Home MLS Toronto FC Dunfield: “Best feeling of my soccer career” after TFC stuns Whitecaps

Dunfield: “Best feeling of my soccer career” after TFC stuns Whitecaps

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After so often being the victim of last-second goals, Toronto FC was finally the heartbreaker and not the heartbroken.  Terry Dunfield’s header in the dying seconds of stoppage time gave the Reds a thrilling 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday at BMO Field.

It was a stunning capper to a match that saw five goals scored in the second half and blown leads from both teams.  Dunfield’s goal wasn’t even the only score of extra time, as Vancouver equalized in the 91st minute on Darren Mattocks’ second goal of the evening.

Yet just when it seemed as TFC had once again fallen apart late, Dunfield saved the day for the home side.  The midfielder leapt over the crowd to head in Torsten Frings’ corner in the 95th minute.  It was Dunfield’s first goal in 22 league games with Toronto, and making it doubly sweeter for the Canadian international was that his score came against his former team.

“That was probably the best feeling of my soccer career,” Dunfield said.

“That was incredible.  It’s been a long tough season for us but the guys showed a lot of character in coming back twice today… There’s a fighting spirit in this squad.  We never said die.  Torsten put a great ball in and I put it in the top corner.  I couldn’t believe it.”

It was a tough concession for the Whitecaps, who would have been fortunate to escape with a point given the shaky defending on display.

“It is very frustrating and something we are not happy about, we are very disappointed in terms of not doing better defending, not only that set play [Dunfield’s goal] but other set plays during the game,” said head coach Martin Rennie.

The victory was just the third of the season (3-11-4) for the Reds in MLS play but Toronto is now 2-1-1 in games against their national rivals from Montreal and Vancouver, not to mention beating both the Impact and Whitecaps to win the Amway Canadian Championship.

Any winning result is a big one for a struggling team, yet the dramatic finish and overall strong performance is a boost to a TFC team that was playing its eighth of 10 games in a 33-day stretch and coming off an ugly 3-0 loss to Philadelphia last Sunday.

“We were running on fumes a little bit to be perfectly frank, but the effort — the second, third, fourth and fifth effort today was heartwarming,” said TFC head coach Paul Mariner.  “If you’re a Toronto FC supporter I would think the ride home today is pretty decent.

“The brain is an unbelievable thing that keeps the legs going as far as football is concerned.  It’s all about the state of mind.  If you keep telling yourself that you’re tired, then you are tired.  If you’re willing to drive on as we did for 90-plus minutes tonight then anything is possible.  I asked the players for a response from Philadelphia because that wasn’t us and I think we all got it.”

The Whitecaps were also suffering from fixture congestion, as Wednesday’s game was their third in a stretch of seven matches in 24 days, as well as their fourth of five consecutive road dates.  This mutual exhaustion may have been a reason both teams got off to a quiet start in the first half.  The most notable incident of the opening 40 minutes was Jeremy Hall’s substitution in the 29th minute after suffering a leg injury.  Mariner said Hall was suffering from a tight hamstring that may have been a result of playing so many games in such a compressed period.

TFC came alive in the closing minutes of the half, with striker Ryan Johnson leading the way on two quality chances.  Johnson took a turnover from Martin Bonjour and raced downfield for a chance that required a good save from goalkeeper Joe Cannon.  In first-half stoppage time, Johnson had an even better opportunity, collecting a long pass from Luis Silva and beating down Cannon and a defender but his hard shot rocketed off the right post.

The missed chances looked like they would haunt Toronto when Mattocks opened the scoring in the 50th minute.  The Jamaican striker’s initial attempt was stuffed by both Reds goalkeeper Milos Kocic and defender Logan Emory, but Mattocks collected his own rebound and, despite being almost parallel to the back line, fired a shot that curved just inside the far post.

With the second pick of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft getting on the scoresheet, it was only fitting that Silva (the fourth overall pick) answered.  In the 68th minute, Ashtone Morgan sent a cross from near the left corner that Silva redirected inside the right post with a nifty back-heel touch.

It was a memorable first MLS goal for Silva and somewhat of a redemptive effort.  The rookie was making his first start since Mariner had taken over as head coach, as Silva had played just 110 minutes in the seven previous games.  With Reggie Lambe absent due to a family emergency, Silva was back and contributing in the Starting XI.

“My goal is to start,” Silva said.  “I have been working really hard in practice, the coach has been talking to me and showed his confidence in me to start. The team worked hard, we got the win, and that is what is important.”

Silva’s recent arrest for public intoxication (along with teammates Miguel Aceval and Nick Soolsma) in Houston was also still weighing on the young midfielder’s mind, according to his coach.

“[Silva] was hurt by what happened and he wants to do well,” Mariner said.  “I thought playing on the right side of midfield tonight which he’s never really [done] I thought he was excellent.”

Just four minutes after Silva’s goal, Eric Avila took a shot from outside the box that Cannon stopped with a jumping punch.  The rebound went directly to Frings, who put Toronto ahead with a booming 27-yard shot.

This attacking spurt was aided by the fact that TFC was temporarily playing with an extra man.  Defender Young-Pyo Lee was off the field being treated for an injury, leaving the Whitecaps short-handed and allowing the Reds to take advantage.

“We got in reasonable shape with 10 men but we didn’t close down the cross where [Lee] plays and that is where [Silva’s] goal came from,” Rennie said.  “We then gave away a corner, whereas if he was on the field we wouldn’t have given up the corner… There are a number of things there that unfortunately we got punished for. It wasn’t necessarily bad play but more difficult when you are down to 10 men.”

Vancouver captain Jay DeMerit blamed not Lee’s absence, but rather his team’s disorganized response to it, as the reason for the loss.

“It’s amazing how things can change in a second.  That little spell definitely changed the game and it’s disappointing,” DeMerit said.  “If guys aren’t going to do their jobs when we need to start to create competition so guys can step in and do a [better] job.  That’s the hard lesson learned tonight, is that guys need to be more responsible for the jobs for not just 90 minutes, but 90 plus.”

Lee himself nearly evened things up once he got back on the pitch.  The defender had Kocic beaten in the 85th minute and looked to have his second MLS goal in reach, but his shot banked off the post.  Michael Nanchoff’s follow-up on the rebound was blocked by Doneil Henry and then a third rebound was smothered in front.

It seemed as if this would be Vancouver’s last chance to equalize before Mattocks completed his brace.  On a long ball into the box, Mattocks jumped amidst both Kocic and Henry and got enough of the ball to direct it into the net.

Mattocks’ brace gave him a team-leading six goals for the season, an impressive achievement for the rookie given the number of major strikers on the Whitecaps roster and given that Mattocks was making just his sixth start.  With Davide Chiumiento now gone back to Switzerland, it could provide further opportunity for Mattocks to get onto the field.

“There are teams that fear playing against him and I think he is going to be an excellent player,” Rennie said.  “We were all wide-eyed and amazed at just how high he got for his second goal.”

The Whitecaps end their five-game road trip in Chicago on Saturday, while TFC also leaves home to face New England on Saturday.

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