Soteldo on the mark as Toronto FC rallies to defeat Chicago Fire

Toronto FC midfielder Marco Delgado (8) celebrates his goal with teammates Yeferson Soteldo (30), Michael Bradley (4) and Omar Gonzalez (44) during first half MLS soccer action against the Chicago Fire, in Toronto, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. (Cole Burston/AP)

Toronto FC is on a roll, unbeaten in five games (4-0-1) in all competitions having outscored the opposition 12-4 along the way.

But the fact that Toronto (6-15-7) remains in 13th place in the MLS Eastern Conference underlines just how big a hole TFC has dug for itself this season.

Still Toronto fans will take what they can. And Sunday’s 3-1 comeback win over the Chicago Fire was welcome viewing to the announced crowd of 7,552 on a wet, grey afternoon at BMO Field.

Yeferson Soteldo led the way, scoring a goal and setting up another. The diminutive Venezuelan designated player had a busy afternoon, earning a yellow card in the ninth minute and missing a penalty in the 26th.

“The team is in a good place mentally. … We scored three and it could have been even more,” said Toronto coach Javier Perez.

“The important part is we are clicking, we are playing as a team and the collective effort takes us to three points and winning games,” the Spaniard added.

Fifteen points out of the playoffs with just 18 points (six games) left on the table, the Toronto season will still go down as massive disappointment. But for now, the club is winning.

Midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who leads the franchise with 285 appearances in all competitions, has seen the good times and bad. No matter which it is, the 29-year-old Toronto native tries to keep it real.

“In this line of work, sometimes when things aren’t going good and, of course, when you’re not winning, you easily forget the blessing that we have — we’re all here doing what we love and we get to do it every day,” said Osorio. “There’s not many people in this world that get to say that. Even more so in the middle of a pandemic when so much has happened to people and their businesses and things like that.

“So when things are bad, we always have to find a way to keep spirits up. And you always have to find a way to be grateful no matter what.

“Of course we’re in a business where winning solves everything … Nowadays we’re winning, so it’s fun,” he added with a smile.

As in the midweek 3-2 triumph over visiting FC Cincinnati, Toronto fell behind and then mounted a comeback. After going 0-14-3 when conceding the first goal this season, TFC has staged winning rallies in two straight games.

And the strikes came quickly against two clubs also mired in the league’s nether regions. Toronto scored three goals in 26 minutes Sunday and three in 17 minutes Wednesday.

Perez helped the comeback, moving Soteldo to the flank in the second half and shifting Ifunanyachi Achara to the tip of the attack. That gave the Venezuelan more room and opportunity to work his magic.

Tied at 1-1, defender Omar Gonzalez put Toronto ahead in the 56th minute, powering home a header off a curling cross from Soteldo after a short corner. The two had also combined on the winning goal Sept. 18 in a 2-1 win over Nashville and their celebration was repeated with the five-foot-three Soteldo jumping into the arms of the six-foot-five Gonzalez.

It was the 10th assist of the season for Soteldo, who missed a penalty in the first half. The 24-year-old, a father of three, said after the match he is feeling more at home in his adopted country now that his family has joined him.

Soteldo made it 3-1 in the 70th minute with his third goal of the season, beating teenage goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina after Osorio’s lovely through ball split the defence. Toronto captain Michael Bradley won the ball to set the stage for the goal.

Mark Delgado also scored for Toronto on Military Appreciation Day.

Robert Beric scored for Chicago (7-16-6) and had another goal — in the 83rd minute — called back for offside.

It marked the first time this season that Toronto has posted back-to-back league wins.

Chicago was coming off a 2-0 victory over New York City FC that snapped a five-game winless run (0-4-1). Despite the victory the Fire axed coach Raphael Wicky, replacing him with assistant coach Frank Klopas on an interim basis. Klopas was the club’s head coach from 2011 to 2013 before taking over Montreal, which fired him in August 2015 following a 2-1 loss to Toronto.

Chicago went ahead in the 16th minute Sunday when Fabian Herbers carved open the Toronto defence with a through ball that found Beric. His shot — Chicago’s first on target — appeared to hit a sliding Bradley and went over Alex Bono at the near post for his fifth goal of the season.

Toronto muffed a chance to pull even in the 26th minute when Slonina saved Soteldo’s penalty kick. Chicago captain Jonathan Bornstein conceded the penalty, called for handball when he slid to stop a Jacob Shaffelburg cross and the ball bounced up and hit his arm.

Shaffelburg may have been offside on the play but it survived video review. It became moot when Slonina guessed right and got his hands on Soteldo’s poorly placed penalty.

Slonina was making his fifth straight start. He earned the midweek victory against NYCFC — at age 17 years 137 days, becoming the youngest ‘keeper in MLS history to record a win.

Delgado, on a cross from Shaffelburg, tied it up in the 44th minute when his shot from just inside the Chicago penalty box deflected off Bornstein past Slonina. It was Delgado’s second goal in as many games and third of the season.

Shaffelburg, who had a goal and two assists midweek, has been on a tear of late. He has scored or assisted on seven of Toronto’s last 12 goals (two goals, five assists).

Not spoiled by choice due to a lengthy injured list, Perez went with the same starting lineup that beat Cincinnati midweek. Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo, the league’s reigning MVP, was on the bench after sitting out the last six games with a lower-body injury. He did not see action.

TFC is now unbeaten in its last 13 games (10-0-3) with Chicago, dating back to Sept. 26, 2015, and is now undefeated in the past 10 meetings at BMO Field.

Toronto does not play again until Oct. 16, at home to Atlanta United.

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