Cincinnati holds off late Toronto FC charge for its first-ever victory at BMO Field

Toronto FC forward Ifunanyachi Achara (99) picks up a yellow card as he fouls FC Cincinnati midfielder Alvaro Barreal (31) during second half MLS action against Toronto FC in Toronto, Saturday, April 30, 2022. (CP)

TORONTO – Ian Murphy and Luciano Acosta scored goals and FC Cincinnati held off a late Toronto FC charge for a 2-1 win in MLS play Saturday.

The victory was the first in three career visits to BMO Field by Cincinnati, which has recorded three of its 17 career league wins over TFC. Cincinnati bent but didn't break in five minutes of frantic stoppage time as Toronto charged hard for the tying goal.

Jesus Jiminez scored his seventh of the season for TFC, whose three-game home win streak was snapped.

Toronto (3-4-2) was coming off a 5-4 loss to New York City in a wild game at Citi Field that saw TFC pull ahead 2-0 only to concede the next five goals. That defeat snapped Toronto's four-game unbeaten streak (3-0-1).

TFC has yet to keep a clean sheet this season. Its last league shutout was 18 games ago — a 0-0 draw at Colorado last September.

Saturday's game was the opener of a rare back-to-back league series. The teams meet again next Wednesday on "Star Wars Night" at Cincinnati's TQL Stadium.

Cincinnati (3-5-1) was winless in its previous four league games (0-3-1), but two of those losses — against CF Montreal and Los Angeles FC — were by one goal and it did beat the Pittsburgh Riverhounds 2-0 in U.S. Open Cup play during that run. 

Murphy, a rookie defender, put the visitors ahead in the 44th minute, punishing Toronto for some sloppy defending. It started when Mexican centre back Carlos Salcedo's attempted pass to goalkeeper Alex Bono squibbed into touch. The ensuing corner went deep to Cincinnati's Junior Moreno, who drove it back into the box.

Former TFC defender Nick Hagglund rose high and headed the ball to an unmarked Murphy, who chested the ball down and fired it past Bono for his first career MLS goal. 

It marked Cincinnati's lone shot on target in the half, compared to two for Toronto. And it was more proof of TFC's difficulties defending set pieces.

Acosta doubled the lead in the 52nd minute when Toronto failed to defend a throw-in in its own end. With Dominique Badji occupying several Toronto defenders, the ball landed at the feet of an unmarked Acosta whose shot beat Bono to the corner.

The goal came on Cincinnati's second shot on target.

Jimenez cut the lead to 2-1 in the 65th minute as Toronto pressed. After Cincinnati failed to clear the ball, Michael Bradley's cross found defender Shane O'Neill, who headed the ball over to Jiminez. The Spanish striker, who had been a bit player earlier in the game, acrobatically twisted his body to get a foot to the ball.  

The visitors came close on a counter-attack in stoppage time, but Bono and Bradley snuffed out the attack.

Toronto forward Ayo Akinola came off the bench in the 74th minute, his first appearance since injuring his knee last July playing for Canada at the Gold Cup.

Obinna Nwobodo, Cincinnati's new designated player, made his MLS debut off the bench in the 67th minute. The Nigerian midfielder arrived this week from Turkey's Goztepe SK.

Cincinnati did not look like an Eastern Conference lightweight in an even first half in front of an announced crowd of 23,591 on a sunny 12-degree Celsius afternoon at the lakefront.

Brazilian forward Brenner came close in the 16th minute, sending a shot wide of the Toronto goal after Cincinnati pressure forced TFC back into its own end before losing the ball.

At the other end, teenage attacking midfielder Jayden Nelson was lively for Toronto.

Toronto lost defender Chris Mavinga in the 29th minute with the French-born Congolese international favouring a leg. That promoted a switch in formation, moving to a back four from a three-man backline.

Toronto threatened in the 42nd minute but Luca Petrasso's low cross failed to find a TFC boot as it skimmed through the penalty area.

The home side came close in the 77th minute but Jimenez and Bradley could not put the ball away as it bobbled in front of goal.

Prior to kickoff, Toronto honoured midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who made his 300th appearance for the club in all competitions last week. 

The game marked the return of Hagglund, a fan favourite during five seasons with Toronto. It marked his first time playing at BMO field since being traded to his hometown cub in January 2019. 

Hagglund arrived as Cincinnati's leader in minutes played (4,699 in the regular season) and all-time appearances (63). He ranked second in starts (51).

Cincinnati, which came into the game with a career 2-4-0 record against Toronto, had just three wins in its previous 33 league outings (3-22-8) dating back to the start of July 2021. One of those victories was a 2-0 decision over Toronto last September.

Cincinnati was without the injured Ray Gaddis, Ronald Matarrita, Tyler Blackett, Allan Cruz, Alec Kann and Yuya Kubo. Leading scorer Brandon Vazquez came off the bench in the 67th minute in his return from injury.

In the absence of Kann, rookie Roman Celentano made his second MLS start in goal. The 21-year-old from Indiana University, the No. 2 overall selection in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft, made six saves — tied for fifth-most in a game in club history in last week's loss to LAFC.

Bob Bradley made one change to his starting lineup with Nelson returning from suspension in place of the injured Jacob Shaffelburg.

Toronto was missing Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Noble Okello and Deandre Kerr. Ralph Priso, after being sidelined by a lower body injury, made the bench.

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