The door will likely slam shut on Toronto FC’s faint postseason hopes this weekend. But the rebuild continues at TFC.
Third-place Toronto (9-15-7, 34 points) visits fifth-place Orlando City (12-12-6, 42 points) on Saturday, TFC sits six spots and seven points out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. And just nine points from those three remaining regular season games remain on the table.
A seventh-place win by Columbus or a Toronto loss are among the top scenarios that would end TFC’s slim hopes. The Toronto tie can also end.
Toronto coach Bob Bradley sees the big picture.
“We know the steps and the work to be a really good team,” Bradley said, clapping his hands on the table in front of him to emphasize the point. “It doesn’t start at the beginning of the preseason and then it ends at some point when it’s not going your way or you’re out of contention or whatever. Even in the last set of the season. It’s continued work. To make the list, try to improve the boys.
“A lot of work has been done in this area,” he added. “It’s been challenging but we’re going to get there in the end. It’s just that it doesn’t always go as fast as anyone wants it to.”
A rally out of the gate began after Toronto went a disappointing 6-18-10 last season, finishing 26th overall in the then-27-team league, with 21 players moved or retired. . Key additions such as Italians Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi and Domenico Cristo, as well as Canadians Mark Anthony Kaye, Richie Laria and Donnell Henry, arrived mid-season.
Toronto made another investment in the future this week, signing 18-year-old forward Hugo Mbongi to a homegrown deal. Mbongue, the younger brother of former TFC midfielder Ralph Presso, became the 31st player in the club’s history to sign for the first team from the academy.
And he’s the 11th homegrown player — 13 if you include winger Jacob Scheiffelberg and defender Luke Singh, who are currently on loan to Nashville SC and FC Edmonton, respectively — on TFC’s current first-team roster.
Bradley called Mbong a “talented, young player” who had impressed early in the season.
Orlando, whose roster includes Canadian forward Tisho Akindle, is one point above the playoff line with four games remaining.
Orlando has lost two straight since losing to second-tier Sacramento Republic FC in the U.S. Open Cup final, including a 5-1 loss at the Philadelphia Union last weekend and a 1-0 loss to Atlanta. lost it Orlando had won four straight before the Sept. 7 Cup Final.
“Having lost two games in a row, we have to expect them to really focus on the importance of this game at home,” Bradley said. “Orlando has always been a well-organized, physically strong team. A mix of talents – different types of players, different backgrounds – but a strong, organized, always tough opponent.”
Toronto hasn’t traveled well this season, with a poor 2-9-4 record on the road. Orlando, meanwhile, has a league-worst eight losses this season (7-8-0) at Exploria Stadium, which TFC called home for a while during the pandemic. Prior to this season, Orlando had lost just eight (18-8-12) of their last 38 league matches at home since May 2019.
But Orlando is unbeaten in the last five meetings (3-0-2) after winning just two of the last 11 meetings with Toronto (2-8-1). Orlando prevailed 1-0 when they met at BMO Field on July 14, thanks to a stoppage time header by substitute Kyle Smith from a corner.
TFC is winless in three games (0-2-1) and has conceded four goals in its last two games, visiting Montreal and 4-2, most recently losing 4-3 in Atlanta. Earlier the match was a 2-2 draw with visiting Los Angeles Galaxy, who earned a point with a goal in the 89th minute.
Only three teams in MLS history have lost four times in three straight games, most recently FC Cincinnati in October 2021.
Beating Atalanta saw centre-back Juanjo Porata benefit from a hat-trick, all in the top corners.
Before the latest slide, Toronto had lost just one of its last seven (4-1-2), a run that coincided with the arrivals of Ansgen and Bernardeschi.
Bernardeschi (eight goals and three assists), Insignia (six goals, two assists) and Cristo (one goal) have now accounted for 18 of Toronto’s last 22 goals in MLS action, including 12 of their last 14.
Bradley says mistakes and injuries cost Toronto.
“We haven’t had the opportunity to have a stretch of games where you feel like the way things are going, the same guys are there. That becomes a factor. And then I’ll just say, sometimes, in the wrong moments. Some mistakes showed themselves.”
Toronto will be without injured defenders Chris Mawenga and Donnell Henry. Influential midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who revealed on Thursday that he has been dealing with “nervous weakness” since an elbow to the head in mid-July, has been listed as questionable. Osorio has lost his last four games.
Orlando will miss the injured Brazilian Alexandre Pato. Midfielder Cesar Araujo and defender Robin Johnson, both starters, were listed as questionable.
Toronto is currently 24th in the 28-team league and has already conceded 57 goals, nine more than the franchise – worse than last season’s 66 set.
TFC closes out the regular season with a home game against Inter Miami on September 30 and away at Philadelphia on October 9.