The Reds were dominated in possession and conceded an astounding 16 corner kicks to Western Conference leader FC Dallas, but still managed to hang in until a devastating goal in the final minutes handed them a frustrating 2-1 loss Saturday night at Toyota Stadium.
Blas Perez's score off a free kick in the 88th minute kept TFC (3-3) from leaving North Texas with an encouraging draw and instead left the players looking for answers.
The loss was the third in four games for Toronto, a stretch that included three road games. The Reds now get a week off before returning to action May 3 against New England at home.
"We have to be honest with ourselves tonight and just say we weren't good enough," said midfielder Michael Bradley, who returned after missing a game with a strained quadriceps.
"You have to have a mentality that says you're not afraid to make mistakes. You're not afraid to play. You're not afraid to really get after it. And we fell short in those areas tonight."
That much is clear from the numbers. FC Dallas controlled 61 percent of possession— 63 percent in the second half— and those 16 corners were a club record. Toronto was also outshot 16-11 and allowed 23 open-play crosses.
"We were a little timid at times," midfielder Kyle Bekker said. "We gave the ball away too cheaply. We just have to have the confidence to play. Too many times I think we're afraid to play out. We just need to grow and get a little more confidence, but I think that will come as we keep playing together."
Still, the Reds were on the verge of picking up a point. They grabbed an early lead when rookie Issey Nakajima-Farran followed his own shot after Dallas' Chris Seitz made a diving save and blasted in the rebound in the 21st minute. They were able to get some quality scoring chances off counter-attacks, among them a controversial non-call in the 75th minute after Dallas defender Kellyn Acosta took down Toronto forward Gilberto in the box.
"Oh it's just a blatant penalty," TFC coach Ryan Nelsen said. "I mean he's got the inside line on him. The guy's out of position, and he just pushed him in the back. It's just absolutely ridiculous. You don't push a guy like that in the back."
For the most part the night belonged to FC Dallas (5-1-1), which pushed the ball forward again and again for shots, but mostly for corners. A team that lives on set pieces, having scored nine of its MLS-high 15 goals from them entering the game, Dallas finally took advantage of its many chances.
The tying goal came in the 37th, when free-kick specialist Michel curled a corner in front of the net and Matt Hedges rose to head it in. The winner was also off a set piece, a long free kick from Michel that was headed by Stephen Keel and Hedges and fell to the foot of Perez, who slipped it past TFC goalkeeper Julio Cesar for the killing blow.
"It's frustrating because we have to find ways to get results on our bad days, and we didn't do that today," defender Justin Morrow said. "If we want to make the playoffs, these are the games we have to get points from."