After giving up a two-goal lead with under 20 minutes left to play, the Reds held on for a 3-3 draw against the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday night in MLS action.
"We knew it was going to be difficult the second half, but I am so proud of the lads," said Mariner after his second game as coach. "We had a fantastic performance in the first half. I thought we were terrific. A point away from home against Houston is fantastic."
Houston's Will Bruin scored in the 73rd and 90th minutes to dash Toronto’s hopes of getting three points.
The draw spoiled two first-half goals by Danny Koevermans and Jeremy Hall's first career MLS goal, but can be seen as a positive after three Toronto players — Miguel Aceval, Luis Silva and Nick Soolsma — were arrested for public intoxication earlier in the week and sent home before the game.
Mariner said Toronto, who jumped out to a 3-1 lead at halftime, had moments in the second half but not as many as in the first half.
"We knew the game wasn't over," he said. "Forty-five minutes doesn't get you anywhere in football. We've been there many times. The first 10 minutes was key. We had to come out and weather the storm. Then, we just sort of settled down, and they threw the kitchen sink at us."
Hall scored in the 13th minute when he banged a shot off both posts before it went in. Bobby Boswell's header seven minutes later knotted the score at 1-1.
Koevermans scored in the 22nd minute, nailing a shot off a cross from Eric Avila into the left net, and in the 45th minute when he headed a Julian de Guzman pass from 16 yards out to extend the lead to 3-1.
"Definitely, we come into every game to win," defender Ashtone Morgan said. "We were up 3-1 at the half, and we thought we were going to be in cruise control. They threw the big boys up there and scored two goals."
Bruin cut the lead to 3-2, hitting a shot from the top of the box into the upper right net before nailing a header for the tie.
Houston (5-4-5) extended its home unbeaten streak to 13 games, dating back to a 2-0 loss to Columbus on June 18, 2011.
Toronto (1-10-1) remains last in the Eastern Conference, but there is hope that the team can turn things around.
"We are still the lowest of the low," Koevermans said. "We got a point on the road. You lose it in the last minute, the points, then you are disappointed. I hope this is a start to a new era to get more points."
Mariner said he saw improvement from Saturday’s 2-0 loss at Sporting KC.
"The thing as a coach is you have to get the players to buy into your plan, and the guys bought into it as you can see," Mariner said. "The thing about Saturday is that we created a lot of chances, but we didn't quite take our chances. Tonight we created some very good chances. I'm delighted by their performance."