SANDY, Utah — Toronto FC came into their match with Real Salt Lake on Saturday night desperate to avoid a seventh straight loss to start the season. For 92 minutes, they fought and attacked and looked like they’d succeed.
But a stoppage-time strike from Jonny Steele gave RSL a 3-2 win and condemned TFC to the history books. The Reds have now tied the 1999 Kansas City side for the worst-ever start to a season.
Along with Steele’s late winner, RSL got a goal from Kyle Beckerman in the 7th minute, his second in the last three matches, and another of a 57th-minute own goal from Toronto’s Richard Eckersley.
For TFC, Eric Avila struck a lovely goal in the 48th minute, and Doneil Henry headed in his first professional goal in the 77th minute to give Toronto hope of earning their first point of the season.
The three points keep RSL on the heels of Western Conference leaders San Jose, while Toronto remain mired in last place in the East.
Ahead of the match, TFC manager Aron Winter had all but guaranteed that the club would make the playoffs, and for most of the match, his players seemed to respond to the sense of urgency.
However, they lapsed early and paid the price for lax defending. In just the 7th minute, defender Jamison Olave headed a corner back across the goalmouth, where center back Chris Schuler redirected the ball on frame. With goalkeeper Milos Kocic scrambling to get back in position, Beckerman toed the ball over the line.
However, Toronto didn’t roll-over, and created a number of chances of their own. Avila was the catalyst of most of the attacks, and in the 16th minute, his craft and speed paid off when he drew a penalty due to a poorly timed slide tackle from Olave. However, Torsten Frings sent his spotkick wide of the left post.
But TFC came out for the second half as if on a mission. Avila took it upon himself to get the equalizer three minutes after the break. Ryan Johnson flicked a pass to Avila, who tricked his way around Olave and curled the ball into the upper right corner of the net.
The level score didn’t last long, though. RSL retook the lead thanks to an own goal from Eckersley. As the cross came in from the right side, Eckersley and RSL striker Alvaro Saborio both challenged for the ball, which unluckily ricocheted off the TFC defender’s knee and past Kocic.
OPTA Chalkboard: How close Toronto came
Again, however, Toronto clawed back into it. On a 78th-minute corner kick, substitute Doneil Henry rose above a pack of attackers and defenders in the RSL goalmouth and headed the ball past goalkeeper Nick Rimando to draw the game level at 2-2.
Toronto looked sure to get a result. And minutes before fulltime, Joao Plata nearly snagged the lead, but his shot slid just past the post.
That miss proved costly in the 93rd minute. Javier Morales led an RSL attack up the right side with a couple of moves to give himself space on the edge of the box. His cross came to Beckerman, who knocked it back to Steele, who stepped through the ball and gave Kocic no chance.
While the RSL players celebrated, the Toronto players collapsed in what appeared to be a mix of exhaustion and frustration.
They will nest travel to Montreal for a midweek Canadian Championship match before returning home next Saturday to see if they can avoid an historic loss against D.C. United. The same day Real Salt Lake welcome New England.