TORONTO - England striker Jermain Defoe is a test for any MLS defence. He is nigh unstoppable against the league's worst.
The 31-year-old dangerman set up two goals and scored two himself as Toronto FC rallied from a 2-0 deficit to defeat the slumping Houston Dynamo 4-2 on Saturday night.
Defoe played provider for Jonathan Osorio and Dominic Oduro in the first half then scored himself in the 63rd and 89th minutes to help Toronto (7-5-3) snap a three-game winless streak.
Defoe, who has 10 goals in 12 league games, was a one-man wrecking crew in a wide-open entertaining game.
"It helps having a world-class player like Defoe any time, to tell you the truth," said manager Ryan Nelsen. "But in times like this (going down early) yes, because you know you're going to get chances and you just hope they get taken. And when you've got a player of that ability, they get taken.
"Our attacking guys got the boys at the back out of a bit of trouble. Because we dug ourselves a bit of a hole. But having said that, after 90-odd minutes, it was a proper team performance with a lot of character."
Brad Davis scored twice in the first half for Houston (5-11-3), which has conceded a league-worst 38 goals this season, before an announced sellout of 22,591 at BMO Field.
The two teams combined for 30 shots, with each managing eight on target. Toronto goalie Joe Bendik helped the home side comeback with some key saves in the second half.
"The crowd got their money worth, didn't they," said Nelsen, who clearly could have done without some of the early drama. "We came out slow, very slow."
Houston coach Dominic Kinnear saw it from the other side.
"Good start and then we made some mistakes that they were more than happy to take advantage of."
Somewhat amazingly, the win marked the first time in club history that Toronto has overcome a two-goal deficit to win in league play. It also marked only the third time in club history that the team has scored four unanswered goals (it happened before in a 4-1 win over D.C. United on Sept. 28, 2013, and a 4-0 victory over FC Dallas on June 17, 2007).
The four goals also tied a Toronto franchise record.
Houston went ahead in the 13th minute, taking advantage of some Brazil-type defending by Toronto. English forward Giles Barnes waltzed past Osorio, Doneil Henry and Mark Bloom before feeding an open Davis, whose hard left-footed shot from inside the penalty box beat Bendik.
The home side paid for some more poor defending in the 29th minute as Bloom and Steven Caldwell both went for — and missed — a Barnes cross, leaving Davis all alone at the side of the goal.
Toronto pulled one back in the 39th minute when Hall fumbled a Defoe cross. The ball fell kindly to Osorio who, thanks to an opportune move towards goal, knocked it in with his head.
Defoe played provider again on a counter-attack in first-half stoppage time after Barnes cut through the Toronto defence before losing possession and going down. While he lay face first on the turf, Osorio found Defoe on a three-on-two and the English forward slid the ball to an open Oduro on the right. Oduro's first shot was blocked by Hall but he made no mistake with the rebound to register his 47th career MLS goal — and first for Toronto.
Defoe capped off a stylish attack to make it 3-2 in the 63rd minute after Brazilian winger Jackson backheeled the ball to Osorio, who found Defoe. Spurning a teammate on his left, Defoe accelerated past two Houston defenders and sent the ball through Hall's legs.
"It was a simple pass to Defoe ... That's what happens when you have a star player like that up front," said Osorio.
Defoe then pounced on an errant back pass from substitute Servando Carrasco late in the game to come in all alone on goal. The beleaguered Hall got a piece of his first shot but Defoe calmly went past him to knock the ball in.
"It was like Christmas, man," said Defoe, flashing a smile. "I just couldn't believe it."
Defoe had almost scored in the 29th minute but Hall palmed his free kick over the bar.
The loss extended the Dynamo's winless streak to seven games — a 1-6 stretch that saw them outscored 19-4 and set a club goalless record streak of 480 minutes. Houston has not won in the league since May 17 (a 1-0 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy).
"Pretty disappointed, being up two goals we were in the driver seat," said Davis. "We are just letting too many goals in. We are just getting scored on a little too easy."
The Dynamo are 1-8-1 on the road this season, scoring seven goals while conceding 24.
The two team meets again next Saturday in Houston, after Toronto hosts the Vancouver Whitecaps in a midweek game.
Caldwell may be in doubt for that midweek game after exiting in the 69th minute with a quad injury.
A full-page ad in local papers welcomed the return of Toronto star midfielder Michael Bradley but Nelsen kept the U.S. international out of practice during the week in a bid to rest some niggling injuries. Bradley, who played some 60 minutes last week, did not even make the bench Saturday.
The Dynamo have suffered in midfield from an injury to Ricardo Clark (concussion) and the World Cup absences of American Davis and Honduran Boniek Garcia. All three were back Saturday for the second game in a row.
Saturday also marked the return of injured Houston defenders Jermaine Taylor (hip contusion) and David Horst (groin).
Houston collected five yellow cards to Toronto's one. Taylor's yellow card means he faces a suspension.