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Toronto FC and Chicago settle for 1-1 tie

Robert Earnshaw scored midway through the first half to earn Toronto FC a 1-1 with the Chicago Fire in MLS play Wednesday night.

The result may have been costly for offensively challenged Toronto with Earnshaw leaving minutes later with an injury seemingly sustained while scoring.

Toronto (4-13-11) did not help itself on offence, with several instances of players selfishly trying shots themselves rather than passing to open teammates. And it needed a game-saving close-range stop from goalie Joe Bendik in the 80th minute on former TFC player Quincy Amarikwa to preserve the tie.

Toronto, coming off the heels of a 4-0 loss in Portland, is now winless in six games (0-3-3). Its last victory was Aug. 4 over New England. Toronto’s season line reads a win each in March, June, July and August.

For Chicago (10-11-6), the evening represented dropped points in its bid to gain a playoff spot. After going ahead early, the Fire faded. Toronto failed to take advantage, however.

Toronto’s poor season and the threat of a thunderstorm made for shockingly sparse attendance at BMO Field on Canadian Armed Forces Night. The crowd was announced at a season-low 15,217 but looked a lot smaller and made for an evening devoid of energy.

The opening Chicago goal came in the 20th minute via a looping ball from midfielder Dilly Duka that skipped just over the foot of a lunging Mike Magee and past Bendik. There were seven Toronto players behind the ball when Duka launched it, notching his fourth of the season.

Earnshaw tied it three minutes later after Bobby Convey threaded a cross through three Chicago players to the Welsh striker, who hesitated to make a defender commit before firing the ball past Sean Johnson. It was Earnshaw’s seventh goal of the season but first since June 15.

Earnshaw, who has missed time with a hamstring problem, did not launch his trademark somersault goal celebration and came off two minutes later after feeling the back of his leg.

It’s been that kind of season for Toronto FC.

Spanish winger Alvaro Rey showed off some more of the rot in the Toronto foundation late in the half when, after neatly evading a Chicago defender, he opted for a low-percentage shot while ignoring a wide-open Convey — gesticulating madly — to his right.

Rey almost made up for it in the 45th by curling a magnificent shot from distance off the corner of the crossbar.

Toronto substitute Justin Braun then ignored an unmarked Andrew Wiedeman in the 57th minute, shooting wide instead.

Toronto manager Ryan Nelsen was incensed in the 71st minute when midfielder Jeremy Hall was yellow-carded for what seemed a 50-50 challenge.

Newly acquired striker Bright Dike came on for Toronto in the 75th minute, using his bulk to make his presence felt. But Braun ignored an open Dike on a counter-attack in the 88th minute.

Chicago arrived in seventh spot in the East, just two points out of fifth place and a playoff berth. Toronto, in contrast, is playing out another season and looking up at the rest of the league, save for the even more miserable D.C. United (3-19-5).

Chicago came into the game having won the last four meetings between the two. Toronto last defeated the Fire in May 2010, a 4-1 decision that has been followed by a seven-game winless streak.

Toronto came into the game having scored just 23 goals in 27 games, second worst in the league. And the home side had scored just two first-half goals in its last 10 MLS games, while conceding at least one first-half goal in their last five.

Toronto started defenders Doneil Henry and Ashtone Morgan and midfielder Jonathan Osorio, just days after they played for Canada in a Sunday friendly against Mauritania in Spain. Despite the onerous travel schedule, Henry and Osorio both offered some nice touches.

But Henry got a late yellow card, earning a one-game suspension for card accumulation.

Chicago lost 2-1 in Seattle last time out and had dropped five points in its last two games due to late goals: an own goal in the 89th minute against Seattle and a 90th-minute equalizer in a 1-1 tie with Houston.

Toronto FC said close to 500 military were on hand for the game. MLS commissioner Don Garber was also on hand, sitting with former Toronto president and general manager Kevin Payne, who was recently fired by the club.

Former Toronto mayor David Miller opted to skip the game. He ripped the team in an open letter to Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment on Facebook and returned his remaining season tickets.