|TFC netminder Milos Kosc covers his face after Jonny Steele of RSL scored the winning goal with 30 seconds remaining in stoppage time Saturday night at Salt Lake City. (Getty Images)
With Toronto FC seconds away from saving face at Rio Tinto Stadium, a left-footed blast from Real Salt Lake’s Jonny Steele provided the home side a stunning 3-2 win — and dropped Toronto’s record-tying MLS start to 0-7-0 in 2012.
On the verge of escaping Utah with its first points two months into the regular season, Doneil Henry’s header from a corner 10 minutes from time failed to hold up.
Entering the match as a second-half substitute, the 18-year-old’s goal briefly levelled the proceedings after a Richard Eckersley own-goal gifted Salt Lake a 2-1 advantage in the 57th minute.
Had the Reds held on for another 30 seconds, Toronto would have avoided one of the league’s most dubious records — the worst start to an MLS season since Kansas City matched the task in 1999.
Following a goal inside 10 minutes from Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman, Toronto’s Eric Avila provided an equalizer just after halftime when he received a cutting pass at the top of the circle.
Starting in place of Joao Plata on the left side of TFC’s three-pronged attack, Avila danced around Salt Lake’s Chris Schuler before curling an open look past a sprawling Nick Rimando.
Avila’s second-half tally cancelled Beckerman’s opener that came just seven minutes after the start when RSL’s Jamison Olave headed a corner across the frame of goal where a waiting Beckerman bulged the open net.
The brightest Red on the night, Avila thought he had given TFC a massive road goal midway through the first half when he collapsed inside the area following a late sliding challenge from Olave.
Just a week after his defensive gaffe offered the visiting Chicago Fire a goal seconds after the opening whistle, Toronto’s Torsten Frings — who played all of Saturday’s match in midfield — stepped to the spot in an effort to provide an early goal for the Reds.
But following a brief stutter-step, the German’s effort caromed off the outside of the left post.
Head coach Aron Winter’s decision to start a defensive pairing of Adrian Cann and Miguel Aceval was disastrous from start to finish. While Cann’s lax marking provided the space for Beckerman’s first-half finish, the Canadian was fortunate not to concede a similar goal a short time later.
With Toronto’s back line struggling to communicate throughout the match, an unmarked Alvaro Saborio had a goal waved off for offside in the 35th minute.
Replays later showed the Costa Rican’s first-half tally should have been allowed.
After scoring the opener and providing the penalty that led to Frings’ first-half shank, Avila thought he’d bagged a brace just five minutes after scoring his first. Collecting a pass from the left wing, Avila’s curler from the left edge of the box bounced of the crossbar and over the frame.
Trading chances during end-to-end action in stoppage time, Plata came close to providing Toronto its third goal a minute before Steele’s eventual winner.
After receiving a threaded pass from Frings on the side of the penalty area, Toronto’s late substitute put his effort just wide of Rimando, who was caught leaning the opposite direction.
With a shaky Toronto defence on its heels three minutes into stoppage time, a poor clearance fell perfectly to Steele, whose left-footed drive saw half of Toronto’s players collapse in disbelief.
The loss drops Winter’s league road record to 1-12-7 over two seasons as the Reds remain the only winless, and pointless, MLS club heading into May.
Toronto’s quest for a fourth consecutive Canadian Championship begins Wednesday in Montreal in the opening leg of a home-and-away semifinal with the Impact.
The Reds host DC United three days later when Dwayne De Rosario returns to BMO Field for the first time since a nasty spat with the club’s front office saw the 2011 MLS Golden Boot winner’s TFC exit at the start of last season.