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Herdman looks for answers as inconsistent TFC continues to lose


TORONTO — John Herdman walked through the doors of Toronto FC's training facility at 8 a.m. Thursday, just hours after watching his team blow an early 1-0 lead and suffer its fifth straight loss.

Winless in eight (0-6-2) thanks to a 2-1 loss to Orlando City, Toronto has not made for lie-ins or peaceful sleeps for its passionate coach.

"Yeah it is tough," Herdman acknowledged. "There's no doubt, it's tough. After this type of run, you take it to heart. Of course you do. You want to do so well for the fans for the city, for the lads, for the club."

Herdman knows the regular-season runway is getting shorter with just 12 games remaining. Eighth-place Toronto (7-12-3) is struggling to hang on to a playoff wild-card spot and, more worrying, is just four points out of the Eastern Conference basement.

After picking up 10 of a possible 15 points from its first five games of the campaign (3-1-1), TFC has collected just 14 of a possible 51 in the 17 games since (4-11-2).

Injuries, players away on international duty and a lack of depth have hurt Herdman's team. So has a tendency to turn off during games.

On Wednesday, Herdman lamented a lacklustre 20-minute period in the first half, allowing Orlando to get back in the game and hand Toronto its fifth defeat in its last six outings at BMO Field.

"It's the story of TFC this season," he said. "These 20-minute periods, where, for whatever reason, whether we're playing at home or away, there's just not that desire or intensity."

The game started with some early, ominous warning signs with giveaways from Toronto's Derrick Etienne Jr., Kosi Thompson, Aime Mabika and Lorenzo Insigne in the first four minutes.

But the opening goal, in the fifth minute, showed what TFC can do.

After building patiently in its own end, Toronto moved up the field quickly as Insigne found Raoul Petretta with a long ball. The wingback, stationed on the left sideline, tried to find Etienne in the middle but instead the ball landed at the feet of an onrushing Thompson down the right. He fed Federico Bernardeschi ahead of him and the Italian curled in a fine cross to the far post.

Petretta beat defender Dagur Thorhallsson to head the ball across goal. One defender was preoccupied with forward Prince Owusu and another, Robin Jansson, was slow to see the threat of an onrushing Etienne, who hammed the ball home from close range.

It was Toronto at its best. Fast movement from side to side, with its Italian stars driving the bus.

But Toronto became static as the half wore on. Lack of movement made for an ineffective TFC offence while opening up channels for Orlando attackers.

And the home side was punished in the 27th minute after Bernardeschi lost the ball with a poor touch and conceded a free kick near halfway trying to win it back.

Seven touches later, Orlando pulled even. Toronto was caught flat-footed down the left flank and Martin Ojeda headed home Ivan Angulo's cross to complete a largely unchallenged Orlando buildup.

Toronto's rigidity was shown again in the 32nd minute when Insigne, despite nine teammates in his immediate vicinity, gave the ball away when his attempted chipped pass was intercepted. That led to a Deybi Flores foul and an Orlando free kick from a dangerous position.

That turned into an Orlando corner — and another scoring chance.

Thompson gave the ball away soon after, failing to find Bernardeschi with a pass. And in the 36th minute, an irate Flores saw his attempted pass to Thompson roll into touch as the defender failed to move forward as anticipated.

The Toronto press was ineffective, allowing Orlando to stroke the ball around. And Toronto found itself behind in the 45th minute on a move that began with an Orlando goal kick.

Seven touches later, with the last off Toronto defender Nicksoen Gomis, the ball was in the TFC goal. The virtually unimpeded Orlando attack saw the Toronto half of the field covered in just two passes, with Facundo Torres' cross bouncing off Gomis' leg past goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Herdman says he sees "the real opportunity that this team has to be a top team in MLS." But bottom line, there is plenty more work to do.

"We're dealing with a team that has a little bit of square pegs in round holes," said Herdman.

"With a deeper squad and with the summer (transfer) window being able to increase the quality in certain positions and depth, we'll still be in with a fighting chance here," he added hopefully.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 4, 2024.