This weekend is likely to slam the door on Toronto FC’s post-season hopes. But rebuilding continues at TFC.
Thirteenth-placed Toronto (9-15-7, 34 points) visit fifth-placed Orlando City (12-12-6, 42 points) on Saturday, with TFC ranked six and in the Eastern Conference. Seven points out of the playoffs and only nine points left on the table from their three remaining regular-season games.
A win for seventh-placed Columbus or a defeat for Toronto are more of a slew of scenarios that would end TFC’s slim hopes. Even a Toronto tie can spell the end.
Toronto coach Bob Bradley sees the big picture.
“We really understand the steps and work to be a good team,” Bradley said, wrapping his knuckles on the desk in front of him to emphasize the point. “It doesn’t start at the start of pre-season and then end at some point when it’s either not going your way or you’re out of contention or whatever. Even on the last whistle of the season. It There is continuity of work, of building a roster, trying to make people better.
“A lot of work has gone into this,” he said. “It’s been challenging but eventually it’s getting us somewhere. It’s just that it doesn’t always go as fast as one would like.”
There was a march out the door after Toronto’s dismal 6–18–10 performance last season, finishing 26th overall in the then-27-team league, with 21 players moving up or retiring. . Major extras such as Italians Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi and Domenico Crissito, as well as Canadians Marc-Anthony Kaye, Richie Laria and Donil Henry, arrived in the middle of the season.
Toronto made another investment in the future this week, signing 18-year-old forward Hugo Mbongue to a domestic contract. Mbongue, younger brother of former TFC midfielder Ralph Prisso, has become the 31st player in club history to sign for the academy’s first team.
And he is the 11th home player – 13 if you include winger Jacob Schaeffelberg and defender Luke Singh, who are currently on loan to Nashville SC and FC Edmonton respectively – on TFC’s current first-team roster.
Bradley called Mbongue a “talented, young player” who impressed in the pre-season.
Orlando, whose roster includes Canadian forward Tesho Akindel, are one point above the playoff line with four games to go.
Orlando has suffered two straight losses after beating Sacramento Republic FC in the final of the US Open Cup, a 5–1 loss to Philadelphia Union last weekend and a 1–0 tour to Atlanta midweek. Orlando had won four straight before the September 7 Cup Final.
“Having lost two games in a row, we have to expect him to focus on the importance of the game at home,” Bradley said. “Orlando is always well organized, a physically strong team. A mix of talents – different types of players, different backgrounds – but a solid, organized always tough opponent.”
Toronto hasn’t traveled well this season with a poor 2-9-4 record on the road. Meanwhile, Orlando suffered a league-worst eight defeat this season (7-8-0) at Exploria Stadium, which TFC briefly called home during the pandemic. Prior to this season, Orlando had lost only eight of their last 38 league matches (18-8-12) at home as of May 2019.
But Orlando is unbeaten in their last five meetings (3-0-2) with Toronto after winning just two of the last 11 matchups (2-8-1). Orlando won 1–0 when they met at BMO Field on July 14, thanks to a stoppage-time header from a corner by substitute Kyle Smith.
TFC have not won three games (0–2–1) and conceded four goals in each of their last two matches, 4–3 by touring Montreal and most recently 4–2 in Atlanta. . The earlier game was a 2–2 tie with the Los Angeles Galaxy, who scored with an 89th-minute goal.
Only three teams in MLS history have won four times in three straight games, most recently FC Cincinnati in October 2021.
Center back Juanzo Purata scored a hat-trick after losing to Atlanta, all headers off the corner.
Prior to the recent slide, Toronto had lost only one of their last seven (4-1-2), a run that coincided with the arrivals of Insigne and Bernardeschi.
Bernardeschi (eight goals and three assists), Insigne (six goals, two assists) and Cristito (one goal) have now scored 18 of the last 22 goals in Toronto’s MLS action, including 12 of the last 14.
Bradley says mistakes and injuries cost Toronto.
“We haven’t had the opportunity to have an extended run of games where you feel, as things are progressing, the same people are available. He becomes a factor. And then I’ll just say, sometimes, at the wrong moments we’ve let ourselves down with some mistakes. ,
Toronto would be without injured defenders Chris Mavinga and Donil Henry. Influential midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who revealed on Thursday he has been battling “neurological dysfunction” since taking an elbow to the head in mid-July, is listed as a suspect. Osorio has missed the last four games.
Orlando will miss injured Brazilian forward Alexandre Pato. Midfielder Cesar Araujo and defender Robin Johnson, both starters, are listed as suspects.
Toronto are currently ranked 24th in the 28-team league and, having already scored 57 goals, are ranked ninth from the franchise’s worst 66 sets last season.
TFC concluded regular season games at Inter Miami on 30 September and Philadelphia on 9 October.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published on September 16, 2022.