NASHVILLE — It's not quite death by a thousand cuts but the pain keeps mounting for Toronto FC this season.
TFC's losing streak grew to four games Wednesday as substitute Luke Haakenson scored two late goals, the first strikes of his MLS career, to lift Nashville SC to a wild 3-2 win.
It marked the second time in five days that Toronto (1-6-2) had conceded a late winner. Orlando won 3-2 Saturday on the strength of an 84th-minute goal.
Both games illustrated TFC's Jekyll and Hyde tendencies. The nomadic team has shown flashes of its considerable talent, only to lose the battle due to self-inflicted wounds.
"Of course, it's just frustrating," said coach Chris Armas. "But we've taken a lot of hits. We've taken a lot on the chin here and it's demoralizing, I know for all of us. But we're going to pick ourselves up and be ready for Saturday (against FC Cincinnati) because that's what we have to do.
"The strength is with our team and we'll find the answers. We're hitting our storm early in the year here. We'll be stronger for it in the end."
Against Orlando, Toronto conceded two goals in the first eight minutes then fought back to tie the game, dominating in stretches, only to have an ugly turnover set the stage for the Orlando winner.
On Wednesday, Toronto scored first. And after Nashville equalized in the 62nd minute, TFC looked to have regained control when substitute Patrick Mullins put Toronto ahead in the 81st minute. But the happy ending belonged to Nashville thanks to Haakenson's late heroics.
Toronto is now winless in five (4-0-1) and languishes in 26th place in the 27-team league. Second in the Supporters' Shield race last season, Toronto is now 18 points adrift of first-place New England.
For much of the night, Toronto showed off its better side against a well-drilled Nashville outfit. Goalkeeper Quentin Westberg, after a difficult season debut in the loss to Orlando, was back to his best.
Toronto had seemed to be in the driving seat thanks to Mullins after heading home a Michael Bradley corner for a 2-1 lead. Mullins, who entered the game two minutes earlier in the 79th, ran to the near post and flicked his header home through traffic.
But Nashville, which had fired crosses into the Toronto penalty box all evening, replied with C.J. Sapong beating the Toronto defence to a well-flighted cross and sending it across to Haakenson, who beat Mark Delgado to the ball and slipped it past Westberg in the 83rd minute for a 2-2 tie.
Toronto was then ripped apart on a rapid-fire counter-attack and Haakenson, after a fine feed by former TFC player Daniel Lovitz, beat goalkeeper Westberg for the 92nd-minute winner. Toronto centre back Chris Mavinga missed his tackle, opening the door to Haakenson.
Jonathan Osorio also scored for Toronto with Jack Maher, also opening his MLS account, replying for Nashville.
It was a wide-open entertaining contest with chances at both ends. Westberg had a busy night and deserved better.
But the Toronto defence cracked again.
Nashville (3-1-5) was coming off a 2-0 loss at the New York Red Bulls that snapped the club's seven-game unbeaten start (2-0-5) to the season.
Coach Gary Smith celebrated his team's comeback, while praising Toronto.
"This is a really talented Toronto team. There are some incredible players in that group," he said. "And it's tough to seize the initiative from them -- they're good footballers, they want the ball, it inspires them and they do it very very well.
"This come-from-behind result and three points on the board … is something that should really resonate inside all of these players and it gives us a great platform to go towards the weekend," he added.
Toronto went ahead in the 26th minute when Delgado, with help from a Richie Laryea dummy run that occupied Lovitz, found Auro racing up the right wing. With Lovitz out of position, the speedy Brazilian fullback raced into the penalty box and sent in a low cross that found a lunging Osorio at the far post for his third goal of the season.
Osorio has now scored 46 goals in all competitions for Toronto against a club-record 23 different opponents. Delgado, meanwhile, celebrated his 200th appearance for TFC in all competitions — fourth most among club ranks.
Nashville pulled even in the 62nd minute off a corner when Maher, in just his fourth MLS game, poked the ball home through traffic off a corner -- the latest in a line of Toronto set-piece breakdowns. It was the first MLS goal for the 21-year-old centre back, who had been recalled from loan with San Diego Loyal of the USL Championship.
Maher, the second overall pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft, started in place of star defender Walker Zimmerman in the heart of the Nashville defence.
Nashville came close to going ahead in the 65th minute when Lovitz's free kick from outside the box hit the crossbar, thanks to a touch from Westberg. The Toronto 'keeper stopped Hany Mukhtar in the 71st minute, making himself big to deny the German after he was put in alone.
Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo came off at halftime and Osorio followed in the 59th minute. Both had complained of tight hamstrings, said Armas.
Nashville finished with 58.2 per cent possession and outshot Toronto 15-9 (11-4 in shots on target).
Wednesday's game marked the first-ever regular-season meeting between the two clubs. They had met in the post-season Nov. 24 with Nashville ending Toronto's season with a 1-0 win thanks to Daniel Rios' goal in the 108th minute in a first-round matchup in East Hartford.
Armas made one change to the starting 11 beaten by Orlando on Saturday with Eriq Zavaleta replacing Omar Gonzalez at centre back. Westberg remained in goal after replacing Alex Bono last time out.
Toronto was without two of its three designated players with Venezuelan winger Yeferson Soteldo nursing a thigh injury and U.S, international striker Jozy Altidore still on the outs with the club, training on his own while talks are held on his future.
Nashville DP Jhonder Cadiz is away on international duty with Venezuela. Rios (groin) and fellow forward Dominique Badji (ankle) were out injured.
Nashville came into the game fifth in the league on defence, averaging 1.00 goals a game. Toronto, in contrast, ranked 26th at 1.88 goals a game.
The game was the first of five straight at home for Nashville, with matches against CF Montreal, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago to follow at Nissan Stadium.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2021