COMMERCE CITY, Colo. -- Closing time remains a nightmare for Toronto FC.
After playing well tactically and physically in Colorado's thin air for the majority of the match, the Reds allowed a costly late goal for the fourth consecutive game and suffered a 1-0 loss to the Rapids on a chilly Saturday night at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
TFC defender Logan Emory failed to clear the ball in front of his net and then fell down, allowing Edson Buddle to bury the game-winning goal for the Rapids (3-4-3) in the 86th minute.
The Reds (1-4-4) had yielded a deciding goal in the 89th minute or later in their three previous games, allowing New York a game-winner and Philadelphia and Houston to score late equalizers.
"I think for 90 minutes in every game we're the better team," TFC defender Darren O'Dea said in a sombre visitors locker room. "It's easy to say, but if we eliminate mistakes we'd be at the top of the league. It's very tough to take. We couldn't have played any better."
Robert Earnshaw had a chance to be the late-game hero, but was unable to find the back of the net after Luis Silva set the veteran forward up with a beautiful pass in the 84th minute.
The home crowd breathed a sigh of relief after the missed opportunity by Earnshaw, and then the Reds had the wind knocked out of them by another forgettable finish on the defensive end.
"He sets extremely hard standards for himself and he works really hard. To be fair, it's my fault more than anything," TFC head coach Ryan Nelsen said when asked about Earnshaw's series of near-misses. "I kept him on and he had played Wednesday and traveled and all that. I keep him on because he's such a good player and can turn something out of nothing. So looking back, maybe I should have given him a rest. But my options for striker on the bench are limited."
The Reds were able to sustain consistent pressure during the early stages of the second half but were unable to capitalize on a series of chances, including a dangerous free kick by Hogan Ephraim that bounced through heavy traffic in front of the goal.
Colorado substitute Martin Rivero chipped a shot inches over the cross bar in the 64th minute and then harmlessly air-mailed a free kick into the stands moments later.
Both offensively challenged teams had quality scoring chances early. Rapids midfielder Nick LaBrocca had a point-blank shot turned away by TFC goalkeeper Joseph Bendik in the 11th minute, and Earnshaw was denied by Colorado goalkeeper Clint Irwin in the 13th minute.
"One mistake," a visibly upset Bendik said after a three-save night. "If we knew what was going on we'd be winning a lot more games."
The Rapids were tied for seventh place in the Western Conference with nine points in nine matches. TFC was tied for eighth place in the Eastern Conference with seven points in eight matches.
The Reds had won the last four Canadian Championship tournaments before suffering a 6-0 drubbing in the semifinals on Wednesday at Montreal. TFC lost 6-2 on aggregate.
After the humbling defeat, Nelsen expressed hope that it would be a turning point in the season for the club. Other than the late gaffe, the head coach was pleased with Saturday's effort.
"I thought the guys played fantastically well," Nelsen said. "Colorado was pretty much going long to their big guys, pretty much couldn't break us down, and the opportunities that we had were pretty good. Unfortunately, it just didn't fall for us."
TFC's midfield, which struggled at Montreal, received a boost with the debut of 21-year-old designated player Matias Laba. The talented former Argentinos Juniors player logged 87 minutes and settled things down for the visitors in a challenging road environment.
"I thought he was superb," Nelsen said. "Him and Jeremy (Hall) in the middle were brilliant. They controlled it and passed it very well."
TFC still leads the all-time series 7-4-1 but had a four-game unbeaten streak against Colorado snapped. This was the only league meeting of the season between the two clubs.
The Reds will try to regroup quickly ahead of Wednesday's game at San Jose.
"It's disappointing and frustrating," Bendik said. "But we have a very big game on Wednesday that we're capable of winning, just like we were capable of winning this game."