After mid-week cup win, Toronto FC faces much stiffer challenge in Orlando - Soccer (2024)

After mid-week cup win, Toronto FC faces much stiffer challenge in Orlando - Soccer (1)

Photo: The Canadian Press

Fresh from a mid-week 5-0 romp over semi-pro Simcoe County in Canadian Championship play, Toronto FC faces a much stiffer test Saturday when it returns to league action at Orlando City.

While Toronto (4-4-1) goes into the weekend in fifth spot in Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference, seven places and four points ahead of Orlando (2-3-3), it is winless in its last eight meetings with Orlando (0-6-2) dating back to 2019.

The Florida team, which had to divide its time between league and CONCACAF Champions Cup play earlier to open the campaign, has bounced back from an 0-3-1 start to the MLS season and is unbeaten in its last four league outings (2-0-2). Orlando's Champions Cup run ended in a 4-2 aggregate loss to Mexico's Tigres in the round of 16 in early March after a 6-1 win over the CPL's Cavalry FC.

Toronto coach John Herdman sees an Orlando side that has benefited from a lighter schedule and some key players returning from injury.

"When teams have just been in that cycle of game after game and they get that week (of training) to breathe and reset and come back to some of their habits tactically, it makes a big difference," said Herdman.

"They're starting to get consistency in their (roster) core," he added. "And when you get consistency in your core, you know at home with the fans behind you, you've got a big opportunity to put on consistent performances. This is a tough test for us. Our last win there was 2019. So a good opportunity, but a tough test."

Orlando is 6-0-1 against Toronto since Colombian Oscar Pareja took over as coach in 2020 and has won the last four games by an aggregate score of 11-0.

Pareja's team showed character last week in a 2-2 tie at Montreal with Ivan Angulo's 92-minute goal pulling the club even after Ariel Lassiter gave Montreal the lead in the 88th minute. Orlando also struck late at D.C. United the week before, winning 3-2 thanks to a 92nd-minute goal by Duncan McGuire.

"Mentally it has been positive, the results away. They just gave us energy," said Pareja. "And momentum that we want to keep here, now we're going to be back in front of our fans."

Orlando was a tough out in the game before the D.C. United win, securing a 1-1 draw with the visiting New York Red Bulls courtesy of an 89th-minute own goal.

While Pareja wants his team to do more leading than chasing, he applauds its never-say-die mentality.

"That I like a lot," he said.

Still Orlando has picked up just five of a possible 12 points at home where it is 1-1-2. And the club ranks 24th in the league on defence, conceding 1.88 goals a game, compared to 13th for TFC at 1.33.

Toronto, which edged visiting New England 1-0 last weekend to snap a three-game losing streak, is 1-3-1 away from home this season. TFC was a dismal 0-13-4 on the road last year.

Herdman will be without the injured Lorenzo Insigne, Richie Laryea, Brandon Servania and Shane O'Neill while forward Deandre Kerr is questionable with a foot issue. Newly acquired winger Derrick Etienne Jr. is expected to be available after coming over in a trade with Atlanta United and veteran centre back Kevin Long is back from suspension.

"It's a team very well-coached … It's a good team," said Pareja.

A former Inter Miami player, Toronto defender Aime Mabika is no stranger to Orlando's Inter & Co Stadium. He expects a challenging evening

"It's definitely a hostile environment," he said. "And the style that they play — they get in your face. They slow the game down, whether it's fouls or whatever it may be. It's not a team that's going to lay down, no matter what.

"And then obviously the heat brings different challenges. Yeah, it's definitely not an easy place to play whatsoever."

Toronto goalkeeper Sean Johnson, with three shutouts in five games this season, is one away from the 100 milestone in regular-season play. The 34-year-old also has three clean sheets in playoff play.

Others to have reached the milestone are Nick Rimando (154), Kevin Hartman (112) and former TFC 'keeper Stefan Frei (107). Johnson would join Frei as the only active goalkeepers with 100 shutouts.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 26, 2024

After mid-week cup win, Toronto FC faces much stiffer challenge in Orlando - Soccer (2024)
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