April 18th, 2024

Toronto turnaround hits a roadblock as visiting Kansas City posts 3-1 win

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on March 30, 2024.

Toronto FC forward Prince Osei Owusu (99) and Sporting Kansas City midfielder Jake Davis (17) battle for the ball during first half MLS action in Toronto on Saturday, March 30, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Toronto FC’s return to respectability in Major League Soccer took a not very pretty detour Saturday.

Goalkeeper Luka Gavran kept Toronto in the game for close to an hour before goals by Remi Walter, Jake Davis and Alenis Vargas lifted Sporting Kansas City to a 3-1 win.

Jonathan Osorio scored a consolation goal for Toronto (3-2-1) in the 97th minute, knocking home a Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty cross before an announced crowd of 24,382.

While TFC had some 60 per cent possession, it was outshot 17-12 (10-2 shots on target) by Kansas City.

Toronto coach John Herdman’s message to the team after the game was simple. It wasn’t good enough. He pointed to some “sublime moments” from his team but also a “lack of quality” when needed.

It was an entertaining first half with no goals but some big saves at both ends. Gavran, continuing to deputize for injured starter Sean Johnson, was particularly busy in the Toronto goal.

It took a spectacular strike by Remi Walter in the 57th minute to finally beat him. A Kevin Long headed clearance went straight to Walter outside the penalty box and the former French youth international, in his 100th regular-season appearance, beat a diving Gavran with a dipping left-footed shot to the corner.

There was a virtual replay in the 64th minute with another long-range goal from Davis, his first in MLS, as Toronto defenders failed to close him down.

Unlike last week, when Kansas City (2-1-3) blew a 2-0 lead and conceded three goals in eight minutes in a 3-2 loss to the visiting Los Angeles Galaxy, Peter Vermes’ team held on to the lead.

Vargas added an insurance goal in the 83rd minute, cruising past defender Shane O’Neill and beating Gavran to open his MLS account five minutes after coming into the game.

Toronto came into the contest in high gear despite getting news earlier in the week that Italian star Lorenzo Insigne will be sidelined for six weeks with a hamstring injury.

Toronto had conceded a league-best two goals with four shutouts in its first five games, a far cry from the Eastern Conference-worst 59 last season. But that defence was repeatedly breached in the second half Saturday. And its offence, with six goals in six games, lacks teeth.

Herdman continues his search for someone to wear the No. 9 jersey. German forward Prince Owusu, who scored off the bench last week in relief of Deandre Kerr, got the start Saturday and put in plenty of effort in pressing the Kansas City defenders.

But when rookie Tyrese Spicer set him up with a perfect low cross in the first half, Owusu could not find the target. It was the kind of chance teams need their forward to convert.

And with Insigne injured, someone has to step up.

“If we’d scored the first goal when we had our changes, that game changes “¦ very quickly,” said Herdman.

“Coming out for that second half, we weren’t good enough.”

Asked if his team has the firepower it needs, Herdman said there has been a “constant conversation” about the centre forward role.

“At some point someone’s really got to step up and take that No. 9 jersey,” he added. “As a club, we’re always looking. The (transfer) window’s still open but these guys are putting a hell of a shift in. “¦ We’re expecting something’s going to come from that effort and we’re expecting that it will come in time.”

Kansas City is 12-1-5 in its last 18 regular-season meetings with Toronto, with the lone loss coming March 9, 2013, at the Rogers Centre. And it is unbeaten in nine games (5-0-4) at BMO Field since a 1-0 defeat April 26, 2009.

Through the vagaries of the MLS schedule, the game was the first between the two teams since June 7, 2019 – some 1,758 days ago.

Herdman made two changes to his starting lineup with Osorio and Owusu slotting in for Insigne and Kerr.

In addition to Insigne and Johnson, Toronto was without defenders Nicksoen Gomis (wrist), Richie Laryea (thigh) and Raoul Petretta (thigh) and midfielder Brandon Servania (knee).

Kansas City was also missing some top talent in injured defenders Logan Ndenbe and Andreu Fontas and forwards Alan Pulido, Johnny Russell and Khiry Shelton. Canadian defender Zorhan Bassong and forward Stephen Afrifa were on the visitors’ bench with Afrifa coming on in second-half stoppage time.

Federico Bernardeschi made his 50th regular-season appearance for Toronto while O’Neill marked TFC game No. 50 across all competitions.

There was action before the gates opened Saturday. Social media footage showed a fox wandering in the stands and a couple celebrated their wedding vows in the south stand in front of friends.

Toronto plays its next two games on the road, next Saturday at Vancouver and April 13 at Charlotte FC. Both outings will be on artificial turf.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on X platform, formerly known as Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2024.

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