TORONTO - It's becoming an all too familiar story for Toronto FC. Poor marking on set pieces is taking its toll on a team that cannot afford to gift opponents goals.
What looked like three points turned into one thanks to an 87th-minute goal by Chris Wondolowski that gave the San Jose Earthquakes a 1-1 tie with Toronto in MLS play Saturday night.
The San Jose forward knocked in a ball headed back from a throw-in, rescuing the game for the slumping Quakes. Eric Avila's first-half goal had given Toronto a lead that looked like it would stand.
"I felt like we had the game in our hands," said Toronto goalie Milos Kocic. "We just dropped those points. . . . One set piece again, it happens so many times this year (that) we've conceded a goal. We tie a game, we lose the points. Unnecessary, totally unnecessary."
The tie still extended the Earthquakes' team-record MLS winless streak to 13 games.
The Quakes (5-10-11) had lost four of their last five outings and until the late goal had shown little sign to the 21,117 at BMO Field that there is light at the end of their current dark tunnel.
For San Jose coach Frank Yallop, the point provided payback for a healthy team attitude.
"What I liked about our squad was we kept going. That's a good trait to have as a team," said the former Canadian national team coach. "We've done it all along. We've not quit, we've not given up."
Coach Aron Winter is rebuilding Toronto (4-12-12) and expects mistakes. But not the same ones.
On Thursday, a similar lapse in concentration allowed FC Dallas to score via header in a 1-0 CONCACAF Champions League.
"Exactly the similar situation, a throw-in of an opponent, one of our guys is not marking his man. Everybody knows what he has to do, he gives the game away so easy. That makes me upset," said Winter.
Winter thought the officials erred in ruling a Joao Plata goal in the 75th minute as offside but he did not harp on the play.
There were positive signs for the home side. Captain Torsten Frings continues to impress and Avila, Peri Marosevic and Plata showed their teeth in attack. And Kocic is showing that he will not yield the starting job in goal to Stefan Frei, recovering from injury, without a fight.
Kocic had had little to do on the night — San Jose put only three of 14 shots on target — and came up big when needed in the first 86 minutes. But he had little chance with the ball dropping at Wondolowski's feet at his front door.
For Toronto, the tie will be a bitter pill to swallow before two weeks off. Talk of the playoffs seems to have left the building,
"Now I think it's too late to chase (the) playoffs," said Kocic. "We've lost too many points at home."
The game was a matchup of two teams mired in the depths of the league. Coming into the match, San Jose and Toronto had two wins in 24 combined league matches since June 11.
The Quakes have been blanked in eight games during their winless run. The slump has seen San Jose go 0-6-7 and be outscored 19-7 since beating D.C. United 4-2 on June 11.
Toronto hasn't been much better over the same time period, going 2-7-4 in the league although that stretch has also included a 3-1-0 run in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Toronto took the lead in the 33rd minute when the ball squirted to Avila after Marosevic collided with a pair of defenders as he crashed the box. Avila accelerated and slotted a right-footed shot past Jon Busch for his first goal with Toronto FC.
Neither team had looked very menacing up to the goal. But Toronto grew in confidence after going ahead and pushed the action the rest of the first half. San Jose failed to put a shot on target in the first 45 minutes.
Avila needed some repair work at halftime after taking a blow to the face.
Kocic stopped Wondolowski from close range in the 83rd minute but the San Jose forward got his revenge minutes later.
There was no place even on the bench for Dutch striker Danny Koevermans (hamstring).
Former Toronto FC players Sam Cronin, Jacob Peterson and Nana Attakora started on the San Jose bench while Alan Gordon continued his recovery from abdominal surgery. Peterson came on midway through the second half.
In Gordon and Steven Lenhart (family leave), the Quakes are missing two forwards with 10 goals between them. San Jose is also without the injured Brad Ring, Andre Luiz and Anthony Ampaipitakwong.