Toronto FC’s playoff hopes die after awful effort in Orlando


It’s the second season in a row where the Reds have failed to qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs, the first time that has happened since 2014.

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All in all, it was a Mickey Mouse performance by Toronto FC in the land of Disney on Saturday night.

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The Reds arrived at Exploria Stadium in Orlando in desperate need of a victory in order to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Instead, they were blown out of the water, losing 4-0.

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For a team playing with its back against the wall, trying to make a playoff spot, the Reds didn’t look particularly desperate. Disinterested would probably be the better word. The loss eliminated Toronto from playoff contention. TFC (9W 16L 7D) has two games remaining and sits seven points outside of a playoff spot. It’s the second season in a row where the Reds have failed to qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs, the first time that has happened since 2014.

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Instead of going on a charge the last few games in an effort to climb up the Eastern Conference table, TFC has lost three straight (giving up 12 goals during that stretch) — becoming the fourth team in MLS history to concede four or more goals in three straight games.

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“All in all, not good enough, and a really bad night and obviously with all the challenges of the year we kept trying to see if we could find something at the end to keep going,” said TFC coach Bob Bradley. “In this (losing) stretch, we talked about our goalkeeping. It hasn’t been as good as it needs to be if you’re going to make a real run. And then the number of guys that you can count on every game to make the right choices, make the right plays, compete at the highest level… we still need to add to the group.”

Undoubtedly TFC’s front office will make changes to the roster in the off-season. It has to. The current Toronto lineup has some top-flight players at certain positions, but there is a lack of quality at other spots and a lack of depth.

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In the first half of the 2022 season, there were too many games in which Bradley was forced to start too many youngsters because of injuries and the fact that some key players didn’t join the team until the summer. By the time the three Italians — Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi and Domenico Criscito — joined the club in July, TFC was already behind the eight ball in terms of challenging for a playoff spot.

In Saturday’s match, Facundo Torres and Ercan Kara put Orlando ahead 2-0 in the first half and the home side jumped ahead 3-0 on a Toronto own goal in the second. Canadian international Tesho Akindele scored late in the game to rub Toronto’s nose in it. While TFC held an edge in possession (56%-44%), the Lions fired 18 shots to 11 by Toronto and the home side managed seven shots on goal to three by the Reds.

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Insigne was back in the lineup on Saturday after missing the last game because of a personal family matter.

Midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who has been suffering from a head injury after being elbowed in the head on July 13 against the Chicago Fire, was back in the lineup, starting the game on the bench, though he came into the game in the second half — which is good news for Canadian men’s national team coach John Herdman with the World Cup coming in November. Not available for Toronto against Orlando were veteran center backs Chris Mavinga (lower-body injury) and Doneil Henry (lower leg tightness).

Orlando scored in the ninth minute when Torres left-footed a shot from outside the box that Toronto keeper Quentin Westberg didn’t react to, possibly because he was screened.

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The Lions’ second goal came on a counter-attack when Mauricio Pereyra found Kara with a beautiful pass between the two Toronto center attacks and Kara left-footed a blast from inside the box into the goal on the short-side for the 2-0 lead.

TFC had a good scoring chance in the 35th minute when Insigne found Bernardeschi open just outside the box and the former Juventus man left-footed the ball wide.

The hosts almost jumped ahead 3-0 in the 42nd minute when Torres left-footed a shot off the post.

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Any hope of a comeback was quashed early in the second half when Orlando scored a third an own goal when TFC center back Lukas MacNaughton deflected a cross into his goal. MacNaughton appeared exhausted in the final few minutes of the game and was issued a yellow card in the 82nd minute and will miss Toronto’s next game.

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The Lions sat back after their third goal, allowing TFC to launch a series of attacks. Toronto’s best chance early in the second half came when Orlando keeper Pedro Gallese made a good leaping save on an Insigne header from the left side of the goal, following a nice cross by Bernardeschi.

Akindele, who came off the bench, scored in the 84th minute when he picked up a pass in the box and left-footed a shot to the far side of the goal.

Gallese made a nice arm save on TFC forward Jesus Jimenez front deep inside the box with four minutes left after a nice pass to the Spaniard from Insigne.

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The Reds next play on Friday, Sept.30 against Inter Miami at BMO Field, the club’s last home match of the season.

“We’re going to train and try to play two good games,” said Bradley, when asked about his approach for the final games of the season. “Try to continue to use every opportunity, every training session, every game to keep moving this thing along. I’ve spoken in the last few weeks about the work to get this thing where we want it go be, where it can be, where it will be.”

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