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Union drop points in a winnable game again, tying 2-2 at Toronto FC

Sergio Santos saved a point in the standings with a 77th minute equalizer, but it wasn't quite enough, since the Union failed to clinch a playoff spot.

Union midfielder Jamiro Monteiro (left) battles with Toronto FC forward Jacob Shaffelburg during the first half.
Union midfielder Jamiro Monteiro (left) battles with Toronto FC forward Jacob Shaffelburg during the first half.Read moreEvan Buhler / The Canadian Press via AP

The Union blew a chance to clinch a playoff berth and fell back out of second place Wednesday night in a 2-2 tie at Toronto FC. Alejandro Bedoya opened the scoring after just 37 seconds, but Toronto scored twice early in the second half to put the Union in a 2-1 hole. Sergio Santos saved a point in the standings with a 77th minute equalizer.

Here are some observations on the game — which you were warned about being a trap game.

37 seconds

It was, the statisticians at MLS headquarters said, the Union’s second-fastest goal in an MLS game. And it was a well-worked goal. In just that half-minute-plus, the Union took the kickoff, worked the ball forward, re-cycled it to the back line, then made the move that resulted in the goal.

Jakob Glesnes played a raking cross-field pass down a third of the field to a wide-open Kai Wagner, who needed just two touches: one to settle the ball and the next to slice a low cross through four Toronto defenders. Dániel Gazdag was shockingly unmarked at the top of the 18-yard box, and spun on a dime to pass to an even more open Alejandro Bedoya.

The shot from there was easy, and Bedoya had a goal to celebrate in his 150th start for the Union.

But the sequence wasn’t just about the finish. It was about the Union’s ability to make two buildups in that short time, and how crisply they moved the ball around. And it was certainly about Gazdag’s assist, his third of the season, showing better integration into the team attack.

Who scored faster than Bedoya in Union history? C.J. Sapong on July 26, 2015, at D.C. United — with the turn and pass that time coming from Carlos Ruiz. The Union ended up losing that game, 3-2, after leading, 2-0.

And lo and behold …

» READ MORE: The Union were staring at a trap game in their visit to Toronto FC

The collapse

After Jozy Altidore tied the score at 1-1 in the 67th minute off a broken play, an even more fluky Jack Elliott own goal put the Union in a 2-1 hole.

Was it coincidental that Union manager Jim Curtin had started the same lineup for three straight games in seven days? After Saturday’s win over Nashville, Curtin admitted that starting the same lineup twice in a row was a risk. Well, it was so much of a risk that he did it again here — and this time, it sure looked like it backfired.

The bigger risk, though, was not using the full allotment of five substitutions in any of the three games. Curtin made three changes against Minnesota, two against Nashville and three against Toronto. And Alejandro Bedoya wasn’t one of them until the 86th minute in Toronto, when he left with a bit of a limp to be replaced by Jesús Bueno.

There’s been evidence all season that not running Bedoya into the ground is good for him. And there’s been ample evidence all season that Quinn Sullivan and Jack McGlynn can do the job late in games.

Then again, it doesn’t seem a good idea to ever run any player into the ground.

Santos saves by scoring

Sergio Santos finally got back on the field in the 58th minute, replacing Gazdag. He didn’t do a ton, registering 17 touches, 2 shots, and 5-of-9 passing. But in the one big moment he had, he leaped high to head in a desperately-needed equalizer.

Was that a handball?

The video replay booth clearly took a long look at the potential handball by Toronto’s Michael Bradley that would have given the Union a penalty kick in the 90th minute. But for all the Union protests, referee Silviu Petrescu probably got the call right. Because the ball hit Bradley in the side before deflecting off his wrist, it wasn’t a foul.

It was bad luck, but it wasn’t the reason why the Union didn’t win the game.

A wild night in the playoff race

Nashville SC trailed last-place FC Cincinnati, 3-1, lead on the road after 32 minutes, but ended up winning, 6-3. Atlanta United trailed at home against lowly Inter Miami after 32 minutes, but ended up winning, 2-1. D.C. United ended the New York Red Bulls’ eight-game unbeaten streak with a 1-0 win in Washington.

The one result that went in the Union’s favor was Orlando’s 3-2 loss at Columbus.

When the dust settled, it was Nashville, not the Union, that clinched a playoff spot with a win — and jumped back over the Union into second place. The Union (13-8-11, 32 points) fell back to third. New York City FC rose to fourth with a 1-0 home win over Chicago, Orlando fell to fifth, Atlanta settled in sixth, and D.C. rose over the playoff line to seventh.

Had the Union won, they would have clinched a playoff spot. Now they will try to do it at home against Cincinnati on Sunday (7:30 p.m., PHL17), a few hours after Orlando hosts Nashville (4 p.m., UniMás, TUDN and Twitter).