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Preview: Toronto FC hopes to live to see another day in Orlando

The Reds could be officially eliminated from playoff contention if they don’t record victory.

Jayden Nelson eyes the ball in Toronto FC’s last match against Orlando City, a 1-0 loss at BMO Field.
Sean Pollock/Waking The Red

Toronto FC battles Orlando City SC at Exploria Stadium on Saturday, knowing that a loss, and maybe even a draw, could eliminate the club from playoff contention.

A spot in the postseason has seemed distant for weeks now, but the hope still lingered. With two losses on the trot, Toronto FC has put themselves into dangerous territory and will have to win against Orlando to have any chance.

Recent results have helped Toronto make it this far without being ruled out of a playoff position. The Columbus Crew are winless in three and the New England Revolution have lost two in a row.

Though a TFC win is probably delaying the inevitable, it will be important to head coach Bob Bradley as well as supporters that the team give it their all in every match, especially when there is still a chance mathematically.

It was a low-scoring affair the last time Toronto FC met Orlando City back in May. The Reds were shutout in a 1-0 loss at home courtesy of a Kyle Smith header in stoppage time.

TFC travels to Orlando hoping to avoid a first-ever season sweep to the Lions.

Toronto will be without the services of defenders Chris Mavinga and Doneil Henry for the road game. Jonathan Osorio might return to the fold, with the midfielder recovering from his head injury.

A new player will also be joining the Reds ranks’ late in the season. Hugo Mbongue was signed to the senior side from Toronto FC II this past week and the forward has a chance to make his mark in Orlando.

The younger brother of former homegrown talent Ralph Priso inked his deal with Toronto FC on Tuesday and might be given a shot to impress right away. Mbongue has scored four goals to go with six assists in MLS NEXT Pro this season.

With Jesus Jimenez and Ayo Akinola only having scored twice in Toronto’s last 14 MLS matches, Bradley will want to introduce more competition to start matches. Toronto FC’s final three regular season matches can provide Mbongue with the chance to stake his claim for a regular role in the first team for next season.

SOCCER: SEP 10 MLS - Toronto FC at Atlanta United
Ayo Akinola scores his first MLS goal since May in Toronto FC’s last match, a 4-2 defeat to Atlanta United.
Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Orlando City come into Saturday’s contest sitting fifth in the Eastern Conference, but with nothing guaranteed yet. The Lions are only three points above their Floridian rivals Inter Miami in eighth and will aim to bounce back after falling to Atlanta United at home last time out.

The 2022 US Open Cup champions have lost two in a row in the league after winning their previous four matches.

Manager Oscar Pareja will want to see his squad find their form once more as they head into their final four matches. His side has struggled to consistently find the back of the net, scoring the least amount of goals (36) out of the 14 teams currently in a playoff position.

Game Notes

  • Toronto FC has won 36% of matches when Jonathan Osorio plays this season, and 11% when he misses out
  • Toronto FC is winless in five against Orlando (0-3-2)

Predicted Lineups

Orlando City: Gallese; Moutinho, Schlegel, Carlos, Ruan; Araujo, Pereyra; Torres, Urso, Michel, Kara

Toronto FC: Westberg; Criscito, O’Neill, MacNaughton, Laryea; Nelson, Bradley, Kaye; Insigne, Akinola, Bernardeschi

Match Details

Opponent: Orlando City

Kickoff time: 7:30 pm EST

Watch: TSN

Stadium: Exploria Stadium, Orlando, Fla.

Q&A with Ben Miller from The Mane Land

The last time TFC and Orlando met was before the MLS transfer window. What additions has the club made, and have there been any departures?

The club has made three additions in the form of Ivan Angulo, Nicholas Gioacchini, and Wilder Cartagena. Silvester van der Water left on a permanent move back to the Netherlands while Sebas Mendez joined LAFC, also on a permanent move. Matheus Aias also made a permanent move to Racing Santander, although he had not featured prominently in the team like Van der Water or Mendez prior to his departure.

How has winning the US Open Cup changed the mentality of the team when it comes to playing the remaining regular season games?

I think the run to the Open Cup final really helped spark things for what had been a sputtering Orlando City team for most of the summer, with the 5-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls in the semifinal serving as a bit of a turning point. While the Lions lost their next two games following the semi, they then went on a five game winning streak that culminated in the Cup final victory, and gained some much needed momentum in the league. Sure, OCSC then got thumped 5-1 in Philly using a heavily rotated team, but frankly we all kinda saw that coming given Philly’s form and the amount of rotation, and nobody really batted an eye. The cup run and winning streak showed that this team isn’t dead quite yet, and probably still has another gear to find.

If Orlando ends up qualifying for the playoffs, what will be one key strength and weakness of the squad come the post-season?

A big strength would be defence and goalkeeping. For the most part, Orlando has been pretty sound defensively, and that’s even with dealing with absences from Antonio Carlos and Robin Jansson for parts of the year. When the full back line is on the field the Lions tend to be pretty good about not letting too many goals in the back of the net. The weakness has to be scoring goals. The emergence of Facundo Torres has helped on offence a bit lately, but with 36 goals in 29 games the Lions just don’t score all that much. They’ve scored the fewest goals of any team above the Lion at the time of writing (Wednesday) by a fairly comfortable margin, and if teams can shut down Torres and Mauricio Pereyra then it severely hampers Orlando’s ability to create chances. Ivan Angulo has shown some good things and when Ruan is in form he can be a game-breaker, but this team needs more consistent performers across the board to do away with some of the worries about its offence.