Two late goals sink Toronto TFC in MLS season opener

TFC let what should’ve been a valuable road victory over D.C. United slip through their fingers on Saturday.

Two late goals sink Toronto TFC in MLS season opener
  • Toronto FC 2 (Bernardeschi 66’; Kaye 83’), D.C. United 3 (Klich 13’; Benteke 90’; Ku-Dipietro 90’+8’)
  • TFC have five wins in 17 MLS regular season openers
  • Insigne limped out of the game in the 34th minute

A revamped Toronto FC took to the field in its 2023 MLS regular season opener, but it looked eerily like the team from last year that routinely shot itself in the foot.

Leading late in Saturday night's contest, TFC couldn't close the deal as it conceded in the final minute of regulation and again deep into injury time en route to a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to D.C. United at Audi Field.

Federico Bernardeschi and Mark-Anthony Kate scored second-half goals for Toronto, who looked set to earn a come-from-behind victory after a lifeless performance in the opening 45 minutes. But the Reds fell asleep at the wheel. Substitute Theodore Ku-DiPietro set up Christian Benteke's equalizer for D.C. and then scored the winner to send the Reds to a crushing defeat.

Worryingly for Toronto, Lorenzo Insigne limped off the pitch in the 34th minute with a lower body injury. The Italian Designated Player pulled up lame off the ball and then tried to continue on before being subbed out. There was no substantive update after the match on Insigne's condition from coach Bob Bradley, only saying the Italian felt something in his lower leg and couldn't continue.

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"I think you see signs of really good things when you look at the game as a whole. What's most frustrating is to give up three goals on a night where it's not like we are giving up too much in the way of big chances," Bradley told reporters after the match.

"But in key moments down the stretch, we weren't quite able to make a play."

Kaye aded: “We were sloppy in certain areas. I was sloppy in certain areas. We need to go back to the training ground and understand how important it is to be clean every day and understand that when we go out here, it's going to be tough. It's not going to be easy. Teams in this league are getting better. The competition level is getting better and it's just a fight every day. ... I think now we have a better understanding of what it's going to take to stay in games and to create more opportunities. But yeah, today was a weird one”

TFC have just five victories in 17 regular season openers (with nine losses) since its first campaign in 2007, and have not won an MLS curtain raiser since a 3-1 win away to the Philadelphia Union in 2019. Toronto’s last MLS victory was a 2-0 decision over Charlotte FC on Aug. 27, 2022 at BMO Field.

Bob Bradley fielded his strongest lineup on paper on Saturday with newcomers Adama Diomande, Matt Hedges, Sean Johnson, Sigurd Rosted and Raoul Petretta all included in the starting 11. Newly acquired Brandon Servania also made his TFC debut as a second-half substitute. Midfielders Víctor Vázquez (ribs) and Themi Antonoglou (lower body injury) were unavailable. Jonathan Osorio became the first player to feature in 11 seasons for TFC, while captain Michael Bradley has now appeared in 10 (joining Ashtone Morgan).

D.C. was missing forward Taxiarchis Fountas (hamstring), defenders Brendan Hines-Ike (foot) and Derrick Williams (lower leg), and midfielder Martin Rodriguez (knee). Former TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono was on the bench for coach Wayne Rooney’s side.

D.C. opened the scoring through Mateusz Klich, ruthlessly exposing the visitors on the counter when he went on an uncontested run in acres of space down the middle after too many Toronto players were caught up field following a giveaway. Rosted didn’t step towards Klich and the Polish international took full advantage, firing a shot from 23 yards out past Johnson and just inside the post. The hosts dominated the rest of the half and could have easily taken a bigger lead going into the break but were let down by a lack of finishing in front of goal.

Despite being outplayed, Toronto carved out a few quality scoring chances in the first half. Insigne ballooned his shot over the crossbar from in close off a delivery to the back post from Bernardeschi. Just before halftime Ayo Akinola, who came on for Insigne, stumbled over his feet after being played in on goal, and moments later he saw his shot from outside of the box kiss the crossbar.

Toronto started the second half on the front foot, moving the ball around quicker and showing far more attacking intent. Diomande and Akinola in particular looked dangerous in getting behind D.C.’s back line on a number of occasions.

"It's not easy to come in in that situation. [Akinola] made some good runs. Got himself in some good positions. His first touch at times let him down a little bit when he had advantages. But he also caused some trouble and put himself in position to make some more good plays," Bob Bradley offered.

The Reds’ persistence paid off when Richie Laryea latched onto a ball played over the top by Michael Bradley and then was brought down from behind inside the box by D.C. defender Matai Akinmboni. Bernardeschi expertly converted from 12 yards out, slipping his penalty past goalkeeper Tyler Miller.

Bernardeschi was also involved in Toronto’s second goal. The Italian’s majestic free kick from 25 yards was tipped onto the post by Miller, but Kaye kept his composure as he twisted his body to hammer home the rebound and give TFC the lead. It was the Canadian international's first goal for Toronto since joining the club last summer via a trade with the Colorado Rapids.

TFC’s celebrations were short-lived, though. Ku-Dipietro wasn’t closed down and he floated a cross to the edge of the six-yard box where Benteke beat a helpless Johnson with a powerful header. Then in the dying moments of the contest, Ku-Dipietro fired a right-footed shot from the centre of the box into the top left corner off a low cross from Mohanad Jeahze. It was Ku-Dipietro's first career MLS goal.

"You know, at 2-2, we had one real good chance and then they had a chance. You know, the play at the end, we do a good job of actually playing out as they step up, and Raoul tries to slip a ball down the line to Ayo, and then it comes up a bit short. We just didn't do well enough in the transition and the ball got cut across. There's a lot to take but there are certainly positives in the way we went about things, and we'll try to build on it," Bob Bradley said.

NOTES: D.C. leads the all-time MLS regular season series against Toronto with 17 wins and 11 draws in 39 games. The Reds have never won at Audi Field - three losses and three draws - and are winless in their last seven road games vs. D.C. Their previous victory away to D.C. came on April 16, 2016, at RFK Stadium... TFC has lost 37 games since the start of the 2021 MLS season, the most of any team in the league during that time… Toronto plays away to Atlanta United on March 4 and then hosts the Columbus Crew on March 11 in its home opener at BMO Field.

(Top photo courtesy of

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