ORLANDO, Fla. — Toronto FC was eliminated from MLS playoff contention with a whimper Saturday, outclassed in a lopsided 4-0 loss to Orlando City.
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.
Toronto (9-16-7) 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.
Toronto also missed the playoffs in 2021 when the club finished 26th in the then-27-team league with a 6-18-10 record. 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 with coach Bob Bradley, who took over last November, overseeing an overhaul of the roster that is likely to continue in the off-season.
TFC's playoff elimination is bad news for Canada coach John Herdman, given it means that defenders Richie 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, which wraps up the season at home to Inter Miami on Sept. 30 and away at Philadelphia on Oct. 9, entered weekend play in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, six places and seven points below the playoff line.
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.
Orlando also becomes the first team in MLS hutory 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.
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.
Before the recent slide, Toronto had lost just one of its previous seven (4-1-2), a run that coincided with the arrival of Italian stars Insigne and Federico 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 fellow Italian Domenico 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.
Bernardeschi had a chance in the 35th minute but fired his shot wide. Insigne dropped back at times in search of the ball but was a peripheral figure for much of the match.
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.
Toronto has not travelled well this season, with a 2-10-4 record on the road. Orlando, meanwhile, has a league-worst eight home losses this season (8-8-0) at Exploria Stadium which TFC called home for a while during the pandemic.
Before this season, Orlando had lost just eight of its previous 38 league matches (18-8-12) at home dating back to May 2019.
Orlando was missing injured forward Alexander Pato and defender Robin Jansson. Akindele came off the Orlando bench in the 80th minute.
Orlando is now unbeaten in six meetings (4-0-2) with Toronto after winning just two of the previous 11 matchups (2-8-1). Orlando prevailed 1-0 when they met July 14 at BMO Field, thanks to a stoppage-time header by substitute Kyle Smith off a corner.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17, 2022
The Canadian Press