By: KURTIS LARSON
A trio of ejections, two second-half goals and a brawl culminated in arguably the most action packed 1-1 draw in Major League Soccer's short season.
An otherwise tame opening hour turned into a massive second-half scuffle when Houston's Joseph Ngwenya and Toronto's Nana Attakora exchanged choke holds following an altercation deep in TFC's half.
In the 61st minute referee Jair Marrufo whistled a foul against Ngwenya on TFC's Dan Gargan. It appeared Ngwenya had not heard the whistle over the 21,374 in attendance and continued despite play being stopped. As Ngwenya approached the penalty area TFC's Attakora slid over and appeared to kick the Houston attacker after the play.
The pair began to grapple and the teams came together in Toronto's box, setting off a sequence of pushing, grabbing and jawing. The play resulted in ejections for Ngwenya and Toronto's Julian de Guzman. Replays showed Toronto's designated player had made contact with Ngwenya's face multiple times during the scuffle.
"I'm very disappointed in our discipline with getting the red cards," TFC's Preki said following the 1-1 draw. "They started it and we retaliated and we got punished for it. From where I stood, Julian was just holding the guy."
The events appeared to be the spark the game needed as it set off an exciting late-game finish at BMO Field.
In the 73rd minute, Houston's U.S. youth international Danny Cruz swung in a corner kick that was met by Brian Ching six yards from goal. Houston's target striker left TFC keeper Stefan Frei little chance placing it to the Swiss keeper's left and giving Houston a 1-0 lead.
"I'm a little disappointed we didn't come away with the three points because we had the lead," Ching said. "When things aren't going well you have to go out there and fight and that's what we did tonight. It wasn't pretty, but we got a point out of it."
Just a minute later Toronto's second-year keeper was forced into action once again when Houston's Lovel Palmer unleashed a screamer from 25 yards that saw Frei extend horizontally to parry the ball over the bar and keep the home side in it.
Frei's sure bet save-of-the-week candidate was upstaged at the other end by Houston's Pat Onstad moments later when the Dynamo failed to clear a corner. The ball fell to Dwayne De Rosario at the edge of the penalty area who controlled it and faced up on goal. The league's second leading scorer cut to his left before bending a shot to the far post that saw Onstad better Frei's save minutes earlier.
Late game heroics were in store however when TFC's Dan Gargan rose to meet a flighted corner in the 84th minute to bring the score to 1-1. The Toronto defender rose between two Houston defenders to level things and send the capacity crowd into a late-game frenzy setting up a wild final 10 minutes of play.
"I think we were unfortunate not to get the three (points)," Gargan told reporters. "Sometimes you just have to battle those out. We're still undefeated in 10 games and we're hoping to keep it going."
TFC appeared to be pushing for a late winner until deep into stoppage time when Amadou Sanyang was issued a second caution for a dangerous kick to Bobby Boswell's face. The teams came together with pushing and words once again which ended in Sanyang being given his marching orders in the 94th minute.
Toronto will look ahead to next weekend when they host the Colorado Rapids at BMO Field. The Dynamo host Chivas USA next Tuesday in Open Cup play, followed by the Crew at Robertson Stadium next Saturday.
TFC continue to keep pace in the east but will need to start securing maximum points at home if they hope to stay up with New York and Columbus. Toronto will need to manage without the services of de Guzman and Sanyang while the Dynamo will be without Ngwenya next Saturday against Columbus. The draw saw Houston move into a tie for fourth in the west with San Jose and Dallas.