May 26th, 2024

Toronto FC comeback falls short in Charlotte, Herdman laments sloppy goals conceded

By The Canadian Press on April 13, 2024.

Charlotte FC forward Kerwin Vargas, front, celebrates with forward Liel Abada after scoring a goal against Toronto FC during the first half of an MLS soccer match in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, April 13, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Nell Redmond

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Toronto FC showed resolve in coming back twice at Charlotte FC on Saturday. But once again it paid the price for what coach John Herdman called “self-destruct moments.”

Goals by substitute Prince Owusu helped tie the game at 1-1 and 2-2, with Toronto appearing to have secured a point with the German forward’s second in the 78th minute.

But woeful defending cost Toronto (3-4-1) in a 3-2 loss, its third straight defeat.

“It’s been three weeks, two particularly, of self-destruct moments,” lamented Herdman, whose team was humbled 4-0 at Vancouver last week.

Toronto, which was missing a half-dozen players through injury, has been outscored 10-3 in its last three matches.

Charlotte took advantage of a massive defensive breakdown to score the winner.

Toronto cleared a corner in the 85th minute but Charlotte got the ball right back and sent it to an unmarked Brecht Dejaegere with acres of space to himself on the right flank. Under no pressure, the Belgian midfielder fired in a low cross that six-foot-four substitute Patrick Agyemang knocked in after outmuscling two Toronto defenders in front of goal to get to it.

“That stuff is just criminal. “¦ How on earth did we not have a player go and press (Dejaegere)?” mused Herdman.

Charlotte’s second goal, in the 70th minute, was equally difficult to watch.

Newly acquired Israeli international Liel Abada pounced on an errant pass gifted to him by Toronto midfielder Alonso Coello and, outpacing defender Nicksoen Gomis, beat Sean Johnson with a well-placed low shot. The young designated player, who was dangerous all night, was making his third appearance since joining the club from Scotland’s Celtic.

Charlotte’s first goal in the 39th minute was also preventable.

Toronto failed to handle a long ball aimed at forward Enzo Copetti. The ball fell to Charlotte’s Kervin Vargas, who beat Johnson from the edge of the penalty box with a low shot through a defender’s legs. The 22-year-old Colombian forward celebrated his first of the season, in his 50th career regular-season MLS game, with a backflip.

“We can’t afford to give up goals like that,” said Herdman. “We had that conversation in the (post-game) huddle. There were so many things that I liked about the performance.”

Owusu tied it 1-1 in the 49th minute, sticking his left leg out to knock home a Federico Bernardeschi cross from close range. The German forward, who had just come on, timed his run perfectly to stay onside.

Owusu was in the right place at the right time in the 78th, knocking home Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty’s deflected cross for his third of the season. The TFC attack was launched by a marauding run from Bernardeschi.

“A real big step for him.” Herdman said of Owusu, who may have won the starting centre forward position with the superb performance.

Salt was rubbed into the Toronto wound when centre back Kevin Long was sent off in second-half stoppage time for a second yellow after he hauled down Agyemang. Long, who anchors the defence, will be suspended for next Saturday’s home game against New England.

Charlotte (3-3-2) improved to 3-0-1 at home this season.

“It feels really good,” said Dean Smith, Charlotte’s veteran England coach. “The lads are asking me for an extra day off for scoring three goals.

“But I told them no,” he added with a laugh. “We still need to keep working.”

Scoring had been an issue for both teams, with just six goals in their first seven games – an average of 0.86 that left the two tied for 25th in offence. But that was not an issue in a wild second half Saturday.

The visit to Bank of America Stadium marked TFC’s fifth road game in eight matches – and its second outing against Charlotte.

TFC won 1-0 when the two teams met March 9 in Toronto’s home opener. Lorenzo Insigne, who scored the highlight-reel winner that day, was among the Toronto injured. That win improved TFC’s record to 2-0-1.

Toronto has gone 1-4-0 since.

Injuries have not helped. Toronto was without Insigne, Richie Laryea, Shane O’Neill, Jordan Perruzza, Brandon Servania and Tyrese Spicer in Charlotte.

The injuries prompted TFC to sign 17-year-old Toronto FC II midfielder Andrei Dumitru to an MLS short-term agreement.

Herdman made three changes to his starting 11 with Sigurd Rosted, Raoul Petretta and Coello coming in for Shane O’Neill, Marshal-Rutty and Spicer.

Former Canada captain Scott Arfield started in a support role for Copetti for Charlotte, which was without defenders Nate Byrne and Adilson Malanda and midfielders Ben Bender and Brandon Cambridge.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 13, 2024.

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