Henry delivers late to send TFC past Crew

Doneil Henry. (Nathan Denette/CP)

TORONTO – Doneil Henry has been an unwitting villain for Toronto FC several times this season. On Saturday evening he was the unquestionable hero.

Henry’s headed goal off a Daniel Lovitz free kick deep into injury time allowed TFC to earn a come-from-behind 3-2 win over the Columbus Crew before 22,591 fans at BMO Field. Jermain Defoe also scored his team-leading fifth and sixth goals for the Reds, who improved to 5-4-1 on the Major League Soccer season.

The winning goal was sweet redemption for Henry. The young Canadian defender has taken heavy criticism in some media circles this campaign—including from this correspondent—for his uneven play and propensity for committing silly errors. He’s also been called for four penalties.

Henry said he hasn’t let his occasional gaffes on the field get the better of him.

“In your career when you have negative days, you can either let it eat at you and be a timid person. Or you can stand up like a man and embrace it and try to better yourself. I’ve worked hard to cut out the mistakes,” Henry said.

To be honest, Henry was far from his best again from a defensive standpoint on Saturday. But his late goal will be the only thing that fans remember on this night.

“It’s the horrible beauty of [soccer], isn’t it? One day you’re the villain and [the next] day you’re the hero,” Toronto coach Ryan Nelsen offered.

“What I love about [Henry] is that no matter what happens to him in the past, and whatever people say about him, he still puts himself on that field and still tries his hardest to win for his club and his fans. I respect that.”

Henry’s goal capped off a great comeback by TFC, who were pretty dire for most of the game. Their play was marred by an inability to retain possession, dreadful passing and a lack of midfield creativity. But it’s a positive sign—and a sign of being a playoff contender—when a team can play poorly and still earn a win.

Nelsen admitted he wasn’t impressed with his club’s overall performance. At the same time, though, he lauded his players for staying in the game and for twice fighting back from a one-goal deficit.

”To be brutally honest, we didn’t play well today. We didn’t play well at all. … Sometimes it was painful to watch [but] the boys kept going and never backed down,” Nelsen said. “We got rewarded for sticking in there.”

Columbus was missing suspended star forward Federico Higuain, who leads the team in scoring with six goals this campaign.

Toronto was without influential midfielder Michael Bradley (international duty with the United States), captain Steven Caldwell (suspension), and Collen Warner (family wedding). Also, Jonathan Osorio and Jackson returned to the starting lineup after injury layoffs.

Without Caldwell, Toronto’s back line was disorganized, and the young central defensive duo of Nick Hagglund and Henry looked out of sorts. The Crew took full advantage, working the ball straight down the middle with little pressure from TFC before Justin Meram curled a beautiful shot into the far corner in the 18th minute. Moments later Bradley Orr limped off with a hamstring injury.

Columbus’ lead lasted three minutes. Jackson fed a pass for Defoe, and the Englishman was tugged down by Crew defender Tyson Wahl inside the box after giving him the slip. Defoe converted the ensuing penalty to make it 1-1.

TFC couldn’t build on its momentum, though, and in the 65th minute the Crew retook the lead. Agustin Viana out-jumped Henry for a corner kick into the box and connected on a bullet header that sailed into the back of the net. It was a ball that Henry should have cleared, but he was badly beaten to it by Viana.

Defoe pulled Toronto level with nine minutes remaining in regulation, collecting a lovely through pass from Gilberto and firing it past a helpless Steve Clark in the Columbus net.

“I made good contact. It was one of those goals where as soon as I made contact I knew it was going in,” Defoe said of his powerful equalizer.

Clark came up big minutes later when he palmed away a piledriver of a shot from Dwayne De Rosario from the edge of the box. But he couldn’t do anything about Henry’s glancing header, as the TFC defender beautifully connected off Lovitz’s free kick and beat Clark from in close.

NOTES: These two sides will meet for the third and final time this season, on Aug. 9 in Columbus… Columbus leads the all-time series with 10 wins and seven draws in 21 meetings with TFC… Toronto FC’s next game is against the Montreal Impact in Wednesday’s second leg of the Amway Canadian Championship final. The teams drew 1-1 in the first leg in Toronto this past week… TFC returns to MLS action on June 7 at home versus the San Jose Earthquakes…