By THOMAS FLOYD
WASHINGTON — Ryan Nelsen can’t help but play the “What if?” game. How could he not? Point after point dropped because of lapses in concentration. Poor decisions. Bad luck.
With nine goals conceded in the final 15 minutes of matches this season, it’s not hard to understand why Toronto FC went three months without a win. But in the club’s 2-1 triumph at D.C. United on Saturday, Toronto found an equalizer, bagged a go-ahead tally and — most importantly — held on for three points.
Long at last, Nelsen’s squad reaped the rewards of its positive play.
“It’s really hard because the performances have been really good during the season,” Nelsen said. “If we had seen a lot of those games out, we’d be in a really nice position in our conference. Unfortunately, they are the learning curves we have to go through as a team. Sometimes it hurts before it gets better.”
At 2-7-5, Toronto is 11 points out of playoff positioning. Several players — John Bostock, Hogan Ephraim and Terry Dunfield included — have already been cast aside.
But the Reds haven’t exactly been a pushover. Six of their league losses have been by a single tally. The other was a two-goal setback.
“We know what we have here,” captain Darren O’Dea said. “We’ve kind of been telling people we have it, but there’s no point in keep talking — we need to show it. That’s one result.”
Against United (1-11-3), who Nelsen described as “a bit wounded and a bit desperate,” Toronto saw an opportunity to grab its first road victory since July.
Thanks to striker Robert Earnshaw’s something-out-of-nothing header to tie the game and an own goal off United defender Daniel Woolard, it did just that. While the prevalent thought within the Toronto locker room was that this was far from the team’s best performance, the players are in no position to be picky.
“We came into this game really looking forward to it and excited about it, but it was a must-win,” Earnshaw said. “The pressure was on us. And for us today, it was win or nothing. If we came away without the points, we would have been more devastated than any other game in the whole season.”
As the home side threw numbers forward late, Toronto for once held its ground — thanks largely to goalkeeper Joe Bendik’s heroics. Even with five minutes of stoppage time at their disposal, United couldn’t draw even.
“The last 10 minutes have been crucial for us,” forward Luis Silva said, “just trying to work hard mentally and try to keep the ball as much as we can.”
As Toronto prepares to travel next weekend to face the Houston Dynamo, the team can eye putting together its first winning streak in 11 months.
The road to the playoff picture is still an imposing climb, but it’s one the players haven’t deemed too steep. Not yet at least.
“We’ve just talked about believing,” O’Dea said. “We firmly believe in what we started out to do at the start of the season, and we believe results will come with that. And hopefully that’s the first of many.”