HOUSTON, TEX. - Head coach Paul Mariner had other things on his mind Saturday night in Houston.
A point likely wasn’t one of them until Terry Dunfield rose to meet a cross five minutes before full time.
Despite watching the home side’s Will Bruin open the scoring midway through the first half, with the MLS playoffs an impossibility at this point, the club knew a much bigger match awaited this week.
As evident from his matchday roster, after falling in Columbus on Wednesday, it appeared Mariner wouldn’t have minded dropping one more, especially with a make-or-break Champions League fixture in the picture.
The Reds left both Torsten Frings and Eric Hassli off Saturday’s roster before issuing Ashtone Morgan just 20 minutes in the second half, all in preparation for Tuesday’s tilt with Santos Laguna.
In a match that was played at walking pace, the Reds came close four minutes in when a buildup along the right side saw Quincy Amarikwa split a pair of Dynamo defenders with a pass to a streaking Andrew Weideman, who rolled the ball across the top of the box to Luis Silva. Toronto’s rookie took a touch before unleashing a left-footed effort that looked destined for the top corner before Houston ’keeper Tally Hall sprawled to his right to deny Silva his second goal in two games.
Just before the home side grabbed the game’s opening goal, TFC nearly opened the scoring again in the 17th minute following a 3-on-2 break. After Silva played wide to Ryan Johnson on the left side, the Jamaican’s knee-high out-swinger just missed the back-post run of Amarikwa, who came close to connecting with an easy tap in.
In the 21st minute, Houston Designated Player Oscar Boniek Garcia collected in midfield after finding space in TFC’s end. The Honduran international beat a lunging Terry Dunfield and threaded a pass to Bruin that carved out three TFC defenders. Bruin’s first touch split TFC’s Richard Eckersley and Darren O’Dea allowing the Dynamo striker to slip his shot past an onrushing Freddy Hall.
It was Hall’s second consecutive start this season in place of new No. 1 Milos Kocic, who is rumoured to be in a contract dispute with the Reds ahead of next season, particularly with Stefan Frei close to a return after suffering a leg fracture earlier this year.
The Reds came close to clawing back early in the second half only to see a pair of half chances fail to develop into full-fledged opportunities.
Ten minutes after the break, a driven cross from Dunfield stuck to Silva’s foot at the top of the area, taking him around Houston back Bobby Boswell at the top of the box. Briefly appearing to be clean through on goal, Silva turned him sideways, preventing him from getting a clean look on goal.
In the 62nd minute, a poor clearance deep in Houston’s zone was cut out by Amerikwa, who nearly found himself in a one-on-one situation with Houston’s Hall.
To be fair, by allowing what was essentially Toronto’s B-team to stick around for 85 minutes, the Dynamo only had themselves to blame.
In the 67th minute, following a cross from Bruin, Mac Kandji should have done much more with his open-look header, which he put right at Toronto’s Hall from five metres.
Continuing to allow the Reds to hang on, Houston’s Adam Moffat had an open look on the half-volley in the 80th minute that he failed to put on frame, which led to the biggest moment of the match.
After receiving a drop in the 85th minute on the right edge of the box, O’Dea whipped a left-footed in-swinger into the Houston area to Dunfiled, who did well to beat Houston’s offside trap before using his head to save a point for the Reds.
Tied with Santos Laguna on three points after both teams topped Salvadoran side Aguila this month, the Reds host the club that knocked them out during last year’s Champions League semifinal stage Tuesday at BMO Field in what could be TFC’s last meaningful match of the season.