TORONTO — Substitute Sergio Santos took advantage of slack defending to head home a 77th-minute goal that lifted the Philadelphia Union into a 2-2 tie with Toronto FC in MLS play Wednesday.
Toronto conceded in the first minute but scored goals in the 66th and 70th minutes to set the stage for a comeback win in front of 5,026 fans at BMO Field.
Santos undid all that good work, taking advantage of a Kai Wagner cross to beat Quentin Westberg for his sixth goal of the season.
The Brazilian has hurt Toronto before, scoring a hat trick last season against TFC.
Toronto (6-17-9) had pulled even at 1-1 with a fortuitous goal midway through the second half. Centre back Jack Elliott's attempted clearance from within the Philadelphia penalty box hit Toronto midfielder Noble Okello and bounced back towards the Union goal, where Jozy Altidore pounced on it and curled a left-footed shot into the goal for his fourth of the season.
For Altidore, it was a second timely goal in as many games. His 95th-minute free kick gave Toronto a 1-1 tie with visiting CF Montreal on Saturday.
Things went from bad to worse four minutes later for Elliott. Attempting to deal with a low cross from Jacob Shaffelburg, the sliding Philadelphia defender, worried about a lurking Altidore, poked the ball into his own goal for a 2-1 Toronto lead.
Toronto fielded a makeshift backline for the second game in a row with Toronto captain Michael Bradley, making his 250th appearance for Toronto in all competitions, starting at centre back in place of the injured Omar Gonzalez.
And it took Philadelphia 37 seconds to breach that defence, with Alejandro Bedoya beating Westberg with a hard, low shot for his third goal of the season. It's debatable whether Toronto had touched the goal before picking it out of its net.
Centre back Jakob Glesnes started the play from the Philadelphia half, floating a long diagonal ball to Wagner whose low cross into the penalty found Daniel Gazdag. Attracting defenders like moths to a flame, the Hungarian international sent the ball over to an unmarked Bedoya who got his shot off before Jonathan Osorio could reach him.
The 61st goal conceded by Toronto this season was yet another example of woeful defending — and TFC making life difficult for itself. TFC came into the game 2-16-4 this season when scored on first.
It marked the 13th goal Toronto has given up in the first 15 minutes of a game this season, worst in the league (Toronto has scored six times in the first 15 minutes).
According to the league, it was the Union's second-fastest goal from the start of a game in club history, after C.J. Sapong's strike 20 seconds into a game against D.C. United on July 26, 2015
Toronto had more of the play after the early goal but Philadelphia calmly absorbed the pressure and looked to counter-attack. TFC's best chance came in the 37th minute when Shaffelburg turned and fired a shot on target, but his hard shot went straight at Union 'keeper Matt Freese. It was Toronto's lone shot on target in the first half despite having 59.4 per cent possession.
Freese stopped Pozuelo from a tight angle at the near post in the 56th minute. Toronto attackers seemed to grow more frustrated as the game wore on.
At the other end, Westberg made a fine close-range save to deny Kacper Przybylko in the 63rd.
Philadelphia (13-8-11) arrived looking to consolidate second place in the Eastern Conference, holding a 23-point edge in the standings over TFC and knowing a win would officially clinch a playoff berth.
Toronto is now winless in four game (0-2-2) with successive ties after being blanked 3-0 by Inter Miami and 2-0 by Atlanta.
Toronto, languishing in 13th place in the 14-team Eastern Conference, plays at Atlanta on Saturday before hosting Pacific FC on Nov. 3 in the Canadian Championship semifinal. TFC will then wrap up the regular season at home to D.C. United on Nov. 7.
Both Atlanta and D.C. United have post-season hopes, so have plenty to play for.
Philadelphia arrived on the back of a 1-0 weekend win over visiting Nashville SC and had lost just once in its last eight games (5-1-2).
After Toronto, Philadelphia plays its last regular-season home against 14th-place FC Cincinnati before visiting fifth-place New York City FC.
Toronto coach Javier Perez made three changes to the starting lineup used on the weekend against Montreal with Altidore, Pozuelo and Kemar Lawrence slotting in for Patrick Mullins, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty and Richie Laryea. A club spokeswoman said Laryea was kept out as a precautionary move after picking up a knock to the knee on the weekend.
Toronto was without injured Venezuelan designated player Yeferson Soteldo, forward Ifunanyachi Achara and Gonzalez as well as long-term absentees Ayo Akinola, Tsubasa Endoh and Ralph Priso.
The Union were missing star goalkeeper Andre Blake, who has returned to Jamaica in the wake of his grandmother's death. Freese made his 12th career MLS start with former Toronto 'keeper Joe Bendik on the bench.
The Union blanked visiting Toronto 3-0 in August in the teams' first meeting this season. The two split the series last year, with Toronto winning 2-1 in East Hartford and Philadelphia romping to a 5-0 victory at home.
Toronto is suffering through its worst season since 2013 when it went 6-17-11.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press