Substitute Tim Cahill played a crucial role on his return from the World Cup as the New York Red Bulls clinched a last-ditch draw against Toronto FC.
The Australian – fresh from his international exploits – assisted Bradley Wright-Phillips’ 93rd-minute volley to deny the Reds victory, after they had come from behind through Jermain Defoe and a maiden Gilberto goal.
Peguy Luyindula had scored in the first half as the two sides returned to Major League Soccer following a two-week break.
The result did little for either team at Red Bull Arena, but the visitors can now lay claim to a five-match unbeaten run.
From the kick-off Toronto looked dangerous, and Luke Moore forced Joel Robles into a firm save with a low shot after just two minutes.
As both sides threw men forward in early attacks, a Mark Bloom cross caused havoc in the Red Bulls’ area and presented Jackson with several fruitless shooting opportunities, before Robles held on to a powerful Dominic Oduro strike.
Then, at the other end, Lloyd Sam forced a corner with a strong run. The same man’s delivery from the left was met by the head of MLS top-scorer Wright-Phillips – up ahead of Joe Bendik – but his attempt just cleared the cross-bar.
With the first period reaching its half-way mark, a clean-shaven Thierry Henry delivered a pinpoint free-kick to the front post and Luyindula, though the former Paris Saint-Germain forward nodded a looping effort off target.
But in the 36th minute, Ambroise Oyongo Bitolo got forward from left back and crossed for the Zaire-born man, who this time saw his deflected header nestle in the bottom corner with Bendik helpless.
New York took this one-goal lead into the half-time break, with the anonymity of Reds star Defoe particularly noticeable. Previously a poacher, the England international was occupying a deeper role – much like opponent Henry and ex-Tottenham Hotspur teammate Robbie Keane – but was enjoying little success in creating chances for strike partner Moore.
However, just after the interval a miscue from the 31-year-old fell to Oduro, but the goal-famished wide man volleyed wide.
In the 55th minute though, the roles were reversed and the visitors levelled. The Ghanaian centred for Defoe, who executed a glorious first-time finish across Robles into the far corner.
Intent on adding a quick-fire second, Collen Warner profited on a loose ball when Oduro had again attacked down the right, but he flashed a drive inches past the post.
The 28-year-old appeared to be growing in confidence – Robles had to be aware to block another effort with his legs – and so his substitution for the equally out-of-form Gilberto was slightly surprising.
The Red Bulls instantly looked to push on, and Bendik was called into action twice in quick succession. First, he scurried across his goal-line to collect a flick from the back of Wright-Phillips head, before palming away Sam’s goal-bound stinger.
Tempers flared between Toronto pair Defoe and Gilberto in the 72nd minute, as the recently-introduced Brazilian refused to relinquish set-piece duties, but an incredible turn of events followed.
With the Englishman seething, the under-fire front man thumped an unstoppable effort into the roof of Robles’ net. Defoe immediately cracked into a wide smile and embraced his fellow Designated Player, just seconds after they’d come close to trading blows.
In desperate need of a goal to prevent the Canadian side from collecting their first three-point haul in New Jersey since 2008, Mike Petke turned to his bench and brought on Cahill.
Despite some fine form in Brazil he was unable to make an instant impact here, and it was instead Gilberto and Defoe who were suddenly displaying some superb link-up play – both players clearly invigorated by their earlier notches.
As the clock ticked towards full-time though, the former had to retire with injury after only 25 minutes on the field, and Cahill immediately had a chance to equalise but tamely nodded straight at Bendik.
But not to be denied, the former Everton midfielder redirected a long punt onto Wright-Phillips with a giant leap, and the diminutive striker clinically fired home his 12th goal of the season to steal a point.
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