Toronto's dwindling hopes of its first Major League Soccer playoff berth in franchise history all but disappeared Saturday.
Chris Wondolowski scored a hat trick to lead the San Jose Earthquakes to a 3-2 victory over Toronto FC, in a game the home team all-but needed to win to keep its post-season hopes alive.
Dwayne De Rosario and Maicon Santos scored for Toronto (8-10-8), which now faces a near-impossible task, needing virtually to win its final four games — three of which are on the road.
Toronto FC did themselves in early Saturday at BMO Field, giving up a goal in just the third minute on a penalty shot — awarded when Dan Gargan took down Bobby Convey in the 18-yard-box — and spent the rest of the game trying to battle back from their early-game blunder.
Wondolowski's fired his penalty shot past Toronto keeper Stefan Frei to the left corner.
The Earthquakes midfielder notched his second of the game in the 53rd minute, sprinting through Toronto's back line to connect on a cross from Ryan Johnson.
De Rosario brought the BMO field crowd back to life in the 66th minute, chipping in a shot from just outside the 18-yard-box into the top right corner past Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch.
But the positive vibe was short-lived as just a minute later, Wondolowski scored from the identical spot at the other end of the field to put the Earthquakes (11-7-6) back up by two.
Santos brought the crowd of 20,064 back to its feet when he scored in the 80th minute, sprinting onto a cross from Mista and tapping in a left-footed shot right in front of the net.
Toronto kept the pressure on the Earthquakes' defence in the final few nail-biting minutes, and Jacob Peterson had the chance to tie the game in the 90th minute. But the wide open Toronto midfielder sent his shot sailing over the net, collapsing on his knees in frustration as the crowd groaned in unison.
The shot was one of several scoring chances for Toronto in a frantic final few minutes, but a win wasn't to be and boos could be heard as the final whistle sounded.
Toronto was lucky to trail by only a goal at halftime — the score could have been more lopsided if not for a couple of spectacular saves by Frei. Wondolowski nearly notched his second goal of the game in the 25th minute, but the Toronto 'keeper stretched to just tip the ball over the crossbar. Frei had another outstanding save just before halftime, managing to just get his hand on a free kick from Geovanni that looked destined for the left corner of the net.
Toronto began the game 10th in the MLS standings — two spots out of a post-season berth — and five points back of seventh-place San Jose.
The game was the first at home since the club fired coach Preki and GM Mo Johnston, and named Nick Dasovic interim head coach. And the home team's confidence was high coming off a 2-1 win at Houston and 0-0 tie with Cruz Azul in CONCONCAF Champions League action.
The remainder of the MLS season takes Toronto to Seattle, Chivas USA, and D.C. United. They host the Columbus Crew in their final regular-season game at BMO Field on Oct. 16.