazilian designated player Gilberto, who had been scoreless in nine previous matches.
In the 72nd minute, after a dispute with Defoe over who would take a free kick from inside 25 yards, stutter stepped before cracking an unstoppable shot to the top right corner of the goal that froze everyone on the pitch, save for a helpless, diving Robles.
“Sometimes you just get a feeling,” said Nelsen, addressing the moments leading up to the kick between his two international stars. “I think Gil had a feeling he was going to do something, and players understand that. (That goal) will be shown around the world, for a long time.”
Defoe admitted he was fine with the decision in the end. “Yeah, it was meant (to be). In football, you’re confident, and when he stepped up, I had that feeling that he was going to score. You can see from the celebrations, I’m so happy for him.”
Gilberto eventually left the game in the 89th minute with what Nelson called a hip problem.
Toronto were unable to fend off a desperate New York team that remained one point behind them for fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings, with a somewhat surprise substitution of Cahill for the goal-scorer Luyindula.
New York head coach Mike Petke admitted that he’d had no plans to use Cahill in any serious role prior to the team going down a goal. “I was hoping to bring Tim on in the 88th minute, up 3-0, so the fans could clap him for the wonderful World Cup he had,” Petke said.
“Obviously things change, with the score, with the way the game went. We felt, to bring Tim on for 20 minutes, perhaps something could happen, and obviously it did in the end.”