If New York coach Bruce Arena told his team it had to break its recent trend of tying three straight games, 2-2, the message came through garbled.
Poised again to clinch a playoff spot by winning, again the Red Bulls faltered. They scored an own goal and had a player ejected as ex-New York right back Marvell Wynne and his mates took them down, 2-1, at BMO Field in front of the usual cacophonous crowd of red-clad crazies and a national TV audience.
Wynne slipped a pass for Maurice Edu to score the first goal of the game, dribbled laterally to prompt a wild tackle and second caution for Joe Vide, and sent a slow roller towards the far post that Chris Leitch slammed into own net. Dane Richards headed in a Dave van den Bergh corner kick with 15 minutes left to halve the deficit, but no more goals came forth and New York's winless streak extended itself to five games.
TFC fans felt no sympathy, only euphoria. Their lads had labored through 12 games and three months - to the day - since beating Real Salt Lake on (American) Independence Day, and suffered excruciating shutout after shutout during a league-record 824-minute goalless streak.
Yet pumped by the raucous support, and spurred by the defiant swagger of Coach Mo Johnston, Toronto's competitive fires haven't flickered out. Team Energy Drink had won the two previous meetings, 2-1 and 3-0, and that ratcheted up the BMO Experience. TFC pressed and harassed a Red Bull midfield lacking Claudio Reyna and a back line notorious for its lapses, and for much of the game deprived Jozy Altidore and Juan Pablo Angel of service.
When Wynne veered inside Leitch and Edu glided between central defenders Jeff Parke and Seth (I'm a Stand-In) Stammler, Edu ran onto Wynne's outside-of-the-foot feed and steered a shot along the turf inside the far post. TFC held that lead until halftime, which isn't the best omen; in its previous two games, it led, 1-0, at that stage, only to lose 2-1, and 4-1.
Both teams created chances early in the second half, and then Wynne cut inside again to be uprooted by Vide. Just two minutes later, the 10-man Red Bulls were scrambling to defend a TFC attack when Wynne slid a diagonal ball towards Jeff Cunningham charging at the far post. Leitch, just yards from his own goal line, tried to blast the ball clear with his left foot but instead hammered into the net as BMO went bonkers.
TFC savored the prosperity for about two minutes. Andrew Boyens whacked Altidore very clumsily and very late and saw the dreaded straight red from referee Mauricio Navarro. Lacking the 6-foot-5 Boyens, TFC permitted the 5-foot-7 Richards to get his head to an outswinging corner kick. His goal quieted the BMO faithful and came just as impatient hands across the country were reaching for the remote.
In the final minute, a piece of sportsmanship nearly turned into disaster when keeper Kenny Stamatopoulos threw a ball out of play so an injured player could be attended to. Red Bull took the throw quickly and Angel glided toward goal and shot from a sharp angle into the side netting. The fans, fueled by relief spiced with outrage, cranked up the roar even higher.
Four minutes into stoppage time, Navarro signaled it was over. The TV shots of fans celebrating lustily - brandishing scarves, hoisting beverages, hugging and mugging and chugging for the cameras - would pass muster anywhere in the world, and so too would the determination and spirit of players ground down by a dozen straight disappointments.
Oct. 4 in Toronto
Toronto FC 2 New York 1. Goals: Edu (Wynne) 18, own goal 66; Richards (van den Bergh) 75.
Toronto FC - Stamatopoulos, Boyens, Wynne, Brennan, Braz (Hemming, 76), Edu, Gala (Pozniak, 70), Robinson, Dunivant, Cunningham, Samuel (Lombardo, 92+).
New York - Waterreus, Leitch, Parke, Stammler, van den Bergh, Richards, Mathis, Vide, Kovalenko (Doe, 60), Altidore, Angel.
Yellow Cards: Toronto FC - Brennan 20, Edu 40, Robinson 46; New York - Kovalenko 17, Vide 23, Altidore 57.
Red Cards: Toronto FC - Boyens 67; New York - Vide 64.
Referee: Mauricio Navarro.