TORONTO – Toronto FC were outplayed by the Columbus Crew for long periods on Saturday, but a few moments of brilliance from Jermain Defoe and Doneil Henry gave the 22,591 fans at BMO Field plenty to cheer for.
Defoe’s first goal of the game came in the first half after he was pulled down in the box by Columbus defender Tyson Wahl, but it was the second goal – Defoe’s sixth of the season – that kicked off TFC's stirring comeback victory.
Down 2-1 to the Crew, Gilberto, tasked with a substitute's role on this occasion, won the ball in the air in midfield and found Defoe, who converted with a lightning-quick, first-time left-footed shot.
How did the talismanic Defoe see that goal develop?
“I don’t even know, it happened so quick,” Defoe toldMLSsoccer.com. “When it was 2-1, I thought I just needed to try and get in behind their defence and get a chance. Gilberto came on and he was brilliant. It broke down and as soon as it came to him, I knew he was going to head it on so I could turn. As soon as I turned, I thought, ‘right, this is the chance and I have to just hit it as quick as I can.’
“It’s one of those goals that, as soon as I made contact, I knew it was going to go in,” he added. “There was time for us to get the third one, great goal by Doneil [Henry]. I thought he was unbelievable again today.”
Henry scored the late winner for TFC off a Dan Lovitz cross, after Dwayne De Rosario earned a free kick outside the Crew penalty box along the right channel. Lovitz said afterwards that “it was a nice angle for a left-footed delivery,” where all he had to do was aim for one of the bigger heads in the area.
In came the free kick, up rose Henry and connected perfectly for the header, which beat Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark and gave Toronto a precious third goal and all three points, plus the 2014 Trillium Cup.
The goal also moves the Reds into an Eastern Conference playoff spot, albeit with several games in hand, right before the World Cup break.
It’s Henry’s second goal in as many games as well as a dose of sweet redemption for the young Canadian defender, who was outjumped by Agustin Viana on the Crew's second goal. Henry likened his side’s come-from-behind win to the efforts of one of his footballing idols in the UEFA Champions League final.
“Sergio Ramos is my favourite defender,” Henry said. “You can see the stuff that he’s done for [Real Madrid], see the finals of the [Champions League] when he scored in stoppage time. It really shows character, they never give up.
“Until the whistle blows, you have to keep going and keep pressing and your opportunities will come. The more hungry you are, it pays off.”
Toronto FC now has a chance to add a second trophy to the cabinet for the 2014 season, if the team can defeat the Montreal Impact in the finals of the Amway Canadian Championship at midweek. They’ll have to do so without Bradley Orr, who Nelsen confirmed suffered a hamstring injury early in Saturday's match.
After the first leg ended 1-1 at BMO Field, the Reds now head to Montreal for the second leg on Wednesday (7:30 pm ET, Sportsnet One).