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Toronto FC playoff hopes dealt a blow as Houston Dynamo hang on for the win


Jason Dafoe - TFC

By Neil Davidson

THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO _ Giles Barnes’ first-half goal, coupled with goalie Tyler Deric’s heroics, gave the Houston Dynamo a nervy 1-0 MLS win over Toronto FC on Wednesday that could well derail Toronto’s playoff hopes.

The Dynamo were reduced to 10 men in the 55th minute and had to survive a penalty as the 26-year-old Deric, in for the injured Tally Hall, put on a show. The visitors also had to endure seven minutes stoppage time after an action-packed second half.

The dropped three points were crucial for Toronto (11-13-7), which could have moved into fifth place in the Eastern Conference with the win. Instead Houston (11-14-6) joined Philadelphia within one point of sixth-place Toronto.

The Houston game represented Toronto’s game in hand on the five teams ahead of it in the Eastern Conference. Toronto has three games left _ away to the New York Red Bulls, home to the Montreal Impact and away to the New England Revolution.

On Tuesday, Toronto coach Greg Vanney estimated seven points might get his team into the playoffs, with a target of nine points. Now there are just nine left on the table.

Toronto, which entered the league in 2007, has never qualified for the post-season. But TFC has already set single-season franchise records for wins and points this season.

The game, TFC’s penultimate at home in the regular season, was overshadowed by the Maple Leafs’ home opener at the nearby Air Canada Centre. There were plenty of empty seats in the announced crowd of 18,269 on a chilly 10-degree night at BMO Field.

Toronto had more than its share of chances, including a shot that flew high from a wide-open Jermain Defoe in the 82nd minute.

It was a rare road win for Houston, which came into the game with a 2-11-2 record away from home this season. But Barnes, an English forward, has been a thorn in Toronto’s side all season with two goals and two assists in three games against TFC.

He gave Houston the lead in the 35th minute, taking a well-weighted ball from Kofi Sakodie down the flank and beating rookie defender Nick Hagglund, who went down with what looked like a well-timed nudge from the Houston forward, before beating goalie Joe Bendik between the legs for his ninth of the season.

The game turned controversial early in the second half, with a penalty no-call, followed by a missed penalty and red card _ all at the Houston end.

Deric _ in his 11th MLS game _ stopped Defoe’s 58th-minute penalty attempt, after defender A.J. Cochran was sent off for dragging down Luke Moore. Deric, diving right to palm away the Defoe penalty, stopped Brazil’s Jackson seconds later.

Deric pushed a Moore header off the goalpost minutes later. Then Toronto fullback Justin Morrow shot just wide.

The Houston goalie made two more eye-popping saves in the 69th minute.

Both teams had chances in an open first half. Toronto can thank Bendik that it did not trail by more than 1-0 after 45 minutes.

Defoe, who saw 30 minutes action as a substitute last week in his return from a groin injury, made his first start since Aug. 23. But Brazilian forward Gilberto, who was out last week with a hamstring issue, did not dress after a late fitness test.

Defoe looked dangerous, with several good chances in the first half. But his range-finder was just off.

It was almost 2-0 in the 47th minute but Brad Davis hit the goalpost.

The Toronto bench was up in arms in the 53rd minute when referee Armando Villarreal did not call a penalty for DaMarcus Beasley climbing all over Jackson’s back in the penalty box.

A minute later Villarreal did point to the spot and sent off Cochran. But Defoe could not convert.

Houston was without Honduran midfielders Boniek Garcia and Luis Garrido and Jamaican defender Jermaine Taylor, all away on international duty.

Toronto fared far better with American midfielder Michael Bradley and Canadian midfielders Dwayne De Rosario, Jonathan Osorio and Kyle Bekker spared national team call-ups. Canada does have Toronto’s Quillan Roberts, Doneil Henry, Manny Aparico and Jordan Hamilton in camp but none of them are TFC starters, with Hamilton currently on loan to a Portuguese second-tier club.

The Dynamo did welcome the return of leading scorer Will Bruin, out since Aug, 29 with a foot injury. Bruin, who had 10 of Houston’s 35 goals prior to Wednesday, started on the bench.

Bradley, who had a fine game, had the crowd going in the seventh minute when he tried to chip the ball over goalie Deric from the centre circle after the Houston goalie raced out to act as sweeper. Bradley’s attempt was high, however.

Bendik had to be sharp to palm away an angled Barnes shot in the 12th minute after the Dynamo forward turned defender Steven Caldwell.

Bendik had another close call in the 17th when a cross aimed at Omar Cummings ended up bouncing off the goalie.

A nifty Moore pass sent Defoe in all alone in the 22nd minute. But a sprawling Deric drove him wide, allowing Beasley to make the tackle.

Defoe had another chance in the 29th, going just wide after making space for a shot following an accurate Bradley pass.

Both teams were coming off losses, with Toronto going down 3-0 in Los Angeles against the Galaxy and Houston beaten 1-0 in New York by the Red Bulls.

Prior to that, Houston had been unbeaten in five (3-0-2) while Toronto was unbeaten in three (2-0-1).

Wednesday was the third meeting of the two teams this season. Toronto, rallying from a 2-0 deficit, won 4-2 at home on July 12 before the clubs played to a 2-2 draw one week later in Houston.

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