German forward puts his hand up, but TFC still shooting itself in the foot on defence

Toronto FC's search for a forward to complement Italian stars Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi continues as the MLS transfer window nears its close.

But Prince Owusu, who accounted for both goals off the bench in a 3-2 loss at Charlotte FC on Saturday, has put up his hand in the interim.

The 27-year-old German, who arrived in early August on a free transfer from German second-tier side SSV Jahn Regensburg, pulled Toronto even at 1-1 four minutes after coming on at halftime.

Owusu, who has split forward duties with 21-year-old Canadian Deandre Kerr, timed his run perfectly to stay onside before extending his left leg to knock home a Bernardeschi cross from close range.

Owusu was in the right place at the right time to tie it at 2-2 in the 78th minute, converting Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty's deflected cross after a marauding run from Bernardeschi.

"When I'm in front of the goal I don't think much. I just do it," Owusu said when he was introduced in Toronto last summer. "I don't get stressed quickly. And I think that's part of my quality. Because if you're a striker, you always have to have (a) cold, calm mind in every situation. Because as a striker you can score any time, any second."

Toronto (3-4-1) badly needs such clinical finishing, entering weekend play tied with Charlotte for 25th in offence with just six goals in its first seven games.

Toronto coach John Herdman has liked what he's seen from Owusu on and off the field.

"He's been an outstanding professional over the last three, four weeks as we've given opportunities to different players," Herdman said. "He certainly took his opportunity."

While Herdman applauded both Owusu and his team's resolve in clawing its way back twice, he cringed at its "self-destruct moments." Owusu's goals were cancelled out when TFC conceded an 85th-minute winner.

Criminal, soul-destroying, mind-blowing, unprofessional, disappointing and sloppy were among the words used by Herdman post-game.

"It's where we're at," he said. "As a manager there's things you can coach, there's things you can organize … but there's just some things that are going to take time for this team to understand, learn. And we've going to have to go through these tough moments."

All thee Charlotte goals were hard to watch in the Toronto camp.

The first came from a failed clearance and the second from midfielder Alonso Coello's giveaway.

The third saw Toronto fall asleep after clearing a corner. The ball went to an unmarked Brecht Dejaegere in acres of space on the right flank. Under no pressure, the Belgian midfielder fired in a low cross that six-foot-four substitute Patrick Agyemang knocked in after outmuscling two defenders in front of goal.

After opening the season with three straight shutouts, Toronto has now conceded 10 goals in its last three games, losing 3-1 to Sporting Kansas City and 4-0 at Vancouver prior to Saturday.

Toronto has been outscored 10-3 during the slide, despite leading the opposition each game in XG (expected goals) with a 4.6 to 3.5 edge in total.

While TFC has led the opposition in crosses (33-21) over the three-game stretch, it has been outshot 42-28 (22-9 in shots on target).

Its feel-good 2-0-1 start has been replaced with a sense of deja vu in a 1-4-0 run. Injuries have not helped with TFC missing six players Saturday, including Insigne and Richie Laryea.

With the primary transfer window closing April 23, Herdman says the club has "a pot of money" earmarked for forward help.

“We can’t Band-Aid this and we can’t just panic-buy,” said Herdman. “I’d rather just be patient and see what comes up in the summer (transfer) window."

And with the league reportedly looking at tweaking roster rules, there may be an advantage to holding off.

Owusu said the latest loss left the team "disappointed, angry and sad."

"But it's part of the game. Football can be really beautiful. And also really really tough and hard. I think we deserved one point today. Charlotte punished us … they took advantage of their momentum. We had (some) momentum before on our side. But we didn't use it. If you don't use it in an away game, especially in Charlotte, you get punished."

Charlotte (3-3-2) improved to 3-0-1 this season at Bank of America Stadium.

Owusu, who at six foot three is a big target, leads the team with three goals in eight games this season (four starts).

"I was really happy with his threat in the box," said Herdman. "I thought tonight he was in the right spaces at the right time and just showed a different desire to score.

"So a real big step for him."

In addition to Owusu and Kerr, Toronto also has Canadians Ayo Akinola and Jordan Perruzza and South African Cassius Mailula at forward.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 14, 2024.

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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press