Toronto FC earns credible draw in MLS season opener

TFC couldn’t find that extra bit of attacking quality in Sunday’s stalemate away to FC Cincinnati.

Toronto FC earns credible draw in MLS season opener
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  • Toronto FC 0, FC Cincinnati 0 
  • John Herdman earns his 1st point as Toronto coach  
  • TFC haven’t won their MLS season opener since 2019 

Toronto FC showed plenty of defensive bark but little offensive bite in its MLS season opener.

A committed TFC side put in the hard, physical work away to FC Cincinnati on Sunday only to be let down by a lack of quality up top as they hung on for a credible 0-0 draw.  

Toronto had just two shots on target and only registered one dangerous scoring chance – and that came off a set piece. Lorenzo Insigne lasted just over an hour before being subbed out and had one or two flashes of brilliance, while Prince Owusu offered very little up front while leading the line.  

On the bright side, it was a solid road performance from TFC who failed to win away from BMO Field all of last year. This was the club’s first MLS clean sheet since May 31, 2023, so it should give the team a big boost going forward. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson ended up making seven saves to register his 100th career MLS shutout. This was also John Herdman's first point as Toronto's coach.

The Reds remain winless at TQL Stadium (three losses in four visits) and haven't won their season opener since earning a 3-1 victory away to the Philadelphia Union in 2019. TFC sports an all-time record of five wins, nine losses and four draws in their season-opening matches.

But none of that mattered to a Toronto team who thwarted the reigning Supporters' Shield holders at almost every turn on Sunday.

"It was quite a professional performance from the whole group collectively," captain Jonathan Osorio said. "And I think a very good point won on the road."

Herdman said the valuable road point was "exactly what we needed" for the first game of the MLS campaign.

"We showed that fighting spirit. We stayed connected right until the end. So, for me it was a good start to the season, but still work to be done. A lot," Herdman said.

Herdman’s starting 11 was set up in a 3-4-2-1 formation and featured Italian DPs Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi, the returning Richie Laryea, newcomers Kevin Long (making his MLS debut) and Deybi Flores and Osorio. Newly signed defender Nickseon Gomis (head), and forwards Deandre Kerr (left calf) and Jordan Perruzza (groin) were ruled out.  

It was a strong start to the second half by TFC who effectively pressed Cincinnati high up the pitch and compressed the middle of the field to cut off the hosts’ space while in possession. Flores and Alonso Colleo displayed great strength in winning balls and breaking up plays to frustrate Cincinnati, while centre back Shane O’Neill routinely bombed forward in support of Toronto’s attack. Laryea proved to be a constant menace with his driving runs down the flanks. 

"He's always on top of you," Osorio said of Flores. "He doesn't let you breathe … He's a dog in the middle of the field. He bites."

Laryea appeared to have won a penalty just three minutes into the game when he was clipped from behind by Obinna Nwobodo. But referee Jonathan Weiner reversed his decision after a VAR review, ruling that Nwobodo’s foul happened outside of the box. Insigne whipped in the ensuing free kick that forced a sharp save by Roman Celentano at the near post. Insigne had another chance in injury time off a feed from Bernardeschi, but the Italian’s shot was blocked by Cincinnati defender Kipp Keller. 

Cincinnati grew into the game as it capitalized on some sloppy mistakes by TFC deep in their half. Johnson was called upon to make three saves before the break with his best effort coming when he tipped Corey Baird’s swivelling bicycle kick from deep inside of the box over the crossbar.  

The visitors came out on the front foot at the start of the second half with Bernardeschi having a decent attempt on goal. At the other end of the pitch, Johnson stood tall to save Sergio Santos’ shot from close range. Moments later Johnson expertly cut down the angle to deny reigning league MVP Luciano Acosta who burst into the box off the right wing. 

Herdman’s first change came in the 62nd minute when he swapped in Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty and Ayo Akinola for Insigne and Owusu. Cincinnati turned up the pressure for the final 20 minutes but couldn't find a way to break down Toronto's stout back line.

NOTES: Cincinnati leads the all-time regular season series against Toronto with six wins (one draw) in 11 meetings. The Orange and Blue have won six of the last eight games... Toronto remains on the road and will play the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium on March 3. The Reds host Charlotte FC in their home opener on March 9.

(Top photo courtesy of Toronto FC)

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