Toronto FC feeling the frustration of early-season injuries, blown leads
TORONTO — It's early in the MLS season, but frustration is growing at Toronto FC.
Injuries to key personnel have denied coach Bob Bradley a chance to field his first-choice team. Toronto (0-1-2) has led in all three games but has been unable to hold out for the win.
TFC continues its quest for a first victory of the season Saturday when Inter Miami (2-1-0) comes to BMO Field.
Toronto is winless in its last nine league games (0-6-3) dating back to last season. Its last victory came Aug. 27, a 2-0 decision at Charlotte FC.
Italian star winger Lorenzo Insigne (groin) and Norwegian forward Adama Diomande (hamstring) remain sidelined for Toronto. Defender Shane O'Neill, who has had such issues before, is out with headaches.
Things get worse next week with Toronto losing fullback Richie Laryea, midfielders Jonathan Osorio and Mark-Anthony Kaye and forward Ayo Akinola to Canada, meaning further roster holes for an away game at San Jose.
"Simply put, it doesn't work great that you play over international breaks," Bradley said.
The good news is Akinola is healthy again after missing last week's 1-1 draw with visiting Columbus, having tweaked his hamstring in the 1-1 draw in Atlanta the previous week. And Bradley says the prognosis from a specialist was positive for O'Neill.
Insigne, the league's highest-paid player, did not miss a day in pre-season, but the 31-year-old has not played since hobbling out of the Feb. 25 season opener at D.C. United — a 3-2 loss that saw TFC concede goals in the 90th and 98th minute — after just 34 minutes.
"Frustrating for all of us," said Bradley. "Because of the fact that you felt going through pre-season that he was in a good way."
The club says the Italian is not expected to be available for three to four more matches after undergoing a setback in training last week.
"He reached for a ball (and) felt a little bit of pain," said Bradley. "We decided to check it again and the scan showed that it's aggravated. A similar action to what took place in D.C.
"It's disappointing then 30 minutes in, on a play like that (in D.C), that he feels something," Bradley added. "But we've got to work through in it in a way that we can get him back and keep him on the field."
The injury list has heaped responsibility on Federico Bernardeschi, who has accounted for two of Toronto's four goals this season. The Italian winger has taken 21 per cent of TFC’s total touches in the attacking third, which ranks fifth in the league according to MLS.com.
With its attack depleted, Toronto has been outshot 43-18 (15-10 in shots on target) over the first three games. The 18 shots are the fewest by a team in the first three games of the season since at least 2010, according to the league.
Bernardeschi has taken four of those shots, all on target, but did not manage a shot on goal in last Saturday's 1-1 draw with visiting Columbus.
"In the last game, he was frustrated at the end. But he was also frustrated at himself," said Bradley. "He didn't give as much in that game as he did the previous two games."
Goal chances have been few and far between in the last two contests. Toronto's XG (expected goals) for the last two games was 0.3 and 0.8.
Still, Miami coach Phil Neville expects Toronto to be a difficult opponent.
"I know they've got a couple of players out missing but Bob's a really good coach. He's recruited really well and they'll be desperate, desperate, for their first win of the season. So I think it's going to be a really tough away game."
Miami has won five straight over Toronto since losing the first meeting in 2020. The five TFC losses equal Toronto's longest losing streak against an MLS opponent (Seattle, 2010-13).
Miami got some unwelcome injury news of its own this week with Brazilian midfielder Gregore, the team captain, expected to miss six months after undergoing surgery on a foot injured in a challenge by NYCFC's Matias Pellegrini.
Neville calls Gregore "the heart and soul" of the club.
"We're going to miss him and the team's going to be different … We're going to need everybody to contribute," he added.
It's been an impressive start for Miami, which has conceded just once — an own goal in a 1-0 loss at New York City FC last weekend. Neville's team opened with a pair of 2-0 home wins over CF Montreal and Philadelphia.
Miami forward Josef Martínez has 98 goals in 135 regular-season games, looking to become the fastest player in MLS history to reach the 100-goal milestone. Bradley Wright-Phillips currently holds the record, doing it in 159 games.
Toronto added depth at fullback on Tuesday by claiming defender Cristian Gutierrez.
The 26-year-old Gutierrez joined Whitecaps FC in January 2020 from Chilean side Colo-Colo and made 44 appearances (including 32 starts) across all competitions with six assists. He made US$267,500 last season with Vancouver, with Bradley saying TFC did not pick up his entire salary.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2023.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press