TFC coughs up late lead

Toronto FC's Quincy Amarikwa battles for the ball with the Portland Timbers at BMO Field last...

Toronto FC's Quincy Amarikwa battles for the ball with the Portland Timbers at BMO Field last night. (DAVE THOMAS/QMI AGENCY)

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:55 AM ET

TORONTO - Toronto FC came tantalizingly close to escaping Major League Soccer’s cellar for the first time this season on Wednesday — until a late goal changed everything.

The Reds recovered from a listless first half and a 1-0 deficit with a pair of strikes in the final 45 minutes, but the visiting Portland Timbers managed to equalize in the 82nd minute to stay a point in front of Toronto.

A perennial nemesis — set piece defence — hurt the Reds in the 21st when, after Eric Avila cleared a shot off of the line following a corner kick, Sal Zizzo corralled the ball and fired it past Milos Kocic.

This year, like every other, has seen the Reds find defending set pieces an immense challenge.

The team clearly is fed up with constantly singing the same refrain.

Afterwards, Richard Eckersley, Reggie Lambe and head coach Paul Mariner said the Reds must go after the ball harder.

“You’ve got to have that desire inside you that that ball is not going to be won by one of the opposition. It can’t happen. It’s disappointing, it’s not as if we aren’t working,” Mariner said, calling set pieces “our Achilles Heel.”

Still, the team roared to life after the break — “We needed a shakeup, everybody realized that,” Mariner said — opening up all kinds of space on the Timbers and finally equalizing in the 57th minute, when Eric Hassli — making his home debut — hammered a rebound into the top of the goal.

Toronto’s goal also came on a set piece followed by poor defending, as Adrian Cann was given enough space following Richard Eckersley’s effort to head a pretty pass over to Luis Silva, who had his shot denied by a sprawling Donovan Ricketts. Unfortunately for Ricketts, the ball went right to the big Frenchman.

Silva got one of his own six minutes later on an impressive play.

After some clever work by Ashtone Morgan, man of the match Hassli flicked the ball to Silva who made no mistake.

Though Kocic made a great save with his feet in the 70th minute, deflecting a shot by a wide open Kris Boyd, Portland kept coming and finally drew even in the 83rd minute when Darlington Nagbe was freed up by Steven Smith for an easy goal.

Keith Makubuya missed putting the Reds back ahead by a matter of inches late in the game, chipping a shot just to the right of Ricketts off the side of the net, eliciting groans from the 18,773 on hand who appeared to realize at that moment a win was not to be.

Considering international calls to duty, suspensions and injuries had severely depleted Toronto’s lineup, the result was an encouraging one, even if the locker room was a sombre one, as is TFC’s 4-4-5 record under Paul Mariner, though a three-game winless skid must be halted soon.

Mariner had to get creative with his lineup. Defender Doneil Henry and midfielder Terry Dunfield were with Canada, striker Ryan Johnson and defender Dicoy Williams were called up to Jamaica, newcomer Darren O’Dea was with Ireland.

Meanwhile, red card accumulation took defender Logan Emory out of the equation and leading scorer Danny Koevermans will not be back this season and others also were sidelined due to injury.

The absences opened the door for a number of players, though Cann said he felt rusty and had issues with timing after missing many weeks due to injury.


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