Toronto FC went toe-to-toe with Mexican giant Santos Laguna for 89 minutes, until another late-game collapse ended TFC's hopes, and likely its season.TORONTO - It's become so expected that Toronto FC will give up heartbreaking late goals, that the question usually isn't if it'll happen, but rather when and how.
On Tuesday night, TFC fought back from a one-goal deficit to pull level with visiting Santos Laguna - the Mexican powerhouse that ousted the Reds from the previous edition of the CONCACAF Champions League - only to allow two late, nearly identical, goals just before the final whistle.
It meant a likely end to the current CCL run for Toronto, which is now well behind Santos in goal differential and would need a big win in Torreon just to have a chance at advancing to the knockout stage under the new tournament format.
But the most recent of many late game collapses by TFC speaks to a larger issue of a struggling club that has thrown far too many points away under these circumstances, said head coach Paul Mariner.
"It always goes down to the minutiae of the game," Mariner explained in the postgame press conference, saying that his players failed to simplify things in defending a very attainable draw. "Clear your lines, start again, look at the clock ... you've just got to put your foot through the ball sometimes and take a [draw]."
Mariner said that the persistent lapses towards the end of matches - along with the litany of other problems that face a bottom table club - can be helped greatly if his players own up to the responsibility of recognizing problems and improving their games.
"If you're a professional footballer and you keep making the same mistakes, that's a problem," he said. "As we always say to the players, and we always say to the staff and myself, it's self-assessment first, no finger pointing."
The loss stings doubly for TFC as it means the realistic end to competitive soccer for the club for the duration of 2012. With the team mired at the bottom of MLS' Eastern Conference, the Champions League was the only thing left to play for.
And though a draw with Santos would have still put the Reds under the gun to get a positive result in the reverse fixture in Mexico, it would have at least given the beleaguered side a fighting chance.
Instead, the players will be left with the sour taste of another promising effort gone terribly wrong in the dying moments.
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"We were in the game for 89 minutes, and then that last minute - the 90th minute in stoppage time - it really gave us problems," said midfielder Andrew Wiedeman. "It would have been nice to get out of there with 1-1. In the second half I think everyone in there felt like we could have gotten the win. We got that goal, had the momentum going. We were really pressuring their goal, and it didn't come off.
"And then at the end, they came down, they hit our post and that probably should have been a wake-up call for all of us, and unfortunately we didn't take it too seriously."