TORONTO — Mexican centre back Carlos Salcedo returns to bolster an uncertain Toronto FC defence as Orlando City visits BMO Field on Saturday.
Salcedo, one of TFC's designated players, is deemed good to go after missing the last two games through health and safety protocols. Forward Ifunanyachi Achara also saw some time on the training field Friday after coming out of such protocols and could be available on the weekend.
Midfielder Ralph Priso returns from a one-game suspension resulting from a red card in Cincinnati.
But Toronto coach Bob Bradley still has injury concerns as his slumping team faces its fourth game in two weeks.
Fullback Kadin Chung (tightness in the lower leg) has joined an injury list that already includes Jonathan Osorio, Chris Mavinga, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty and Noble Okello. Wingback Jacob Shaffelburg is listed as questionable.
After going unbeaten for four games (3-0-1), Toronto has now lost four straight. It marks the club's third losing streak of at least four matches since the start of last season.
Prior to last season, Toronto hadn’t lost four or more in a row since early 2015.
Orlando bounced back from a 4-1 loss at Montreal in league play last weekend, defeating the Philadelphia Union 2-1 midweek in U.S. Open Cup play.
While it has yet to post-back-to-back league wins this season, Orlando (5-4-2) enters weekend play six points and eight places above 12th-place Toronto (3-6-2) in the Eastern Conference. On the other side of the ledger, Orlando has not lost consecutive matches since a run of four straight defeats in September 2021.
Orlando is missing the injured Antonio Carlos and Silvester van der Water. Benji Michel is questionable.
“Toronto, like always, is going to be a difficult rival," said Orlando coach Oscar Pareja.
“(They) have changed the model a few times, rotating some players due to some difficulties that they have had with injuries," he added. "Like us, they’re trying to find the team and we’re all dealing with that at this stage of the season.”
Defence remains an issue for Toronto. which ranks 27th in the 28-team league in averaging 2.00 goals a game. Only San Jose, at 2.30, concedes more. Orlando is tied for 15th (1.36 goals per game).
TFC has allowed 157 shots this season, third-most in MLS. At the other end of the pitch, its 95 shots are second-fewest in the league.
While Bradley preaches defence is a team-wide effort, he has had to juggle his backline due to Injuries, suspension and COVID.
Of most interest to the veteran coach is how goals are given up. What is the decision-making process that led to the score?
"I look at what are we doing when we have the ball? What is our structure behind the ball when we lose it? And then how are we handling some of these moments in transition?" he explained.
"These are learning moments," he added.
To make the point, Bradley showed his players a clip from the second leg of the Champions League semifinal between Manchester City and Real Madrid that illustrated a bad defensive situation similar to one TFC had found itself in.
"The structure of their backline on a quick turnover is all over the place, " he said of Man City. "Way worse than the position we were in, But then (Man City fullback) Kyle Walker just had a pure reaction to run with (Madrid forward) Vinicius (Junior).
"Look, I think we were working through our ability to handle different situations and make plays," he added. "Yes we have had to make changes. We've had guys get tested as young players, sometimes in new positions. It's part of the work of this group to become a better team."
For youngsters like 19-year-old forward Deandre Kerr, who is one goal and six games into his MLS career after just two years at Syracuse University, Bradley's advice is welcome.
"For sure. It's been amazing … I try to take everything, every little thing, he says and apply it to my game. That; s the only way to improve," said Kerr.
It hasn't helped that Toronto has conceded the first goal in eight of its 11 league outings this season, with a 2-4-2 record in those games.
"You want to be a team that knows how to start games," said Bradley.
Orlando is 5-0-1 when scoring first this season.
Orlando boasts two new designated players this season in Austrian international forward Ercan Kara, formerly of Rapid Vienna, and Uruguayan midfielder Facundo Torres, formerly of Penarol. They join incumbent Uruguayan playmaker Mauricio Pereyra as DPs.
"Orlando in the last few years has been an experienced good solid team," said Bradley.
"Oscar's a good coach. They're always well organized," he added. "So a difficult opponent."
Toronto, meanwhile, is looking for its first league shutout since a 0-0 draw at Colorado on Sept. 25. Its last clean sheet at BMO Field was a 1-0 win over Vancouver on Aug. 21, 2020 although it registered a 2-0 "home" victory over Columbus on May 12, 2021, in a game played in Orlando due to pandemic-related travel restrictions..
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2022.