Abysmal start costs Toronto FC 10 players in second straight loss to FC Cincinnati

Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono attempts to make a save against FC Cincinnati in the first half at TQL Stadium. Cincinnati won 2-0 on May 4, 2022.Katie Stratman/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Toronto FC’s learning curve suddenly got bumpy.

A four-game unbeaten streak (3-0-1) turned into a three-game losing streak as goals from Calvin Harris and Luciano Acosta helped FC Cincinnati dispatch 10 players to Toronto FC 2-0 Wednesday for their second win over TFC in four days.

“I would say there are a lot of lessons so far,” Toronto coach Bob Bradley said of his young team. “There was a period where we were making progress and now we’ve reached a little point where it’s against us, but we have to be strong. You don’t become a good team when certain things go against you and everyone begins to look in all the wrong directions. You must continue each day with the most important details.

The Force was not with Toronto (3-5-2) on “Stars Wars Night” at TQL Stadium. TFC conceded a goal in the second minute and then saw midfielder Ralph Priso’s yellow card in the third minute turn red after a video review.

Toronto rallied after losing 1-0 but hung on at the final whistle.

“The rest of the (first) half was poor,” Cincinnati coach Pat Noonan said of his team’s performance after taking the lead.

“And then I was happy with the second half, finding the second goal despite it coming from a PK (penalty),” he added. “And then we certainly could have done a better job of scoring a few more goals. We left a few goals there, but I was happy with how we settled into that second half.

The victory allowed Cincinnati (4-5-1) to beat Toronto in the Eastern Conference standings. After an 0-2-0 start to the season, Cincinnati has now won four of its last eight (4-3-1) after recording just three wins in its previous 31 games.

The four wins match Cincinnati’s total last season when it went 4-22-8 to finish last in the then-27-team league. TFC finished 26th at 6-18-10.

TFC are now winless in their last 13 league matches on the road (0-9-4), having not won away in the league since a 2-1 victory in Chicago on July 24.

Bradley was facing a reduced roster following Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Cincinnati at BMO Field.

Mexico centre-back Carlos Salcedo, as well as striker Ifunanyachi Achara, were unavailable – under health and safety protocols. Fellow defender Chris Mavinga, a French-born Congo international, was out with a leg injury which forced him out of Saturday’s game in the 29th minute.

Toronto was also without injured Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Noble Okello and Jacob Shaffelburg. Midfielder Jonathan Osorio did not make the trip after suffering a lower body injury in training which has yet to be fully diagnosed. An MRI is scheduled.

“I don’t think it’s very serious, but it’s persisting so it’s a concern,” Bradley said.

Kadin Chung, Lukas McNaughton and Priso entered the starting XI for Salcedo, Mavinga and Osorio.

Toronto had six Canadian starters and six other local players on the bench.

Toronto’s improvised defense was torn apart in the second minute on a quick move that started with Cincinnati goaltender Roman Celentano. Three assists later, Brandon Vazquez edged McNaughton before finding Harris, who had edged Luca Petrasso with centre-back Shane O’Neill caught out of position, to get in front of goal and beat Alex Bono, stuck deep in his goal, for his first career goal in MLS.

It was the fourth goal conceded by Toronto in the first 15 minutes of the game this season. TFC have not kept a clean sheet in their last 18 league outings, since September 26, when they drew 0-0 at Colorado.

Things went from bad to worse 90 seconds later when Priso, 19, caught Obinna Nwobodo, Cincinnati’s new Designated Player making his first MLS start, with a bad tackle that saw his studs catch the midfielder Nigerian near the knee. Referee Lukasz Szpala initially released a yellow but upgraded it to red after video review, reducing Toronto to 10 men.

A distraught Priso, whose start to the season was cut short by injury, held his head in his hands as he walked off the pitch. His first start of the campaign lasted six minutes.

Priso joined Salcedo seeing red this season. Salcedo and Jayden Nelson also received one-game suspensions from the MLS Disciplinary Committee for fouls deemed worthy of a red card.

Acosta made it 2-0 from the penalty spot in the 57th minute after Chung was credited with overcoming Alvaro Barreal in another attack on the flank which again saw the Toronto defense in disarray as ‘Acosta found his fellow Argentinian on the edge of the box with a wonderful curling cross.

With his side playing three games in eight days, Bradley went to his bench after the goal, knocking out Jesus Jimenez and Alejandro Pozuelo. Toronto’s next game is Sunday in Vancouver.

A Barreal goal in the 69th minute was called offside. Bono nearly gave Cincinnati a goal in the 85th minute when he dropped a cross, but Brazil forward Brenner didn’t hit the target.

It was the 18th all-time league win for Cincinnati, now in its fourth season. Four of those wins have come against Toronto and two more against Montreal.

Cincinnati should have led 2-0 in the eighth minute in what was a virtual replay of the buildup to the first goal, but Acosta couldn’t recreate Harris’ finish, instead sending the ball high.

TFC unsuccessfully appealed for a penalty after Jesus Jimenez fell in the box in the 45th minute under a challenge from Junior Moreno.

Needing reinforcements, Toronto signed Themi Antonoglou, Kobe Franklin, Paul Rothrock and Steffen Yeates on short-term loans from TFC II earlier today. All four were on the bench Wednesday.

Yates, 22, and Franklin, 18, made their first-team debuts on the bench in the second half.

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