TORONTO — One step forward, two back for Toronto FC.
Toronto dug itself a hole with a sloppy defense on Saturday before mounting a late charge that fizzled in a 2-1 loss to injury-ravaged FC Cincinnati.
Ian Murphy and Luciano Acosta scored for Cincinnati in front of an announced crowd of 23,591 on a sunny, 12-degree Celsius lakeside afternoon. Jesus Jimenez scored his seventh of the season for TFC, whose three-game home winning streak was snapped.
Cincinnati (3-5-1) folded but didn’t break in five minutes of frantic stoppage time as Toronto (3-4-2) charged hard for the tying goal. The teams meet on Wednesday for “Star Wars Night” at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati.
The victory was the first in three career visits to BMO Field in Cincinnati, which has won just 17 games in its four seasons in MLS, including three against Toronto.
Saturday’s contest was nothing short of beautiful. Cincinnati only managed two shots on target (to Toronto’s three) but took advantage of what the TFC gave them.
When asked if his team made life difficult for themselves, Toronto coach Bob Bradley replied, “We sure did.”
“The pace was too slow, which played into Cincinnati’s game plan. We didn’t move the ball fast enough, we didn’t move forward fast enough.”
“Those are two bad goals to give up today,” he added. “(We had) a push late in the game. It’s a bit too crazy the way we’re trying to get the next goal. So, yeah, there’s a lot to watch.”
Toronto has now lost two in a row after a four-game (3-0-1) unbeaten streak.
“As a team, I always think we need to be more consistent,” Bradley said. “So finding the right way to get our best guys to play at their best is one of the most important aspects of building a good team.
“I think we’ve had moments this year where it’s going in the right direction, but I still think overall that’s our biggest challenge.”
While the team showed flashes of attacking flair, it was often an adventure in defence.
Toronto was coming off a 5-4 loss to New York in a wild game at Citi Field that saw TFC take a 2-0 lead to concede the next five goals. The TFC has yet to keep a clean sheet this season. His last league shutout was 18 games – a 0-0 draw at Colorado last September.
Cincinnati was winless in its last four league games (0-3-1), but two of those losses – to CF Montreal and Los Angeles FC – were by one goal and it beat the Pittsburgh Riverhounds 2- 0 in the US Open Cup. during this race.
Cincinnati entered the game with just three wins in their previous 33 league outings (3-22-8) dating back to July 2021. One of those wins was a 2-0 decision against Toronto last September.
Murphy, a rookie defender, put the visitors ahead in the 44th minute. The game started when Mexican centre-back Carlos Salcedo’s attempted pass to goalkeeper Alex Bono was called off. The ensuing corner went deep to Cincinnati’s Junior Moreno, who brought it back into the box.
Former TFC defender Nick Hagglund rose and headed the ball towards an unmarked Murphy, who twisted the ball and fired it past Bono for his first career MLS goal.
It was further evidence of TFC’s struggles to defend from set pieces this season.
Acosta doubled the lead in the 52nd minute when Toronto failed to defend a throw-in in its own zone. With Dominique Badji occupying several Toronto defenders, the ball landed in the feet of an undercover Acosta whose shot beat Bono for a corner.
Jimenez cut the lead to 2-1 in the 65th minute as Toronto pressed. After Cincinnati failed to clear the ball, Michael Bradley’s cross found defender Shane O’Neill, who headed the ball towards Jimenez. The Spanish striker, who had been a bit of a player earlier in the game, acrobatically twisted his body to put his foot on the ball.
Toronto edged Cincinnati 11-6 (3-2 on shots on target) and had 65.6 percent possession.
“I was really happy, until their goal, with the way we played and managed the moments of the match to have quality in the future, to have some confidence playing with the ball on the ground”, said Cincinnati coach Pat Noonan. “And defensively, I think we did a good job against a team that knows how to move the ball well and has quality in the middle to be able to cause problems.”
Toronto forward Ayo Akinola came off the bench in the 74th minute, his first appearance since injuring his knee last July while playing for Canada at the Gold Cup.
Obinna Nwobodo, Cincinnati’s new Designated Player, made his MLS debut on the bench in the 67th minute. The Nigerian midfielder arrived this week from Turkey’s Goztepe SK.
Toronto lost defender Chris Mavinga in the 29th minute, with the French-born Congo international favoring one leg. This encouraged a change in formation, moving to a back four from a back line three.
Before kick-off, Toronto honored midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who made his 300th appearance for the club in all competitions last week.
Cincinnati was without injured Ray Gaddis, Ronald Matarrita, Tyler Blackett, Allan Cruz, Alec Kann and Yuya Kubo. Top scorer Brandon Vazquez came off the bench in the 67th minute on his return from injury.
In Kann’s absence, rookie Roman Celentano made his second MLS start in goal.
Toronto was missing Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Noble Okello and Deandre Kerr.
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This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 30, 2022.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press