TORONTO — Short of a plague of locusts, what else can go wrong for Toronto FC this season?
The slumping MLS team, reduced to 10 men for almost an hour after defender Kemar Lawrence was sent off, saw an apparent 87th-minute goal waved off before ultimately falling victim to a 95th-minute Christian Makoun penalty as Inter Miami CF registered a 1-0 smash-and-grab victory Tuesday.
The result consigned Toronto (3-15-6) to a sixth straight defeat while extending its winless run to nine (0-7-2).
Rubbing salt in the wound, Miami's Federico Higuain clearly encroached during Makoun's stutter-step run-up to the penalty spot. That should have necessitated a retake of the penalty, which was called after Chris Mavinga took down Makoun in the box.
The major talking point came on the eve of stoppage time when substitute Jacob Shaffelburg's shot appeared to cross the goal-line under Nick Marsman after the Miami goalkeeper was forced into a poor, emergency clearance, under pressure from Yeferson Soteldo, that went straight to Shaffelburg.
The Toronto substitutes, warming up on the goal-line, all thought it was a goal. The nearby lineman's view was likely obscured by Marsman's body as he went down for the ball.
"It's just unbelievable that we have all this technology, all these rules that they put in place just to get things right," said Toronto coach Javier Perez, who hurled his ever-present notebook at the ground in disgust after the penalty. "And instead what they do is just create more confusion and more things that are unfair.
"I think it's unacceptable, what we witnessed tonight is unacceptable."
MLS does not have goal-line technology and video review needs to have a clear and obvious reason to overturn the on-field decision. After consulting the linesman, referee Ramy Touchan awarded a corner.
"The referee said they looked at it. They had a bunch of angles but nothing was clear or obvious," said captain Michael Bradley. "Those are the types of answers that you get in those moments."
Bradley, who dropped back to centre back after Lawrence was sent off, refused to blame the officials for Toronto's woes this season, however.
"That would be the easy way out and it's not true," he said.
"While nothing has been easy, we're the first ones to say that we've not been ourselves and we've not been good enough on too many days," he added.
An apoplectic Perez was not so forgiving, noting that the VAR official — Canadian Geoff Gamble — also worked Toronto's 3-1 loss to Montreal on Aug. 27 when TFC midfielder Noble Okello was sent off after video review.
"It's difficult to believe that they don't do that purposely. I don't want to judge, I don't want to assume things but it's very difficult to believe that this is not something that is done on purpose," Perez said. "So I'm very disappointed."
The visitors got a break via video review when an offside call negated a 14th-minute penalty and red card to Brazilian Gregore, the Miami captain, for pulling Richie Laryea down as he sliced into the penalty box on a quick free kick by Soteldo.
There was no such reprieve for Lawrence in the 37th minute, sent off for pulling down Robbie Robinson from behind just outside the penalty box after former TFC midfielder Jay Chapman's through ball carved open the Toronto defence and put the Miami man in alone.
Miami (9-9-5) failed to take advantage of the man-advantage until the dying seconds. Toronto acquitted itself well despite being a man down, hanging on for the single point.
"We fought and this is the team that I want to see from now to the end of the season," said Perez.
Toronto outshot Miami 10-9 (4-3 in shots on target).
Still TFC is now 0-2-4 at BMO Field since returning home from its pandemic-prompted sojourn in the U.S.
With thunderstorms in the forecast and capacity capped at 15,000 by COVID, the game drew a sparse crowd announced at 7,970 to BMO Field.
The contest, Miami's first MLS outing in Canada, featured two clubs headed in different directions.
Toronto, mired in the 27-team league's basement, has not won since July 24, a 2-1 decision in Chicago.
TFC's fall has been sudden. Last year, in a pandemic-shortened season, it finished runner-up in the Supporters' Shield standings at 12-5-5. Calculated over a full season, at its rate of 1.91 points a game, Toronto would have finished with 64 points.
TFC came into Tuesday's game with 15 points through 23 matches and was on pace for a 22-point season. Only five teams in MLS history have had fewer points at the same stage of the season, most recently D.C. United in 2013 (13 points).
After a 2-8-2 start, Miami is unbeaten in six (5-0-1) and had only lost one of its last 11 outings (7-1-3).
Phil Neville's team has recorded four straight clean sheets. Tuesday's win moved it above the playoff line.
Coming off 1-0 victories over Cincinnati and Columbus, Miami registered its first-ever three-game MLS win streak.
Both sides were on a short turnaround, having played Saturday. Miami against Columbus while TFC lost 2-0 at FC Cincinnati, which came into the contest winless in 12 games (0-5-7).
Miami had taken 21 of a possible 30 points over its previous 10 games and, in ninth place in the East, was just two points below the playoff line. Toronto had collected six (1-6-3) over the same period and was 16 points out of the playoffs.
Both teams were missing marquee talent.
Toronto was without two of its three designated players with reigning league MVP Alejandro Pozuelo missing a second straight game due to a lower body injury. Star striker Jozy Altidore is recovering from ankle surgery.
Soteldo, the other DP, led the TFC attack. Shaffelburg added to the offence after coming on in the fifth minute for Tsubasa Endoh who suffered an apparent leg injury trying to chase a ball down.
Miami star striker Gonzalo Higuain, the team's leading scorer with nine goals, did not dress while fellow designated player Blaise Matuidi was part of a depleted six-man bench for Miami, which hosts the New York Red Bulls on Friday. The French international came on in the 82nd minute.
Federico Higuain, Gonzalo's older brother came on in the 55th minute.
Perez made five changes to the team that lost in Cincinnati with Alex Bono starting in goal, after giving way to Quentin Westberg the last four games. Lawrence, Soteldo, Laryea and Jonathan Osorio, who were on the bench last time after returning from international duty, all returned to the starting lineup
Justin Morrow made his 200th MLS regular-season appearance for Toronto while Brazil's Auro, a fellow fullback, made his 100th appearance for TFC in all competitions. Bono and Mavinga both made their 100th MLS regular-season appearances for the club.
Toronto hosts Nashville SC on Saturday, the third of seven games in 22 days.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2021.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press