RSL outshot Toronto 13-9 in the match, but all of those Real opportunities were either off-target, stopped by TFC goalkeeper Milos Kocic or (on two occasions) stopped by the crossbar.
"Soccer is a very cruel game," said RSL head coach Jason Kreis. "We did enough tonight certainly to pick up a draw, and on a different night we're walking away from here with all three points. If we score some of those chances we had tonight, things looks completely different."
RSL is winless (0-3-3) all-time in six games in Toronto, including a 1-1 draw in the group stage of last year's CONCACAF Champions League.
In the 23rd minute, captain Kyle Beckerman came close on a shot that deflected off TFC defender Torsten Frings and looked to be headed towards the top of the net before hitting the crossbar and bouncing high.
The crossbar struck again just seven minutes later. Alvaro Saborio found a wide-open Fabian Espindola in front of net, and while Espindola's shot beat Kocic, it didn't beat the steel.
This was about as close as Real came to putting a ball past Kocic, who was making his first league appearance of the season in place of injured starter Stefan Frei. RSL was shut out for the third time in its last four games, a sudden dry spell for a team that entered the day second in MLS with a plus-14 goal differential.
Both teams had several quality chances, but a seemingly harmless shot decided the match. In the 77th minute, TFC striker Joao Plata sent a light shot along the ground that managed to split two RSL defenders and banked off the far post into the net.
As Real midfielder Will Johnson observed, the goal was RSL's punishment for their lack of finish.
"(We were) extremely unlucky as far as chances go ... but if you don't put your chances away, you leave yourself open for some kind of a lucky goal and obviously that's what happened," Johnson said. "I think we were the better team tonight."
It was a tough night all around for Toronto native Johnson. He picked up a booking that will cause him to miss RSL's game in Houston next week due to a suspension for yellow card accumulation.
Johnson also had Real's last true scoring chance of the match. During stoppage time, the ball fell to the midfielder on the left side of the net. Johnson only had room for an off-balance shot, but he put enough on the ball to require an outstanding save from Kocic to preserve his team's lead.
"I didn't have a whole lot of goal to work with," Johnson said. "From that angle (and an) acrobatic kick, you're just trying to hit he target. The 'keeper made a nice save. That kind of just summed up our night. If we take one of those chances early, this game turns into an easy win for us."
RSL collected a 3-1 win over Toronto at Rio Tinto Stadium on June 25, but since that game, TFC acquired nine new players in a drastic roster overhaul. Only three players from the Reds' starting 11 on June 25 started Saturday's match.
To add to the new look, Reds head coach Aron Winter abandoned his preferred 4-4-3 formation and instead deployed his team in a 3-4-3 alignment. RSL seemed caught off-guard as Toronto dominated the first 20 minutes of the game.
"Mr. Winter threw us a little surprise tonight and came out in a 3-4-3," Kreis said. "That tactically caused us a few problems in the first half. At halftime we talked about it, sorted it out and again, in my opinion, we controlled the match."
Defender Chris Wingert suffered an broken wrist and had to be substituted out of the game in the 32nd minute by Tony Beltran.
RSL's road record drops to 2-4-3 for the season. The Toronto match was the first of three consecutive road dates for Real Salt Lake, and eight of their remaining 12 games are away from home.