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Herdman gets firsthand look at massive repair job he faces as TFC falls to Charlotte

Charlotte FC Toronto FC Karol Swiderski, Charlotte FC celebrate - The Canadian Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — New Toronto FC coach John Herdman got a firsthand look at the massive repair job in front of him as Toronto FC was thumped 3-0 by Charlotte FC on Wednesday.

Polish international Karol Swiderski scored twice from the penalty spot to up his season goals total to 11 as a purple wave washed over Toronto in the first half before an announced crowd of 30,080 at Bank of America Stadium. Belgian midfielder Brecht Dejaegere made it 3-0 in the 56th minute with a highlight-reel first MLS goal, an exquisite backheel flick.

The final score could have been worse had it not been for the acrobatics of Toronto goalkeeper Luka Gavran in just his third start.

While Herdman and his staff were on hand to take in the game, interim coach Terry Dunfield and his team were on the sideline. They will do the same for Saturday's contest at the New York Red Bulls with Herdman and his team taking over during the international break that precedes the Oct. 21 season finale against Orlando City at BMO Field.

Herdman was seen taking notes in a stadium booth. A stiff drink might have been more appropriate.

It promised to be a challenging night and turned out to be a painful one. In Charlotte, Toronto was facing a motivated opponent fighting to get into the playoffs as well as a team that had lost just one of its previous 16 home games (1-7-8) in all competitions.

Two arguably iffy penalty calls didn't help, the latest chapter in a nightmarish season.

Mired 29th and last in the league, Toronto (4-18-10, 22 points) has lost five straight and won just one of its last 19 games (1-15-3) in all competitions. With just two games remaining, it is in danger of recording franchise lows in wins and points (set in 2012 when it went 5-21-8 with 23 points).

"I've been a part of a few losing seasons, unfortunately, in my career," said midfielder Jonathan Osorio, in his 11th season with TFC. "But I can say honestly I have never gone through a year like this year … I'm pretty sure none of us have gone through a year like this. And it's frustrating. It's very very frustrating.

"There's just so many things, to be honest. It's not just a couple of things … It's been a very tough year but we can't feel sorry for ourselves. The first thing everybody had to do is look at themselves in the mirror, to see what everyone individually can do better. And we have two games (left) to put into performances that make the fans actually proud."

Herdman did not speak to the media. Dunfield says the former Canada coach has stayed true to his word to be a "fly on the wall" this week.

What Herdman saw was one-way traffic with Charlotte swarming an outmatched Toronto defence that had to resort to hacking attackers to the ground. It was 2-0 at the break but could have been 8-0.

Charlotte had 62.6 per cent possession and outshot Toronto 11-2 (4-2 in shots on target) in the first half. The final shots count was 17-6 (6-3 on target) for Charlotte.

Charlotte (8-11-12) climbed one spot to 13th in the Eastern Conference, two points and four places below the playoff line with three games remaining.

TFC is winless in its last 20 away outings (0-16-4) in all competitions. TFC has lost its last nine road games, outscored 27-1.

And it has failed to score in its last seven road games, a goalless drought that stretches 709 minutes. Toronto's last away win was in Charlotte, a 2-0 decision Aug. 27, 2022.

Charlotte was awarded an early penalty after Gavran was deemed to have taken down midfielder Kamil Jozwiak in the box going after the ball. Referee Malik Badawi initially let the play go but, after prompting by the video assistant referee, went to the pitchside monitor and eventually pointed to the penalty spot.

The six-foot-six Gavran, who stopped a penalty against New York City FC two games ago, went the wrong way as Swiderski stroked the ball into the corner. A bad sign for a Toronto team that came into the game 0-15-1 when conceding the first goal.

It should have been 2-0 in the 14th minute but an unmarked Enzo Copetti sent his header wide off the Toronto goal. And it was more of the same in the 30th when an onrushing Dejaegere, also unmarked, sent his header off target.

Swiderski appeared to have doubled the lead in the 33rd minute, slotting home a low shot as the Toronto defence, despite seven players in the box, was caught short. But video review took the goal off the board for offside.

Toronto defender Aime Mabika had to make a saving tackle from behind after a Charlotte attacker was sent in alone.

After a diving Gavran made a remarkable one-handed save to parry Copetti's header, Toronto conceded another penalty with Alonso Coello called for taking Ashley Westwood down. It seemed like a harsh call but Swiderski beat Gavran in the 47th minute in a repeat of the first spot kick.

It marked Charlotte's first win in four career meetings (1-2-1) with Toronto.

Teenage forward Hugo Mbongue was handed his first MLS start. The 19-year-old had made 10 prior substitute appearances for TFC totalling 198 minutes. Wingback Cristian Gutierrez made his second start — and first since June 24.

Captain Michael Bradley started in a backline defence, in the middle of a backline that lost Sigurd Rosted to injury in the 44th minute.

Federico Bernardeschi accounted for Toronto's offence in the first half, with a pair of shots including one off a quickly taken free kick The Italian set up Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty early in the second half but the substitute's shot was handled by goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina.

Toronto was without goalkeepers Sean Jonson (hand) and Greg Ranjitsingh (knee) fullback Raoul Petretta (back), midfielders Latif Blessing (concussion) and Brandon Servania (lower leg) and forwards Deandre Kerr (back), Adama Diomande (lower body) and Lorenzo Insigne (lower body).


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2023