A soft goal and a disputed penalty kick produced a 1-1 tie between Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps, with Jermain Defoe's 63rd-minute spot kick rescuing the home side before a sellout crowd of 22,591 at BMO Field on Wednesday night.
For Defoe, it was his third goal in two games and 11th in 13 MLS outings. Not enough to make the MLS Fan XI announced before the game but worth a point on the night for Toronto.
The home side outshot the visitors 16-11 (6-2 in shots on target) and was pressing as the game ended.
"It says a lot about the group when you come in on a night like this and nobody's all that happy with a point," said TFC midfielder Michael Bradley, who was named an MLS all-star.
"I think it was important for us to try and get three points tonight," said Defoe. "It didn't happen. We managed to get a point. I suppose that's better than getting no points."
He didn't seem all that convinced.
Vancouver manager Carl Robinson called it "a very professional away performance" for his side saying there were times that Toronto "couldn't get near us in our possession."
"That's credit to the guys in there (the dressing room)," he said. "But I'm disappointed we haven't taken three points, I really am."
Defoe offered up his respect for the visitors.
"I thought they were really good," said the English star.
"They were really organized. Credit to them and their manager," he added. "But saying that, you know, towards the end of the second half I thought we would push on and get the winner. But obviously it wasn't meant to be."
Vancouver (6-4-8) went ahead on a Darren Mattocks goal in the 50th minute after former Toronto midfielder Matias Laba pounced on a loose touch by Toronto striker Luke Moore near the halfway line. Laba drove forward and two passes later, Canadian Russell Teibert raked a cross across the box that eluded three Toronto defenders before Mattocks tapped it in for his third goal of the season.
It was the kind of defensive lapse that Toronto paid for with goals twice before reeling off four goals to beat Houston 4-2 last time out.
"(We) conceded a soft goal again," lamented Toronto manager Ryan Nelsen. "I think they only had a couple of shots on target the whole game but one of them went in and that was a soft one when we had numbers around there."
Toronto (7-5-4) struck back after Brazilian winger Jackson went down in the box following contact with Nigel Reo-Coker. The English midfielder and Vancouver bench were incensed at referee Allen Chapman's call.
Jackson had been a thorn in Vancouver's side all game, artfully attacking down the left flank. But he also went down more than once and one could argue, as the Whitecaps no doubt did, that he initiated contact by running into Reo-Coker after the Brazilian tried to elude another defender.
Defoe ignored the furore, calmly beating goalie David Ousted.
"It's a tricky one," Robinson said of the penalty call. "What I would say is I've seen them given, but I've seen them not given as a free kick.
"The thing I think that concerned me was the boy had gone over about 10 or 11 times prior to that. So I don't know whether they're all free kicks or not and when the boy continues to go over like that, then some you're going to get, some you're not. And obviously fortunately for them, they got that and got the goal back."
The home side pressed after pulling even but was unable to secure the go-ahead goal. Substitutes Nick Hagglund and Brazil's Gilberto both missed on late headers.
The game may prove costly for Toronto, which lost fullback Mark Bloom (knee) and Jackson (hamstring) to injury. Nelsen's side is already without captain/centre back Steven Caldwell (quad tear).
Toronto, which has lost just once in its last nine games (4-1-4), has now gone 11 straight MLS matches without being held scoreless, a franchise record.
Vancouver was coming off a disappointing 3-1 home loss to Chivas USA that saw the Whitecaps give up three straight goals after going ahead.
Toronto and Vancouver had split their four previous MLS meetings with the home team winning each time out.
Both teams had holes in their backline.
For Toronto, Bradley Orr came in for Caldwell.
Bradley, who wore the captain's armband in place of Caldwell, joins Ronnie O’Brien, Jimmy Brennan and Dwayne De Rosario on TFC's all-time all-stars player list.
On the Whitecaps side, Canadian teenager Sam Adekugbe came in for suspended fullback Jordan Harvey. Vancouver was also without centre backs Jay DeMerit and Andy O'Brien, with Johny Leveron and Carlyle Mitchell starting again. O'Brien did make the bench.
Kekuta Manneh, Sebastian Fernandez and Gershon Koffie dropped out of Vancouver's starting 11, replaced by Mattocks, Teibert and Reo-Coker.
Both teams are in the midst of jam-packed schedules in July. Toronto has seven MLS games plus a high-profile friendly against Tottenham while the Whitecaps have six league matches.
The game feature a matchup of marquee central midfields with Pedro Morales and Laba for Vancouver and Bradley and Collen Warner for Toronto.
Warner had a whale of a game, swooping back in defence to win the ball and flying upfield to help in the attack.
"Best player on the park," Nelsen said of Warner. "He was absolutely fantastic."
Defender Doneil Henry also played well for Toronto, controlling Vancouver striker Erik Hurtado with aplomb.
The Whitecaps started well, stringing passes together to maintain possession. But that did not translate into scoring chances.
Toronto, meanwhile, came close several times on counter-attacks.
Toronto heads to Houston next for a rematch with the Dynamo on Saturday while Vancouver plays in Salt Lake City.
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