TORONTO - If Toronto FC concedes one more tying goal in the dying minutes of a game, it's on Darren O'Dea.
The Irish defender and Toronto's captain was quick to shoulder responsibility after his team coughed up a goal in an otherwise strong performance Saturday, settling for a 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo.
"I'm going to put my neck on the line and say it won't happen again. Because it can't," O'Dea said in a sombre post-game locker-room. "We've just been too good and deserve more. The fans, everyone deserves more at the club at the minute."
Jeremy Hall scored in the 58th minute, launching a rocket from 25 yards out that beat Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall. It seemed like just reward for a TFC team that thoroughly dominated one of the best squads in Major League Soccer on a frigid and windy afternoon at BMO Field.
But Warren Creavalle got his head on a corner kick late in second-half stoppage to tie the game, sending the crowd of 15,973 fans home stunned and disappointed.
It was the fourth consecutive draw for Toronto (1-2-4) and third game in which TFC has given up a tying goal in the dying minutes. The team was also plagued by late goals last season.
"It's been a few late goals, but that's hurt the most, that one," O'Dea said. "From start to finish, we were by far the better team.
"I'm not going to say the other ones didn't hurt, but that's as bad as it gets really, because we were that good for the whole game. Not for spells, for the whole game."
The heartbreaking draw came just a week after Toronto gave up a tying goal in Philadelphia in stoppage time.
"It's just experience, you've just got to see it out," said Toronto FC coach Ryan Nelsen said. "When you're up 1-0 in the 92nd or 93rd, at that time you should be hyper-focused. There's an intensity that gets you over that finish line, and you get it through experience, and through doing it week in and week out."
Toronto fielded a young backline that included 23-year-old Ryan Richter in his first MLS start, and 21-year-old Gale Agbossoumonde. The team was missing defenders Ashtone Morgan (suspension), Richard Eckersley (hamstring) and Darel Russell (hamstring).
But other than a couple of shaky first few minutes that included Agbossoumonde almost gifting Houston a goal on a sloppy pass back to 'keeper Joe Bendik, the back line was solid.
"You've got to play to the final whistle, the game is not won until the final whistle is finished, you've defended everything and you got through the game," said Toronto forward Robert Earnshaw. "The worst thing is we're this close, we're so close to being very very good and winning games."
Earnshaw had several near-misses on an afternoon Toronto could have taken a two or three-goal lead. He banged a shot off the crossbar in the sixth minute, then hit the side netting, had a goal ruled offside, and dove for a bicycle kick that breezed just over the top of the goal.
Hogan Ephraim almost made it 2-0 Toronto in the 83rd minute when his long cross glanced off the post.
"I thought it was an absolutely brilliant performance against the MLS Cup finalists," said Nelsen. "Gutted for them, gutted for them. They're all absolutely devastated."
Toronto shrugged off the chilly conditions — 3 C with winds so strong off Lake Ontario that the corner flags were bent sideways at times. They outran Houston all afternoon, and maintained the majority of possession. Luis Silva looked especially strong in the midfield in his second start of the season.
And until the tying goal, the Dynamo — who boast the longest home unbeaten streak at an eyepopping 35 games — sat back on their heels all game and barely got the ball out of their end throughout the second half.
"We worked on (set pieces) all week, working on corners and free kicks from certain areas, and no goals in practice," Hall said. "And then it was the last one. I don't know how (opponents) are getting so many extra minutes of injury time, but it's killing me. It's very frustrating."
The goal came despite the fact Houston midfielder Brad Davis — the Dynamo's most dangerous player on set pieces and last week's MLS player of the week — didn't start the second half. And Houston played the last half an hour with 10 men after defender Jermaine Taylor was shown a red card in the 62nd minute for straight-arming Earnshaw in the face.
"The most annoying thing is every single free kick and corner that came to us, we defended very very well," Earnshaw said. "So it makes it even more annoying that it's the last one that we don't defend. It's just frustrating."
The tie for Houston (4-2-1) snapped a two-game losing streak on the road.
The game was the first of six in 18 days for Toronto. The Reds host the Montreal Impact on Wednesday in an Amway Canadian championship matchup, then New York Red Bulls next Saturday.