Toronto FC eliminated from MLS playoff contention with loss at Orlando City

Toronto FC's Ayo Akinola (right) takes on Orlando City's Robin Jansson during second half MLS action in Toronto, Saturday, May 14, 2022. (Chris Young/CP)

Coach Bob Bradley wielded an axe to the roster in taking over Toronto FC last November in the wake of a dismal 6-18-10 season.

Expect more changes after Toronto (9-16-7) was eliminated from MLS playoff contention with a whimper Saturday, outclassed in a 4-0 loss to Orlando City SC. Toronto, in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, is seven points below the playoff line with only six points available from its two remaining games.

Facundo Torres and Ercan Kara gave Orlando a 2-0 lead by the midway point of the first half. A Toronto own goal by Lukas MacNaughton made it 3-0 early in the second half before Canadian Tesho Akindele rubbed salt in the wound with a goal off the bench in the 84th minute as the Toronto defence was cut open again.

Orlando outshot Toronto 18-11 (7-3 in shots on target) and was in control throughout.

Toronto came into the game knowing a loss at Exploria Stadium would eliminate it from playoff contention, with a tie also ending post-season hopes depending on results elsewhere.

After the game, Bradley seem to suggest not everyone was on the same page.

“There are certain guys you can always count on. They never stop trying to keep going to win balls, play forward. But all in all, not good enough and a really bad night,” he said. “And obviously with all the challenges of the year, we kept trying to see if we could find something at the end to keep going.

“That’s what we talked about before the game but we weren’t able to do it.”

The off-season saw 21 members of TFC’s first team from 2021 move on. Fullback Richie Laryea subsequently returned on loan from England’s Nottingham Forest with defender Luke Singh (FC Edmonton) and winger Jacob Shaffelburg (Nashville SC) going out on loan.

Toronto needs help up the spine with Bradley, who doubles as the team’s sporting director, likely looking to improve in goal, defence and up front. Depth in midfield is also needed.

Toronto also missed the playoffs in 2021 when the club finished 26th in the then-27-team league. TFC finished second overall in the league in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season at 13-5-5 but was ousted by Nashville in the first round of the 2020 playoffs.

Before that, Toronto made it to the MLS Cup final in 2016, ’17 and 19, winning the title over Seattle in 2017.

But the glory days are far behind the club.

TFC’s playoff elimination is bad news for Canada coach John Herdman, given it means that defenders Laryea and Doneil Henry and midfielders Jonathan Osorio and Mark-Anthony Kaye will be idle at club level after the regular-season finale Oct. 9. The World Cup kicks off Nov. 20 in Qatar.

Laryea, Osorio and Kaye are headed to Europe to join Canada for exhibition games against Qatar and Uruguay during the coming FIFA international window. Henry is nursing a hamstring issue.

Toronto wraps up the season at home to Inter Miami on Sept. 30 and away at Philadelphia on Oct. 9.

TFC is winless in four games (0-3-1) and has now given up four goals in each of its last three outings, beaten 4-3 by visiting Montreal and 4-2 most recently in Atlanta. The game before that was a 2-2 tie with the visiting Los Angeles Galaxy, who secured the point with an 89th-minute goal. 

Toronto becomes just the fourth team in MLS history to have conceded four goals in three straight games, most recently done by FC Cincinnati in October 2021. 

Asked about the recent slide, Bradley pointed to mistakes and an inability to field a consistent team personnel-wise through injury.

It’s been a roller-coaster season with star defender Carlos Salcedo returning to Mexico in July and Italian stars Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi and Domenico Criscito joining midseason.

“It’s been a hard year, obviously,” said captain Michael Bradley, Bob’s son. “A lot of different things to deal with in so many ways.

“We still absolutely believe that the work to be done to become a really good team is ongoing every single day,” he added. “And we’re going to use every moment we have to try to keep pushing ourselves forward.”

Orlando (13-12-6) started the day in fifth place in the East. The shutout was its ninth of the season, setting a single-season club record.

The home side started brightly and Torres put Orlando ahead in the ninth minute with goalkeeper Quentin Westberg rooted to the spot as the 22-year-old Uruguayan’s dipping shot from the edge of the penalty box flew past him for his seventh of the season.

Kara doubled the lead in the 22nd minute after a perfect pass from Mauricio Pereyra put him behind the Toronto defence. The Austrian forward outpaced MacNaughton and beat Westberg with his left-footed shot for his 10th goal of the season. It was Pereyra’s 10th assist of the campaign, tying his career high.

Kara becomes the eighth Orlando player to reach double digits in goals in a season. Others to do it include Canadians Cyle Larin and Akindele and former TFC forward Dom Dwyer.

“Facu, Ercan, they’re here to score goals. And we’ve very happy to have them,” said Orlando coach Oscar Pareja.

Orlando also becomes the first team in MLS history to have at least one 10-goal scorer in each of the club’s first eight regular seasons.

Torres hit the Toronto goalpost in the 42nd minute with Westberg beaten. Orlando outshot Toronto 9-2 (3-0 in shots on target) in the first half. 

It went from bad to worse for Toronto in the 47th minute when MacNaughton deflected Joao Moutinho’s cross into the Toronto goal. TFC has now conceded 61 goals this season, the fourth-most in franchise history.

Adding to MacNaughton’s pain was a late yellow card which will force him to sit next time out.

Toronto’s first shot on target came in the 61st minute, a Jesus Jimenez shot that went straight at Peruvian goalkeeper Pedro Gallese. A minute later Gallese stopped Lorenzo Insigne’s header.

Gallese got an arm in front of a Jiminez shot late in the game to preserve the shutout.

Before the recent slide, Toronto had lost just one of its previous seven (4-1-2), a run that coincided with the arrival of Insigne and Bernardeschi. 

Insigne, who missed last weekend’s loss in Atlanta due to what the club called a “personal family situation,” returned to the Toronto lineup. Bradley also slotted in Kosi Thompson with Jayden Nelson and Noble Okello shifting to the bench.

Osorio, who had missed the last four matches with a “neurological dysfunction” after taking an elbow to the head in a July 13 game with Chicago, entered the game in the 72nd minute — his first action since Aug. 20.

Bernardeschi (eight goals and three assists), Insigne (six goals, two assists) and Criscito (one goal) had been involved in 18 of Toronto’s last 22 goals in MLS action before Saturday, including 12 of the last 14.

Orlando had lost two straight since beating second-tier Sacramento Republic FC in the Sept. 7 final of the U.S. Open Cup, losing 5-1 last weekend at the Philadelphia Union and 1-0 mid-week to visiting Atlanta. Orlando had won four straight before its Cup triumph.

Orlando is now unbeaten in six meetings (4-0-2) with Toronto after winning just two of the previous 11 matchups (2-8-1).

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