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Depleted Toronto FC, hit hard by suspension and injury, loses at Nashville


NASHVILLE — For 80 minutes Wednesday, a Toronto FC side depleted by suspensions and injury held its own against Nashville SC.

But Toronto could not close out the contest, conceding two late goals by substitutes Shaq Moore and Teal Bunbury to lose 2-0 in MLS play.

"I have to commend the players. I thought they did an excellent job for large parts of the game," said Toronto assistant coach Jason deVos, his voice hoarse after running the sideline in the absence of the suspended John Herdman.

"And they should be proud of their performance. Disappointed with the result. Disappointed with the goals we conceded but proud of a lot of the work that they did to hold a very difficult team at home to very few chances."

In the wake of Saturday's ugly post-game melee with New York City FC, Toronto was missing Herdman and nine players — five of whom were suspended. Adding to the degree of difficulty was the fact it was TFC's seventh match in 25 days in all competitions.

TFC's starting 11 featured six changes from Saturday's 3-2 loss with wingback Raoul Petretta serving as skipper. Aime Mabika and Kosi Thompson made their first league starts of the season.

The game opened up in the second half after an uneventful 45 minutes. Toronto bent but didn't break until the 81st minute.

Nashville went ahead on a scrappy goal that started with a long ball from Anibal Godoy into the Toronto penalty area. Walker Zimmerman won an aerial duel, heading the ball back across the goal into a tangle of players at the far post where it bounced in off Moore's leg.

Bunbury added an insurance goal in the 91st minute after Toronto was caught short on a counterattack that started when Tyler Boyd intercepted a Nicksoen Gomis pass intended for Lorenzo Insigne.

Boyd motored down the right flank before delivering a cross that found an unmarked Bunbury with Mabika the lone defender caught between two Nashville attackers. It was an easy tap-in for Bunbury, who had come into the game three minutes earlier.

The son of former Canadian star forward Alex Bunbury, Teal was born in Hamilton but grew up in the U.S. and has won four caps for the U.S.

Moore's goal was his first in 50 career MLS appearances. Bunbury, meanwhile, became the fourth active player to reach 75 career regular-season goals.

"We lost focus the last 10 minutes," said Toronto rookie Tyrese Spicer.

"It was an 80-minute performance," echoed deVos, a former Canada captain and Canada Soccer director of development.

Toronto (6-6-1) went into mid-week play in fourth place in the Eastern Conference after the weekend loss that ended a five-game winning streak in all competitions. Wednesday's defeat dropped TFC to sixth.

Nashville (3-4-5), which climbed three places to 10th in the East, was coming off a 1-0 defeat at Charlotte FC and had won just once in its previous seven outings (1-4-2).

Herdman, goalkeeper Sean Johnson and fullback/wingback Richie Laryea received one-game bans earlier in the day after the MLS Disciplinary Committee handed down its initial verdict on Saturday's misbehaviour. Laryea, who is recovering from hamstring surgery, was not dressed for the NYCFC game.

Toronto attackers Federico Bernardeschi and Prince Owusu, along with NYCFC defender Strahinja Tanasijevic, were suspended after being red-carded in the post-match incident. Bernardeschi had been the only Toronto player to start every league game this season.

Defender Kevin Long was cautioned in the second half of the NYCFC loss, triggering a ban for yellow card accumulation.

Toronto was also without the injured Jonathan Osorio, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Shane O'Neil and Brandon Servania.

The suspensions handed down could be just the first wave, getting Toronto and NYCFC through their mid-week games, with the disciplinary committee continuing to review the matter.

Canadian Jacob Shaffelburg, a former Toronto player, started for Nashville with Daniel Lovitz, formerly of Toronto and Montreal, on the bench. Nashville was missing the injured Randall Leal and Canadian defender Lukas MacNaughton, a former TFC player.

Insigne, who saw 14 minutes of action on the weekend in returning from an eight-game injury absence, and Honduran midfielder Deybi Flores came on in the 62nd minute to strengthen Toronto.

For Spicer, the game in Tennessee was a trip home of sorts. The wingback/winger from Trinidad and Tobago attended Lipscomb University in Nashville.

Spicer and Shaffelburg were at close quarters, in a matchup of two of the fastest players on the pitch.

Toronto signed Toronto FC 2 midfielders Charlie Staniland and Jesús Batiz and forward Charlie Sharp to MLS short-term agreements to make up the numbers for Wednesday’s contest.

Sharp, a third-round pick in the 2023 MLS SuperDraft, came on in the 75th minute for his MLS debut.

Toronto returns home to welcome CF Montreal on Saturday.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 15, 2024