It was as effective as it was unsightly.
United (7-3-3) teetered all night and rarely crossed midfield with substantial possession. Although Wayne Rooney, Luciano Acosta and Paul Arriola entered early in the second half, D.C. was in survival mode against Toronto (5-4-2), which finished with massive advantages in shots (35-3), corner kicks (10-2) and percentage of possession (71-29).
Toronto’s shot total was the highest in MLS in 21 years and the most in league history without that team scoring a goal.
“We defended our asses off,” said goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who set a career high with 12 saves and recorded his league-best seventh shutout. “We had a game plan and we were successful.”
It was a triumph in many ways for D.C., which moved one point ahead of Philadelphia atop MLS’s Eastern Conference and kept several key players fresh for this weekend’s visit to Texas.
In explaining his lineup choices, Olsen said: “It starts to get dangerous if you start to play guys too much. I played a large number of guys a lot this year. With the Sunday-Wednesday [matches] and two days in between, something had to give.”
Chris McCann made his third start but first in midfield. Zoltan Stieber and Jalen Robinson started for the second time. Quincy Amarikwa and Akeem Ward were in the starting lineup for the first time. Ward, a first-round draft pick, made his MLS debut.
“In some ways, you set these guys up to fail because they don’t get a lot of minutes up until this point and you throw them out there,” Olsen said. “Every one of them gave everything they had and went about the game plan in the right way.”
Toronto was close to full strength, though striker Jozy Altidore (five goals in six appearances) was sidelined by a heel injury. Nick DeLeon, who joined Toronto this season after seven with United, made his 10th start and logged 45 minutes on the left wing.
United’s only serious threats came in the first minute as Stieber tested goalkeeper Quentin Westberg from outside the box and Amarikwa was offside in depositing the ensuing corner kick into the net.
From that point, Toronto hoarded possession and menaced the penalty area. Under constant duress, United was bending but did not break.
“You couldn’t really turn off,” defender Steve Birnbaum said. “They would get the ball, bring it up the field, get something in the box. We would clear it and then do it all over again. It was 85 minutes of that.”
Hamid made a fine reflex save on Jordan Hamilton’s touch, set up brilliantly by Toronto’s new maestro, Alejandro Pozuelo. Frederic Brillant blocked DeLeon’s header, and Hamilton smashed the rebound off the crossbar.
Drew Fischer’s halftime whistle brought a blank score line and relief for scrambling United. Statistics tilted heavily toward Toronto — 20-2 shot advantage (7-1 on target) and 79 percent of possession — but without anything to show for it.
Toronto got right back to work after intermission as Auro’s rasping drive drew a leaping save by Hamid.
Olsen then turned to Rooney and Acosta in the 48th minute. Arriola arrived in the 62nd.
The newcomers lifted United’s counterattacking prospects and slowed the pace but struggled to interrupt Toronto’s mastery of the ball. Hamid remained busy, though the threats were not as severe as in the first half and early in the second.
With time melting away, Toronto grew increasingly frustrated with United’s tactics and its inability to solve them. United killed time, ecstatic about ultimately stealing a point.
“With the changes we made, we would’ve taken a point,” Rooney said. “We kept a few players fresh for Saturday, which at this point, only becomes a good point if we take three on Saturday.”
Notes: Midfielder Chris Durkin, who played 90 minutes, will report to the U.S. under-20 national team this week to prepare for the U-20 World Cup in Poland. . . . Youth academy midfielder Bryang Kayo, a target for a homegrown contract, scored the first goal in the U.S. under-17 national team’s 4-0 victory over Canada in a Concacaf semifinal in Bradenton, Fla. The Americans will face Mexico in the final Thursday. All semifinalists qualified for the U-17 World Cup this fall in Brazil.