Toronto FC vs. FC Cincinnati: What you need to know

TFC will be looking for their first win in a season opener since 2019 when they play FC Cincinnati at TQL Stadium on Sunday.

Toronto FC vs. FC Cincinnati: What you need to know
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For the sixth consecutive year, Toronto FC kicks off its MLS campaign on the road.

TFC's opening match of the 2024 regular season poses a tricky test as they'll be facing FC Cincinnati, last year's Supporters' Shield winners. What's more, the Reds have never won at TQL Stadium, suffering losses in all three of their visits.

Toronto hasn't won its season opener since earning a 3-1 victory away to the Philadelphia Union in 2019. The Reds have only hosted their season opener once in 17 seasons since entering MLS in 2007, and sport an all-time record of five wins, nine losses and three draws in their season-opening matches.

Here’s what you need to know about Sunday's contest between TFC and Cincinnati (2:30 p.m. ET/Apple TV & TSN). 

TFC notebook: Reds ready to roll into new MLS season
Toronto FC will have some new faces in its matchday roster for its MLS season opener this weekend in Cincinnati.

A hectic few days for Toronto

GM Jason Hernandez was busy this week as he made a series of moves to strengthen his team's roster ahead of the season opener.

On Tuesday, the club announced the signing of Irish international centre back Kevin Long from Birmingham City of the EFL Championship.

Long comes to MLS with loads of experience. Before joining Birmingham last January, Long spent 13 years with Burnley where he featured in both the Championship and the Premier League. He also had loan stints with a number of English clubs, including Portsmouth and Barnsley. He made his pro debut in 2009 with Irish club Cork City where he came up through the youth ranks.  

It'll be up to Long, 33, to bring some solidity to a back line that conceded 59 goals in 2023 (second worst in MLS).

"It was always in the back of my head that I wanted to give [MLS] a try. I spent 14 years in England. I achieved a lot of what I wanted to achieve in England, and I think when the opportunity came about it was something I really wanted to try," Long said. 

Two days later the Reds brought back goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh, signing him to a new contract through 2024 with an option for 2025. Toronto originally declined its 2024 contract option for Ranjitsingh at the end of last season.

On Friday, TFC signed French defender Nicksoen Gomis from English club Sheffield United FC (through 2025 with options for 2026 and 2027), reacquired Canadian fullback Richie Laryea from Nottingham Forest (signed through 2026 with an option for 2027 ) and placed Norwegian forward Adama Diomande on waivers.

The return of Laryea represents TFC's biggest move of the off-season as they have welcomed back one of their best players in recent years. Laryea, 29, returns to his hometown club where he has 10 goals and 13 assists in 95 MLS games.

"Amazing. Absolutely amazing. It's been in the works for a while. So, to finally get [the deal] over the line before the Cincy game was a big one. ... I'm just happy he’s here and you can feel the uplift in the dressing room," coach John Herdman said. 

Toronto capped off the week on Saturday by signing defender Adam Pearlman to a first team contract as a homegrown player through 2027 with an option for 2028.  

The tough questions facing Toronto FC this season
What kind of captain will Jonathan Osorio be? Will the Italian DPs buy in? Can TFC get a handle on their injury issues?

Herdman: 'The s--t's gonna hit the fan at some point'

Toronto FC is coming off its worst season in franchise history, setting new club records for fewest wins (four) and points (22) in a single MLS campaign and finishing in last place as it failed to make the playoffs for a third straight year.

It was only this week that TFC made a number of defensive additions, but no attacking reinforcements have been made to a side that scored just 26 goals last year (tied for the worst in MLS). Italian DPs Federico Insigne and Lorenzo Insigne need an experienced player to play alongside in Toronto's front three after the club's forwards combined for six goals last year. But it's the same group of forwards from 2023, minus the departed C.J. Sapong.

Not surprisingly, many MLS pundits have predicted the Reds will finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference table again this year. That doesn't seem to bother John Herdman.

“We’re in the business of proving people wrong,” Herdman stated this week. “Sean Johnson said in the locker room that we have to prove ourselves right, and I think that’s a good mantra for us moving forward.”

Herdman said the team is in good spirits going into the start of the regular season, but he's under no illusions about the tough road ahead for the Reds, especially after a disastrous 2023 campaign.

“I’m loving it, and we’re excited,” Herdman said. “The s**t is gonna hit the fan at some point, but that’s football.

“Even if we have a rough week this week, the commitment is that if you’re going to lose a football match, we lose the right way, and that’s it. That’s all I’m asking for these players. We’d rather win, but if you’re going to lose, then we lose the right way.”

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TFC Republic in conjunction with Footy Prime is proud to present the debut episode of the TFC 3 Questions podcast.

Injury report

MLS clubs are taking a new approach with their official injury reports this season, as they will be published by 5:00 p.m. ET on the day before each team's game.

Defender Nickseon Gomis (head) and forwards Deandre Kerr (left calf) and Jordan Perruzza (right groin) are ruled out for Sunday's game

Italian DPs top list of Toronto FC players who must step in 2024
Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi have to start consistently producing if TFC are going to turn things around this season.

A quick look at FC Cincinnati

FC Cincinnati won last season's Supporters' Shield, the first in club history, by posting a 20-5-9 record and collecting 69 points. Pat Noonan's side boasted the league's fifth-best attack with 57 goals and conceded just 39 times (tied for fourth overall in MLS).  

League MVP Luciano Acosta ranked among the league leaders in goals (17) and assists (14) in 2023, and the club will be looking to the Argentinian midfielder to lead the way again this year. One notable absentee for Cincinnati is American forward Brandon Vázquez, who had 26 goals and 12 assists over the last two MLS seasons. Vázquez was sold to Mexican club C.F. Monterrey for a multi-million-dollar transfer fee last month. 

The reigning regular season champions enter this weekend on a bit of a hot streak having won their final three matches of the pre-season after suffering a 2-1 loss to Austin FC on Jan. 26. They are also coming off a road 2-0 win in Jamaica vs. Cavalier F.C. on Thursday in the Concacaf Champions Cup.   

"With Cincy, what I noticed about the game [in Jamaica] was it was played at a really low tempo. Cavalier played in a really low block, and I'd say it was probably 30 per cent of the match intensity from an MLS game. They'll be riding high [after the win], so while they'll be a little out of the [gas] tank from those players, there'll be a confidence boost. There's a resilience and unity around that team," John Herdman said. 

What happened last time between Toronto and Cincinnati

This weekend's season opener is the first game between Toronto FC and FC Cincinnati since the Reds dropped a 3-2 decision to the Ohio-based club on Sept. 20, 2023, at BMO Field. 

Jonathan Osorio scored a first-half brace, but Aaron Boupendza netted the winner in the 72nd minute as the Orange and Black secured the Supporters’ Shield for the first time in club history. TFC defender Aimé Mabika admitted to reporters after the game that it hurt watching Cincinnati's players party on the BMO Field pitch after the final whistle sounded.  

“It’s definitely not nice to see someone celebrate on your field,” Mabika said.  

Earlier in the 2023 season, Cincinnati blanked Toronto 3-0 at TQL Stadium in Bob Bradley's second last game in charge before being fired. 

Cincinnati leads the all-time regular season series against Toronto with six wins (no draws) in 10 meetings. The Orange and Blue have won six of the last seven games and four in a row. 

What's next for Toronto FC

Toronto remains on the road and will play the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium on March 3 (2:00 p.m. ET/Apple TV). The Reds host Charlotte FC in their home opener on March 9 (2:00 p.m. ET/Apple TV & TSN).

(Top photo courtesy of Brooklyn Fell/Toronto FC)

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