Coach John Herdman sees positives despite Toronto FC’s slump

Team has been close, but not getting results.

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While Toronto FC is mired in a four-game losing streak and seven-game winless run (0-5-2), coach John Herdman still sees plenty of positives.

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“Statistically we’re right there … The facts will tell you one thing and then your emotions will tell you something different,” Herdman said after training Tuesday. “You come back to the clarity of the facts and that keeps the boys on track.

“We’re right there. We’re right there. It’s going to turn.”

The hope is the change starts Wednesday when Toronto (7-11-3) hosts Orlando City (5-9-6).

“It’ll be a tough match but this is what we need,” said Herdman. “We need a game where our best have to be at their best to win a football match. And you do against this Orlando team.”

While Orlando has had its own share of problems this season, it has a good record against Toronto. Orlando is undefeated in its last four trips to BMO Field (2-0-2), last losing there in 2018. And Orlando is 6-1-1 against TFC since the beginning of 2021.

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Still, Orlando arrives in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, three places and three points below Toronto. Coming off a 4-2 defeat at New York City FC, Orlando has won just one of its last seven outings (1-4-2).

Both teams are getting their starting goalkeepers back from international duty at Copa America.

Sean Johnson was scheduled to return to Toronto on Tuesday from the U.S. camp while Pedro Gallese has rejoined Orlando after time with Peru. Herdman said Johnson will go through normal tests upon his return and should be available Wednesday.

“He’s one of our key leaders,” said Herdman. “That’s a big piece coming back in the door.”

Luka Gavran has made some big saves for Toronto in deputizing for Johnson the last four games.

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But the 24-year-old from Hamilton was victimized by a bizarre 97th-minute goal Saturday in a gut-wrenching 2-1 loss in Atlanta. Substitute Jamal Thiare, coming from behind an unsuspecting Gavran, stole the ball from the feet of the TFC ‘keeper and scored into an unprotected net.

“That was just a completely honest error,” Herdman said. “I don’t think you’d ever see that again in your career.”

The goal, at the 96:56 mark, is the third-latest winning goal in Atlanta United history.

It also marked the 15th time TFC has conceded in the last 15 minutes of a game. Only last-place San Jose (3-15-2) has given up more late goals (20).

Gallese’s return to Orlando is timely given his deputy, Mason Stajduhar, underwent surgery to repair a broken tibia and fibula in his right leg suffered in a weekend collision with NYCFC attacker Malachi Jones.

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Jones, who played alongside Toronto’s Tyrese Spicer at Lipscomb University, also underwent surgery to repair a broken leg.

Homegrown goalkeeper Javier Otero came on for Stajduhar in the 29th minute, making his MLS debut.

Peruvian midfielder Wilder Cartagena also returns to the Orlando lineup. Gallese and Cartagena have not played for Orlando since June 1.

Orlando defender David Brekalo is done at Euro 2024 with Slovenia but likely won’t be ready after playing Monday in Germany.

Toronto captain/midfielder Jonathan Osorio and fullback/wingback Richie Laryea remain at Copa America with Canada advancing to the knockout round.

TFC’s injury list includes Spicer and midfielders Alonso Coello and Brandon Servania, with Deandre Kerr a question mark. On the plus side, Servania joined the first team for warm-up prior to training Tuesday before working out on his own.

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“(He’s) getting close,” Herdman said of Servania, who underwent knee surgery in October.

The other good news is defender Shane O’Neill returned to action on the weekend with a late cameo off the bench after missing the last 16 games in all competitions with a thigh injury. Herdman said the veteran defender, who had been out since exiting a 4-0 loss to Vancouver at halftime, should see more minutes Wednesday.

TFC has been outscored 11-3 over the last four losses.

Orlando ranks 24th on offence, averaging 1.25 goals a game. and 20th on defence, conceding 1.75 goals. Toronto is tied for 18th on offence (1.38 goals a game) and is 23rd on defence (1.76).

Orlando has been outscored 11-9 in its last four outings (1-2-1) with the four goals conceded against NYCFC not pleasing, coach Oscar Pareja.

“We have to control those things. The boys are very aware of that,” said the Colombian.

Toronto won 2-1 when the teams met April 27 in Orlando with late goals from Spicer (87th minute) and Prince Owusu (90th minute) completing the comeback.

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