Toronto FC looked in danger of suffering a first defeat at home, until Dan Gargan's first career Major League Soccer goal bailed his team out.
The defender's header off Fuad Ibrahim's corner kick in the 84th minute Thursday gave Toronto FC a 1-1 draw with the Houston Dynamo before a Canada Day crowd of 21,374 at BMO Field.
Toronto FC (5-4-4) remained undefeated at home this season and has a string of seven MLS games without a loss, although the past three games have been draws at home.
"We had tons of chances," Gargan said. "And it's one of those where you're pushing and pushing and pushing and it finally comes. That's my first career goal in MLS so that was a sweet one."
Houston (5-7-3) took the lead in the 72nd minute when Brian Ching headed home Danny Cruz's corner.
The goals came after each team was reduced to 10 men when red cards were issued in the 62nd minute to Toronto's Julian de Guzman and Houston's Joseph Ngwenya after some shoving deep in the Toronto end.
Toronto also had another player ejected when Amadou Sanyang was given his second yellow card of the game in the dying seconds.
The skirmish that led to the red cards came after Ngwenya continued to play after being called for a foul on Gargan. Nana Attakora grabbed Ngwenya and had the situation under control when de Guzman joined in. De Guzman had no comment after the game.
TFC coach disappointed with officiating
Gargan also picked up a yellow card after his goal for removing his shirt in celebration.
The calls on the red cards left TFC coach Predrag (Preki) Radosavljevic expressing his dissatisfaction with the officiating.
"I was very disappointed," he said.
In each case, he felt that his players were punished for reacting to a Houston foul. He said that after the game he tried to talk to referee Jair Marrufo but "he told me to get away."
Toronto picked up five yellow cards on the game, Houston none.
"It was a crazy game," Preki said. "I thought we created enough in the first half and the second half to get a goal. Obviously we were a goal down. We still showed a lot of character to come back in that game. I thought in the end we were going to win it in the final minutes."
The TFC coach was disappointed in Houston's goal because his players had been reminded this week about the Dynamo's ability from set pieces.
Toronto has not lost since May 1
"We talked all week about them and their ability to score on free kicks," he said, "and we fall asleep for a second and we give up a goal."
A minute after Ching's goal, TFC goalkeeper Stefan Frei tipped a shot from Lovel Palmer over the bar to keep the home team's hopes alive.
Toronto's corner that led to the goal came just after Vancouver native Pat Onstad's save on TFC captain Dwayne De Rosario, a former Dynamo. Onstad and De Rosario have been teammates at Houston and with Canada's national team.
Toronto FC has not lost since May 1 when they dropped an away game 2-1 to Real Salt Lake and is undefeated in 10 games in all competitions that includes the Canadian championship.
But their two games before Thursday were 0-0 home draws June 5 and 26 to Kansas City and Los Angeles respectively. The draws followed a 3-1 win at San Jose.
Toronto had its chances in the first half.
In the 21st minute, de Guzman's pass sent Chad Barrett deep into the Houston end. But Barrett's move, faking a shot first, was too predictable and defender Bobby Boswell dealt with the situation capably.
Late in the first half, TFC had two good chances. In the 43rd minute, Jacob Peterson's left-footed shot from in front went just wide right after De Rosario set him up with a deft flick pass.
In first-half stoppage time, Houston cleared the ball from in front after Nick LaBrocca's free kick in deep and to the right of the goal. But de Guzman retrieved the clearance and blistered a shot that Onstad parried and then gathered in the rebound.