TFC can’t hold on to early lead against Orlando, loses fifth straight match

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John Herdman had a blunt message after Toronto FC slumped to its fifth straight loss and saw its winless slide stretch to eight games (0-6-2).

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“This has to be a turning point for the club tonight. I said that to the players after the game,” Herdman said after watching Orlando City SC rally from an early deficit Wednesday to dispatch TFC 2-1. “It has to be the turning point.

“There’s got to be some hard conversations in the next two days. Starting with all of us looking at ourselves in the mirror.”

Derrick Etienne Jr. scored for Toronto, which led after five minutes but went into halftime trailing 2-1. Martin Ojeda scored for Orlando, which also benefited from an own goal by Toronto defender Nicksoen Gomis.

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Herdman was left wondering about a 20-minute period in the first half that saw Toronto’s drive diminish, allowing Orlando back into the game and hand Toronto its fifth defeat in its last six home league matches.

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“It’s the story of TFC this season,” he lamented. “These 20-minute periods, where, for whatever reason, whether we’re playing at home or away, there’s just not that desire or intensity.”

TFC, outscored 13-4 during the losing streak, launched 13 shots Wednesday but managed just one shot on target. Orlando managed just three on target.

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It doesn’t get any easier with an away game Saturday at reigning champion Columbus. And Etienne hobbled off in the 67th minute with what could be the latest in a line of TFC hamstring injuries.

While Toronto pressed hard late in the game, it couldn’t pull even with Herdman saying the team will be looking for help when the transfer window opens again.

The victory pulled Orlando (6-9-6) even on points with Toronto (7-12-3) with a game in hand.

Orlando arrived with its own problems, coming off a 4-2 loss at New York City FC and having won just one of its previous seven outings (1-4-2).

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It was a game short on entertainment but with a fair degree of niggle, especially in the second half, with seven yellow cards.

Despite a string of early giveaways, Toronto went ahead in the fifth minute through Etienne. Federico Bernardeschi, named to the MLS all-star game earlier in the week, found fellow wingback Raoul Petretta with a long ball at the back post. Petretta headed the ball back across goal and Etienne, with the Orlando defence in disarray, hammered it home from close range for his second goal in Toronto colours.

Orlando, with Ojeda pulling the strings, began to find its footing and tied the game in the 27th minute. Facundo Torres slipped the ball to Colombian Ivan Angulo, who beat Bernardeschi to send in a fine cross that an unmarked Ojeda, a designated player from Argentina, headed home for his second of the season.

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Lorenzo Insigne, starved of the ball, finally got his chance in the 39th minute, bending a shot from distance just wide of the Orlando goalpost. But the Italian star was a bystander for long stretches of the half.

Orlando kept probing and went ahead in the 45th minute when Torres’s cross deflected off Gomis’s leg past goalkeeper Sean Johnson. It took just two Orlando passes to cover the Toronto half of the field with seven defenders in the Toronto penalty box when the goal was scored.

Ojeda was substituted in the 69th minute and did not look happy about it. Toronto midfielder Deybi Flores was cautioned two minutes later, earning a suspension for yellow card accumulation.

Kosi Thompson had a chance to tie the game in stoppage time but his shot rattled off the crossbar. Luis Muriel then shot wide at the other end.

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Both teams had their starting goalkeepers back from international duty at Copa America — Johnson with the U.S. and Pedro Gallese, along with midfielder Wilder Cartagena, from Peru.

Johnson had fans’ hearts in their mouth in the 12th minute when he misplayed the ball, which almost rolled into the Toronto goal. But the veteran ‘keeper calmly retrieved it and then dribbled past an Orlando attacker before sending the ball up the pitch

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

Herdman made three changes to the starting 11 beaten 2-1 on a freak 97th-minute goal on the weekend in Atlanta with Johnson, Thompson and Aime Mabika slotting in.

TFC’s injury list includes wingback Tyrese Spicer and midfielders Alonso Coello and Brandon Servania. Centre back Kevin Long was suspended for yellow card accumulation.

Orlando is now undefeated in its last five trips to BMO Field (3-0-2), last losing there in May 2018.

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