Alejandro Pozuelo scores twice, Toronto FC defeats Fire

Chicago Fire FC’s Xherdan Shaqiri fights for possession with Toronto FC’s Kosi Thompson during first-half MLS soccer action in Toronto on Saturday, May 28, 2022. (Jon Blacker/CP)

TORONTO — Two late goals by Alejandro Pozuelo gave Toronto FC a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Fire in MLS play Saturday, snapping TFC’s six-game winless streak.

Pozuelo had missed the last three games with a lower body injury but returned with a bang in an entertaining end-to-end contest before 25,906 at BMO Field.

The winner came in the 78th minute with the Chicago defence stalled as Jayden Nelson fed Pozuelo, who curled a ball off the crossbar into the goal from the edge of the penalty box for his fourth of the season.

Deandre Kerr scored early for Toronto before Carlos Teran answered for Chicago seven minutes into the second half. Kacper Przybylko’s 66th-minute goal gave Chicago a 2-1 lead before referee Guido Gonzales Jr. handed Toronto a lifeline, pointing to the penalty spot after video review.

Chicago defender Miguel Navarro had bodied Pozuelo to the ground on the edge of the box and the review showed Pozuelo had a foot in the area. Pozuelo slotted home the spot kick in the 71st minute.

Toronto (4-7-3) had gone 0-5-1 in its previous six league outings although it posted a 2-1 road win over HFX Wanderers in Canadian Championship quarterfinal play Tuesday. Its last league victory was April 16, a 2-1 decision over the visiting Philadelphia Union.

Chicago (2-7-5) is now winless in 10 (0-7-3), enduring its third double-digit winless run in a single season (both previous slides came in 2011 with 11 straight from April-June and 10 straight from June-August).

TFC is unbeaten in 14 matches (11-0-3) against the Fire dating back to September 2015. It marks the longest unbeaten run against a single opponent in Toronto’s MLS history, equalling the league regular-season record (a mark achieved four times). 

Chicago started brightly with Swiss star Xherdan Shaqiri pulling the strings in attack.

And things looked bleak for Toronto in the 12th minute when midfielder Jonathan Osorio was substituted, slowly making his way to the bench around the outside of pitch. But as he reached the south goal, there was something to celebrate as Kerr fired a shot through a defender’s legs and past 18-year-old goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina for a 1-0 lead in the 13th minute.

Luca Petrasso and Jesus Jimenez set up the play with Jimenez drawing the attention of the defence before slotting the ball over to the 19-year-old Kerr for his second of the season.

Toronto hasn’t held MLS opposition scoreless in a club-record 22 straight matches. Its last shutout was a 0-0 draw at Colorado on Sept. 25, 2021. 

The initial word on Osorio was “lower body discomfort.” The 29-year-old midfielder, who was making his first start since April 30 due to a lower body injury, is slated to join Canada in Vancouver next week for CONCACAF Nations League games against Curacao and Honduras.

Lukas MacNaughton came on in place of Shane O’Neill to open the second half.

Chicago tied it up in the second half. Shaqiri looped a cross back into the box and the six-foot-two Teran outjumped the six-foot Carlos Salcedo to head the ball home,

A Chicago goal in the 55th minute was waved off after video review due to offside. Jairo Torres, a young designated player from Mexico making his first MLS start, had knocked a rebound home after a diving Quentin Westberg saved a deflected shot.

The visitors kept up the pressure as the second half wore on. And Chicago went ahead after Shaqiri sent in a cross that Gaston Gimenez headed back to Przybylko to knock home.

Westberg made his first MLS start in the Toronto goal this season, ending Alex Bono’s run of 13 league starts in 2022. Westberg, who started Tuesday in the Canadian Championship game in Halifax, showed off his pinpoint distribution throughout Saturday’s game.

Coach Bob Bradley had hinted at keeping Westberg in goal, saying in the buildup to the game he had always planned on giving the other ‘keeper a run at some point. He made five changes to the Halifax lineup, with designated players Pozuelo and Salcedo returning to the starting 11.

Toronto wore customized “Primeblue” uniforms made out of recycled materials as part of a leaguewide initiative to raise awareness around plastic waste on land and in water.

Shaqiri showed his pedigree early Saturday, rolling a pass through Toronto defender Kosi Thompson’s legs. And midway through the half he carved open Toronto’s defence with a pass to Federico Navarro, whose shot misfired.

The Swiss star led all players with 49 touches in a first half that saw Chicago outshoot Toronto 6-2 but fail to put any of those shots on target.

Shaqiri played for FC Basel, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Stoke City, Liverpool and Lyon before signing with Chicago in February. At US$8.153 million, the 30-year-old is the highest-paid player in MLS this season — at least until Italian star Lorenzo Insigne joins Toronto in July. 

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