ORLANDO, Fla. — Eight games into the MLS season, Toronto FC has one win and is still shooting itself in the foot.
But Toronto looked to have dug itself out of its latest hole Saturday night when goals by Ayo Akinola and Jonathan Osorio rescued it from a nightmarish start that saw Orlando City SC lead 2-0 after just eight minutes.
Toronto regained its equilibrium and had the better chances as the game wore on. But another defensive blunder set the scene for Junior Urso's 84th-minute goal and a 3-2 Orlando win.
"It's frustrating," said Osorio. "All the more frustrated because we were the better team on the field today I think by far. Three goals that were three mistakes really."
"We gave away some goals today," echoed coach Chris Armas.
Toronto (1-5-2) looked headed to a tie until Brazilian fullback Auro's poor cross-field pass went straight to Urso, who played a give-and-go with Chris Mueller before slotting a low shot past Quentin Westberg at the near post.
Armas looked for positives in the wake of another painful loss, praising his team for its fightback.
"Like I told them, I'll figure this out. I'm going to figure this out," he said. "Because we have the pieces, we have enough ...There's more than enough there."
Emotions also ran high on the Orlando side of the field. The team has been mourning the death of the father of Argentine defender Rodrigo Schlegel.
"Rodri, that's for you bro," Urso said to the camera as he hugged teammates after the match. "We are together. We are family, bro."
"We dedicate this triumph to him, his family and also the people who have been dealing with this COVID," said Orlando coach Oscar Pareja.
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 by Tesho Akindele in the first minute and Nani in the eighth minute in a rude welcome to Westberg, making his season debut for TFC.
Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo, making his first start of the season, lost the ball at midfield 35 seconds into the game. Four passes later the ball was in the Toronto net.
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.
After scoring, Akindele pointed to the black armband he and the other Orlando players were wearing and then pointed to the sky.
"Obviously when you're around people so much, it becomes like a family. So when Rodrigo is hurting, we are all hurting," he said after the match.
Akindele also scored in Orlando's 1-0 win over Toronto on May 22.
Toronto rallied after the early strike and pressured the Orlando defence. 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.
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.
TFC had chances to go ahead but could not convert. In the 56th minute, a clever free kick 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 hit 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. Westberg was late arriving at training camp due to a family matter, opening the door to Bono.
"He's a top goalkeeper ... He's going to get a good rhythm. He's going to get himself going here," Armas said of Westberg.
TFC came into the game ranked 26th in the 27-team league on defence, conceding 1.71 goals a game. Five of the 15 goals conceded this season have come in the first 15 minutes of play.
Toronto is 2-7-3 in all competitions this season and is 15 points behind New England, the Eastern Conference leader. On the plus side, it has a chance to right the ship Wednesday with a game in Nashville.
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.
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.
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