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Recap & Highlights: Nashville score injury-time winner to break TFC hearts

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Another late goal, another defeat.

Syndication: The Tennessean Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com via Imagn Content Services, LLC

It was not Toronto FC’s day in Music City as the Reds fell to a heartbreaking 3-2 defeat against Nashville SC. Chris Armas’ side are now winless in five and have recorded just five points from nine games.

The Reds have also fallen to 13th in the Eastern Conference following FC Cincinnati’s 1-0 win over the Chicago Fire.

As has been the case for the majority of the 2021 campaign, more questions will surely be asked of this Toronto team after a total collapse in injury time.

Let’s first rewind to the beginning, where a frantic start to the game saw Nashville look to replicate the kind of start Orlando City SC had against Toronto last weekend. Quentin Westberg was forced into making a couple of simple saves in the opening 10 minutes, but Nashville failed to produce a significant scoring opportunity.

TFC’s timid start to the game invited some more Nashville pressure mid-way through the first half. Hany Mukhtar was able to get a foot on Canadian international Alistair Johnstone’s cross into the box, but the improvised shot drifted just wide of Westberg’s goal.

Not long after, Osorio lobbed an effort wide after latching onto a perfectly placed through-pass from Alejandro Pozuelo. Since returning from injury, the Spaniard has made quite the impact to TFC’s play when on the attack, showcased beautifully by that stunning pass to Osorio.

Oso would then get the opportunity to redeem himself on the 26th minute, and boy did he. A well-worked dummy from Richie Laryea set Auro Jr. off on an electric run towards the edge of the penalty area. The Brazilian then skipped past former TFC man Daniel Lovitz and delivered a delicious ball to Oso to plant into the back of the net.

With three goals in four MLS games this year, Osorio has been quite the danger man upfront for the Reds, which seems to be a rewarding product of Armas playing TFC’s No. 21 in a free-roaming role on the left. The goal sees Nashville SC become the 23rd different opponent that TFC’s all-time appearance leader has scored against.

While Toronto continued to dominate, Nashville almost got their equalizer five minutes before the half as a fully-stretched Westberg parried Aníbal Godoy’s header onto the post.

The French-born keeper was then called into action once again, this time coming up with an even better save to deny Mukhtar from close range. After a disappointing return to the lineup against Orlando, Westberg highlighted exactly why he deserves to be in the eleven with those pair of saves.

For just the third time in MLS this season, TFC led at halftime. From 50/50s to clinical play in the final third, Armas’ men were winning all the battles in this feisty affair. Toronto’s attacking intent was notably seen by their efforts to limit play at the back and send the ball forward as soon as they regained possession.

There was one change at halftime for the Reds as Pozuelo was surprisingly substituted for Noble Okello due to a tight hamstring. Another change was made on the 58th minute for the same reason as TFC’s goalscorer, Osorio, made way for Justin Morrow.

After a slow start to the second half, Nashville got their leveller a minute after the hour mark as Jack Maher headed home from a corner to bag the first MLS goal of his career. The home side almost took the lead minutes later via a Lovitz free-kick, but Westberg’s fingers were there to tip the ball onto the bar.

In the 70th minute, Randall Leal put Mukhtar clean through on goal, only for the German forward to be denied by Westberg yet again. Moments later, TFC’s goalkeeper added another save to his tally, this time grabbing hold of a header from Johnstone following a Nashville set-piece.

Pozuelo’s absence was glaringly obvious as Toronto continued to struggle offensively. Auro Jr. came close to putting TFC back in front with 15 minutes left to play, but the full-back just couldn’t get close enough to Laryea’s driven pass from the edge of the area.

With 10 minutes to go, TFC needed something special, and they got it from substitute Patrick Mullins. Michael Bradley’s corner found Mullins at the near post, whose header glided past Joe Willis to re-establish Toronto’s lead.

This game couldn’t get any more dramatic right? Wrong.

Moments after Mullins’ goal, Godoy’s cross into the box found C.J Sapong, who brought the ball down for Luke Haakenson to smash past Westberg and equalize for Nashville.

With the final whistle looming, TFC capitulated in the first minute of injury time as Hakkenson fired home for his second of the game and ultimately the winner.

A lacklustre display in the latter stages of the game will undeniably overshadow TFC’s bright performance in the first half. Pozuelo yet again showed how valuable he is to this Toronto squad, but the rest of the squad’s failure to close out a game for the second time in four days has resulted in yet another low this season.

Armas and co. will now turn their focus to Saturday’s must-win encounter with Cincinnati.