Toronto FC recovers from nightmarish start but concedes late goal in Orlando loss

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Taking advantage of a defensive blunder, Junior Urso's 84th-minute goal lifted Orlando City SC to a 3-2 win over Toronto FC in MLS play Saturday.

Brazilian fullback Auro's poor cross-field pass went straight to the Orlando midfielder, who played a give-and-go with Chris Mueller before slotting a low shot past Quentin Westberg at the near post.

Goals by Ayo Akinola and Jonathan Osorio had looked to rescue Toronto from a nightmarish start that saw Orlando goals by Tesho Akindele and Nani.

Both teams looked sloppy after the international break and it made for a wild opening on a steamy night at Exploria Stadium. Orlando (4-1-3) went ahead on goals in the first and eighth minute in a rude welcome to Westberg, making his season debut for TFC.

Toronto (1-5-2) pulled one back in the 10th and tied it at 2-2 with a goal in the 39th minute. And it had chances to go ahead but could not convert with Alejandro Pozuelo having one of the best chances, hitting the goalpost in the 77th minute.

Substitute Dom Dwyer had a chance to tie it in stoppage time but sent Pozuelo's perfect cross over the crossbar.

The game ended with some bad blood with several shoving matches breaking out after Toronto captain Michael Bradley objected to a tackle by Nani.

Toronto and Orlando had been out of action since May 29 when they suffered 2-1 losses to Columbus and the New York Red Bulls, respectively. The loss to the Red Bulls snapped Orland's six-game (3-0-3) unbeaten start to the season.

Toronto has now lost three straight and is winless in four (0-3-1). Five points in its first eight games represents the club's second-worst start to a season in MLS after 2019 when it lost its first nine outings.

Alex Bono, who had started the previous 11 games in all competitions this season, gave way to Westberg, the club's No. 1 in 2019 and '20. In a pre-game interview, coach Chris Armas said "a little bit of a different ingredient could spark the team in some way."

Instead it proved to be a nightmare start for Toronto and Westberg.

Pozuelo, making his first start of the season, lost the ball at midfield and Orlando attacked up the middle with Uruguayan designated player Mauricio Pereyra's through ball finding Akindele between the centre backs. The Canadian international slotted a shot through Westberg's legs for his third of the season and the 40th of his MLS career.

Akindele also scored in Orlando's 1-0 win over Toronto on May 22.

Toronto rallied after the early strike and pressured the Orlando area. But another giveaway, this time by Mark Delgado, led to another Orlando attack. Toronto defender Chris Mavinga broke up the play and sent a back pass to Westberg. Normally skilled with his feet, an indecisive Westberg was unable to corral the ball and Dutch winger Silvester van der Water retrieved it.

The ball went to Akindele and then Nani, who beat the shorter Auro to Akindele's cross and sent a powerful header over Westberg.

TFC came into the game ranked 26th in the 27-team league on defence, conceding 1.71 goals a game. Five of the first 14 goals it conceded this season came in the first 15 minutes of play.

Toronto answered in the 10th minute. After a patient Toronto buildup, Pozuelo found Richie Laryea in the Orlando penalty box. Goalkeeper Brandon Austin, making his first start for Orlando while on loan from England's Tottenham, stopped Laryea's hard shot from in-close but the ball bounced high and Akinola soared high to beat two defenders and head it in.

Osorio tied it up in the 39th minute, knocking in a Pozuelo setup after the Spanish playmaker dribbled into the penalty box and cut the ball back after a quick Toronto free kick.

Toronto was saved in the 45th minute when a van der Water goal was ruled offside.

Toronto came close to taking a 3-2 lead in the 56th minute on a clever free kick that saw Pozuelo link up with Laryea deep in the Orlando penalty box. Laryea's ball across goal deflected off an Orlando player and appeared headed across the goal-line until fullback Kyle Smith swept in to make the clearance.

Pozuelo, who saw his first action off the bench May 29, returned to the starting lineup after being sidelined by a pre-season thigh injury. Other changes from last time out saw centre back Omar Gonzalez and Osorio move back into the starting 11.

Venezuelan winger Yeferson Soteldo remained out with a thigh injury.

Toronto designated player Jozy Altidore was also missing in action, again. The star striker has been on the outs with the club since a confrontation with Armas after being substituted in the 70th minute of the May 22 loss to Orlando. Toronto says it is in discussions with Altidore's camp on his future with the club.

Orlando got Nani back from suspension. But Peruvian goalkeeper Pedro Gallese and Ecuadorean midfielder Sebas Mendez were away on international duty. And Brazilian fullback Ruan remained out with a lower-body injury.

Forward Daryl Dike, back from a successful loan spell with England's Barnsley, came on for Orlando in the 64th minute. The brother of former TFC forward Bright Dike, Daryl proved to be a handful and Gonzalez was cut after the two big men went for a high ball in stoppage time.

Saturday's contest at Exploria Stadium, empty other than family and friends, was officially a home game for Toronto, which has made Orlando its pandemic home away from home. Fans will be allowed in Tuesday when Orlando hosts the San Jose Earthquakes.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 19, 2021

The Canadian Press

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