WASHINGTON — After losing five straight, including last-minute defeats against Vancouver and Orlando, Toronto FC finally got some reward for its efforts Saturday.
Despite a depleted roster and steamy conditions at Audi Field, Toronto rallied twice from one-goal deficits to emerge with a 2-2 Major League Soccer draw with D.C. United.
"This team has faced a lot of adversity in this last period," said Toronto coach Bob Bradley. "And there's been other moments where they've shown resilience and stuck together but then we let it get away from us.
"And so today, I think, means a lot. It means a lot to the group that they're fighting through this and they get a little something today. They needed that."
A pair of Toronto substitutes completed the comeback by combining on an 89th-minute goal. D.C. 'keeper Bill Hamid stopped substitute Jordan Perruzza's hard shot but could not hang on and a falling Jonathan Osorio poked the rebound in.
Toronto had moved D.C. defenders around with a patient 11-pass buildup that had started with Toronto 'keeper Alex Bono. The attack halted briefly when D.C. midfielder Drew Skundrich poked the ball away but only as far as Luca Petrasso who looped a ball to Perruzza, whose hard shot from a tight angle handcuffed Hamid.
"We need somebody to step up and make saves. Bail us out rather than giving up a rebound," said interim D.C. coach Chad Ashton, clearly unhappy. "We're giving up soft goals. Yeah (Hamid) should be able to push that rebound wide. Is it easy to do? No. But he's more than capable."
Osorio, who had missed the three previous games with a leg injury, entered the game in the 62nd minute. He was lucky to stay on the field after a poorly timed challenge 18 minutes later on Steven Birnbaum, escaping only with a yellow card.
D.C. seemed headed to victory after Ecuador forward Michael Estrada scored one goal and set up another until Osorio stepped up with his 51st career goal for TFC.
Ayo Akinola, making his first club start since last July after knee surgery, also scored for Toronto in what turned into an entertaining, end-to-end game. D.C. outshot Toronto 17-4 (7-6 in shots on target) and had six corners to Toronto's two.
Kickoff was pushed back 2 1/2 hours to 6:30 p.m. local time, with the area facing weekend heat expected to exceed mid-July levels.
It was 33 degrees Celsius, feeling like 35, at the original kickoff time. The temperature had dropped slightly to 31 C, feeling like 32, when the game actually started.
Missing the injured Alejandro Pozuelo, Chris Mavinga, Kadin Chung, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Noble Okello and Jacob Shaffelburg, Toronto's starting 11 featured seven Canadians including four 19-year-olds.
D.C. was quicker out of the starting blocks and went ahead in the seventh minute on an Edison Flores goal. Toronto lost the ball in midfield and, five passes later, Estrada found the Peruvian designated player between a pair of Toronto defenders for a simple tap-in through Bono's legs for his first of the season.
It marked the fifth goal Toronto has conceded in the first 15 minutes of a game this season, worst in the league.
Toronto began to claw its way back into the match and Akinola celebrated his return by roofing a hard right-footed shot past Hamid in the 36th minute.
D.C.'s Jose Alfaro lost the ball trying to dribble out of defence and Michael Bradley slipped it to Jesus Jimenez, who found Akinola alone to his right for Toronto's first goal in four games, snapping a 331-minute goalless drought.
It was Akinola's first TFC goal since July 3, 2021, when he scored in a 7-1 loss to D.C. United that cost Chris Armas his job as Toronto coach.
There wasn't much of a celebration Saturday. After losing his balance on the shot, Akinola picked himself up, blew a kiss into the air and embraced a teammate.
"It was too hot. That's why after I scored, when I got back up I didn't really try to do much," he said. "It was pretty hot."
D.C. went ahead in the 56th minute when a long-range pass found Greek forward Taxi Fountas steaming toward goal. He chested the ball down and poked it past an onrushing Bono. The ball squibbed past the 'keeper for Estrada to tap in for his fourth of the campaign.
Toronto (3-7-3) arrived having lost to New York City FC, FC Cincinnati (twice), Vancouver and Orlando after going unbeaten for four games (3-0-1). Its last win came April 16, a 2-1 decision over the visiting Philadelphia Union.
D.C. (4-6-2) was coming off a 2-0 mid-week loss to NYCFC, was winless in three (0-2-1) in all competitions and had lost six of its last nine matches (2-6-1) including a 2-1 defeat at BMO Field on March 19.
Ashton blamed the Toronto goals on "just us being naive and not understanding what's dangerous, what's not dangerous. Simple mistakes … Just young and naive. We need to do better, it's as simple as that."
There is still plenty of work for TFC to do.
Toronto has not won on the road since July 24, 2021, when it downed the Chicago Fire 2-1 at Soldier Field. It has gone 0-10-5 since away from home, taking just five of a possible 45 league points on the road. TFC is 0-4-3 away from home this season.
Toronto has also gone 21 league games without a shutout, with the last clean sheet coming Sept. 25 in a scoreless draw at Colorado.
Bradley made one change to his starting lineup with Akinola, who saw 45 minutes action off the bench against Orlando, making his first start since undergoing knee surgery last August after being injured on duty with Canada at the Gold Cup.
Akinola, whose last club start was July 7, replaced Perruzza in the starting lineup.
Mehdi Essoussi, a 21-year-old Toronto FC II midfielder who signed a short-term loan agreement earlier in the day, was also among the substitutes.
Toronto heads east to play HFX Wanderers in Canadian Championship quarterfinal play on Tuesday before returning home to host Chicago next Saturday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2022
The Canadian Press