|Darren O'Dea of Toronto FC stops Andy Najar of DC United during MLS action at BMO Field October 6, 2012. (AFP)
TORONTO - The questions have dried up at BMO Field.
“I don’t think there is,” said Paul Mariner, when asked if there was anything left to say following TFC’s 20th loss Saturday, a 1-0 shocker to D.C. United.
“It’s just heartbreaking for the players,” Toronto’s embattled head coach said after watching Milos Kocic spill a Maicon Santos shot in the 87th minute, gifting the visitors a critical three points.
With the ball rolling in slow-motion across the frame of goal, D.C.’s Hamdi Salihi tapped in the winner with minutes remaining.
It was the only time Kocic was called into action during a second half controlled by the Reds, who put in their best performance in over a month until fans once again left with an all too familiar feeling.
It was the 16th time in 32 league games the Reds have conceded after the 75th minute, a number that increases if 2012 Champions League fixtures are included.
“I worked hard all week,” Kocic said of his howler. “I lost the game for my team today. I want to apologize to everybody. The boys deserved better today – the fans, the club, everybody deserved better.”
At full-time, a handful of protesters, who spent a good portion of Saturday’s match holding up signs for what has been one of the worst MLS seasons to date, made their way to the player entrance before holding up a sign that likened the team to “Muppets.”
When asked if he spotted any of the signs, one reading “love TFC, hate ML$E," Mariner said he didn’t see them.
“I was watching the game,” he said.
At one point the Englishman crumbled to the ground after watching a number of TFC chances go begging on both sides of halftime.
In the ninth minute, Luis Silva had a sliding attempt saved by United’s Bill Hamid, who made himself big to deny Toronto an opener.
Cold and blustery conditions on the lake made for a sloppy opening half hour, nearly leading to the visitors going up on the half-hour mark. Darren O’Dea’s failure to deal with a cross at the edge of TFC’s area saw DC’s Lionard Pajoy through on goal before the Colombian skied a half-volley over Kocic’s net.
Pajoy had another half-chance a minute before the break after Kocic failed to claim a cross. After collecting the ball at the spot, Pajoy’s open-net attempt was cleared away by Richard Eckersley, who retreated in time to save TFC’s scrambling ‘keeper.
With the visitors still in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, Hamid came up huge in the 61st minute after a quick one-two with Andrew Wiedeman saw Jeremy Hall push the ball wide to Ryan Johnson. All alone, the Jamaican watched DC’s homegrown ‘keeper sprawl to deny TFC a deserved goal.
Toronto’s finishing woes continued three minutes later when after Hamid misplayed a cross, but Hall’s open look from close-range didn’t even come close to hitting the target.
‘We’ve got to take our chances and we’re not taking our chances,” Mariner said of TFC’s horrid touch in front of goal. “Jeremy is normally technically very good but he just couldn’t put it away … It’s pressure, it’s quality.”
The game opened up 20 minutes from time with quality chances exchanged at both ends.
In the 68th minute, United’s Chris Pontius put an open look well over the frame. Toronto followed that up three minutes later, failing to convert on a 4-on-3 break when Wiedeman took too much time inside the box.
“I asked for something (from the players) during the week and I most certainly go it,” Mariner said of his injury-depleted team, one that lost another body Saturday when Quincy Amerikwa hobbled off with a hamstring injury.
“We asked for hard work and we got that," Mariner said. "To be honest, (D.C.) had a couple of corners but I don’t think Milos was troubled too much.”
He was troubled one too many times on the day.
Minutes after coming off the bench Santos beat Hall at midfield and streaked towards goal. Cutting inside on his familiar left foot, the Brazilian unleashed a blast that handcuffed Kocic, which saw the club jeered as it exited BMO Field for the second to last time this season.
“I thought we did very well considering they’re well into the playoffs and we’re miles away from the playoffs,” Mariner said.
Miles away? Try 27 points away, an astronomical number by MLS standards.