In an away game at their temporary home stadium, Toronto FC fell to a disappointing 1-0 defeat to the still unbeaten Orlando City SC. The loss means that TFC remain third from bottom of the Eastern Conference and with just one win in their first six league games of the year.
Chris Armas made two changes to the team that salvaged a point in New York last weekend, as Ayo Akinola and Tsubasa Endoh made way for Jonathan Osorio, who made his comeback from a right thigh injury, and Mark Delgado.
Alex Bono retained his place in the XI for the 10th straight game despite his costly error in the draw with NYCFC, while Auro Jr. was preferred to Ralph Priso in central midfield. Dom Dwyer was deemed questionable ahead of the game, but ultimately missed a reunion with his former side due to a thigh problem.
As for Orlando, they were without Alexandre Pato through injury, and club captain Nani, who served the first of a two-game suspension after an altercation with a match official during his side’s victory over D.C United last week.
Orlando came into the game unbeaten and off to their best start to a season in franchise history. Toronto meanwhile, was looking to spoil the party and inflict the “home” team’s first defeat of the 2021 campaign.
In the opening minutes, both sides moved the ball quickly and with urgency, much to the joy of the fans in attendance at the Exploria Stadium. The first real chance came from Silvester van der Water, whose cheeky lob drifted just wide after the Dutchman caught Bono off his line.
Shortly after, van der Water turned supplier and after bringing Chris Mavinga out of position, whipped in a sublime ball which the unmarked Tesho Akindele headed home to open the scoring for Orlando. More questions will surely be asked of TFC’s backline as Omar Gonzalez was nowhere near the Calgary-born forward.
Should never be that wide open pic.twitter.com/6wHTJiX3ld— Waking the Red (@WakingtheRed) May 22, 2021
Needing to come from behind once again this season, some brilliant play from Richie Laryea led to a bit of pinball in the Orlando penalty area before Auro Jr. fired the loose ball straight at Pedro Gallese, who used his foot to keep out the powerful effort.
Much of TFC’s early attacking efforts came from the wing, with the Orlando backline fending off any sort of pressure the Reds brought through the middle. While TFC continued to work, Orlando found themselves on a breakaway after Gonzalez carelessly gave away possession to set Christopher Mueller off, but a low driven shot from just outside the area was easily dealt with by Bono.
Yeferson Soteldo then set the venue alight with some tenacious play on the left as he beat the goalkeeper with an impressive skill move, but his shot from a tight angle was blocked by Kyle Smith. The Venezuelan’s flair was yet again on full display in the first half, as well as his undeniable work rate, which continued to catalyze TFC in the final third.
Yeferson’s not playing around tonightpic.twitter.com/v1mF8hYXhp— Waking the Red (@WakingtheRed) May 22, 2021
Not only was Soteldo a constant motor in attack during the first half, Laryea’s electric play on the right flank showcased once again just how valuable he is to this Toronto squad.
Armas’ men ended the half a lot better than how they started it, but there was still much work to do with regards to structure off the ball and composure on it.
With the sun coming down, an early Kemar Lawrence effort from long range that looked as though it was dipping right into the top corner got the second half up and running. It was then Orlando’s turn to attack as Akindele missed a golden one-on-one opportunity to double his side’s lead after being beautifully put through by Mauricio Pereyra.
As someone who has already been a frequent visitor to the physio’s office this year, Osorio was not moving well and was forced off injured for Nick DeLeon in the 55th minute. In just his fourth appearance of the season, the TFC veteran is still the club’s top scorer so far this season with two goals.
Orlando’s dogged defenders continued to be a thorn in TFC’s pursuits of an equalizer, with central midfielder Sebas Méndez also helping out at the back to contain the threats of Soteldo. Yet just after the hour mark, TFC’s No. 30 was able to breeze past Smith and tee-up DeLeon just outside the area, but the American’s wayward strike was hardly a worry for Gallese in net.
Akindele was then played through on goal once again, but a weak effort found its way right into Bono’s gloves after some tight defending from Mavinga.
Jacob Shaffelburg and Ayo Akinola were introduced in the hopes of adding some much needed panache upfront during the final 20 minutes of play. Fresh off his first MLS goal last weekend, Shaffelburg came close to making it two goals in two after his shot (or cross?) was cleared off the line by Rodrigo Schlegel.
With 10 minutes to go, Gonzalez joined Osorio on the injury front and was replaced by Eriq Zavaleta, who came on for his first MLS minutes of the season as well as his 105th TFC appearance.
Seven minutes from time, Bono was called into action, this time to deny substitute Benji Michel from close range. Orlando almost went ahead moments later, as a free header was put wide following a corner.
In the dying minutes, Akinola’s effort from the top of the box was parried by Gallese and the loose ball fell to Jacob Shaffelburg, who wildly put the rebound wide. While some may have thought that both Akinola and the young Canadian were offside, Shaffelburg’s blushes were not spared as the referee pointed for a goal kick.
A nail biting final minute of injury time saw Gallese deny impressive strikes from both DeLeon and Soteldo. Despite the late push, it was to be Orlando’s day as they celebrated a hard fought win in front of their fans after the six minutes of added time were up. The Reds took a total of 18 shots during the match with six of them on target, a sign that shooting was a main focus in training after just seven shots were taken against NYCFC.
Post-match, Armas stated that despite the result, there were various positives that his men can take from the game:
“I think there’s a lot of positives,” said Armas. “... What’s not so positive is the way we feel right now. You want to get rewarded for the effort. On the night disappointed, but there’s some positives that we’ll keep building on.”
Following Soteldo’s first 90 minutes in a TFC shirt, Armas was also full of praise for the Venezuelan’s constant threat on the attack:
“We thought he was dangerous all night long,” said Armas. “... Giving us chances to score, ... it’s going to keep getting better with him. I think it’s important that he played 90 minutes, his fitness is coming along, and he’s going to help us.”
Ultimately, TFC did not make it easy for Orlando, but against a Nani-less side, Armas’ men will surely be disappointed to not come away with at least a point. As a result, Toronto now have just five points from six games and 10 goals already conceded.
With a week to re-group ahead of the clash with Columbus on May 29th, Michael Bradley and co. will know that the wins need to come sooner than later if there is to be a genuine playoff run this season.