A critical match in the chase for the final playoff berths in the Eastern Conference takes place Saturday night when Toronto FC hosts Orlando City.
Both teams currently are on the outside looking in at the top seven in the East, with Toronto FC (9-5-10) one point back of seventh-place New England and Orlando City (8-5-11) another three directly behind the Reds.
Greg Vanney’s team has struggled to find traction to make a move up the standings, and TFC have dropped two of three in league play after a 2-0 road loss to the Red Bulls last Saturday. A well-played first half failed to result in a goal as Jozy Altidore had a goal chalked off for offsides, Alejandro Pozuelo hit the woodwork and Jacob Shaffelburg was denied on a brilliant save by Luis Robles.
Things went south in the final 45 minutes as Chris Mavinga conceded an own goal before Toronto conceded a second late after Justin Morrow was sent off for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.
“Our last few games, we had some very good first halves, been able to get ourselves leads in some of those games, in most of those games,” Vanney noted to Toronto FC’s official website. “But the second half, we need to continue to maintain our discipline, adapt a little bit based on the opposition changing their way, but not get random.”
There was some good news Wednesday when a largely second-choice side posted a 2-0 road victory over the Ottawa Fury in the first leg of their Canadian Championship semifinal tie, with talisman Drew Moor and Tsubasa Endoh scoring in each half.
Recent signing Nicolas Benezet made his first start after making his Reds debut in the second half last week, while fellow new acquisition Erickson Gallardo made his Toronto debut as a sub in the 71st minute and put two shots on target.
Orlando City had its U.S. Open Cup run come to an end in the semifinals with a 2-0 home loss to reigning MLS Cup champion Atlanta United on Tuesday night. Losing to the Five Stripes has been an all too common occurrence for the Lions, who have yet to beat them in eight matches (0-6-2) since Atlanta entered the MLS in 2016.
“I think we’re learning what it means to be a winning team, (and) that means that every time you step on the pitch, you expect to win,” forward Sacha Kljestan told Pro Soccer USA. “Atlanta has that having been through MLS Cup last season and lifting a trophy. We maybe got a little bit of stage fright or nerves tonight when some of our guys played in a big game for the first time.”
Orlando City, though, is seeking back-to-back league wins for the first time this year after beating FC Dallas 2-0 at home last Saturday. Tesho Akindele scored inside the first quarter-hour before Klejstan set up Carlos Ascues’ goal in second-half stoppage time to secure three valuable points.
The Lions are winless in their last three road contests (0-2-1) but have claimed eight of their 13 road points in their last six matches (2-2-2) outside Orlando.
Toronto FC ran out comfortable 2-0 winners at Orlando City on May 4 as Jonathan Osorio and Jay Chapman scored goals 12 minutes apart in the second half. Despite being outshot 17-13, the Reds were the far more incisive side offensively, putting nine of their shots on target compared to two by the Lions.
Orlando has yet to win in five tries (0-1-4) in Toronto and is 1-2-8 all-time versus the Reds.
(Michael Bradley photo courtesy Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports)