Toronto FC look to shatter Orlando City’s formidable defense
After holding MLS ‘most powerful offense tied 1-1 last week at New York City FC, Toronto FC will face one of the league’s stingiest defenses on Saturday in Orlando. Orlando City is tied with Seattle in conceding a minimum of 0.40 goals per game.
After holding MLS ‘most powerful offense tied 1-1 last week at New York City FC, Toronto FC will face one of the league’s stingiest defenses on Saturday in Orlando.
Orlando City is tied with Seattle in conceding a minimum of 0.40 goals per game. By comparison, Toronto ranks 25th in the league, dropping an average of 1.80 goals per outing.
Peruvian international Orlando goalkeeper Pedro Gallese is tied for the league lead with three shutouts, which is his tally in 19 games in 2020. Orlando has given up just two goals this season, one of which came from a penalty.
Orlando has allowed just 15 shots on target this season, the lowest in the league.
Orlando (2-0-3) is also one of three undefeated teams in Major League Soccer, along with the Seattle Sounders (5-0-1) and Nashville SC (1-0-4). Orlando’s unbeaten start to the season in five games is a club record, erasing the previous mark of four in 2016.
“It starts with, I think, head coach Oscar Pareja, whom I know quite well,” said Toronto coach Chris Armas. “Many years ago we faced each other in MLS.
“He sees the game both ways. So his team are creative and they’re attacking and they’re good in the transition going forward. But it’s a hard-working team, like he has. ‘he was a striker, he understands the other side too… It’s a team that is together. You can see it. They attack together, they defend together. “
With Toronto moving to Orlando during the pandemic, Exploria Stadium serves as TFC’s home base. But the Armas team will officially be the visitors on Saturday.
“It’s going to be a good derby, let’s look at it that way,” said Pareja, a former Colombia international who played more than 200 games for FC Dallas and the New England Revolution between 1998 and 2005.
Toronto midfielder Mark Delgado said it would be strange to be visitors to their temporary home, especially with the fans pitting them against each other.
“It’s weird but it’s exciting. We can play in front of the fans, have the opportunity to beat them on their own ground,” he said.
And that playing surface is special, according to Armas. “It’s a putting green,” he says.
“We feel at home on any pitch, but now we’re starting to associate a little more with that one,” he added. “We’ll be ready for that.”
Toronto has had a week to prepare after a crowded schedule that saw it play four games in 12 days. Armas, while speaking praising the Orlando team, says she is vulnerable at times.
“He’s gearing up to be a good one for us,” Armas said. “A good test. We can’t wait.”
Portuguese star Nani adds flair to Orlando’s offense with Chris Mueller and Canadian Tesho Akindele.
“It’s a nice group,” Armas said. “They can be dangerous in possession because they have guys who can use the ball the right way.”
Toronto will need to keep a close eye on Uruguayan playmaker Mauricio Pereyra, who scored in last Sunday’s 1-0 win over DC United. Orlando is 10-1-6 in the regular season since the start of the 2020 season when the Orlando Designated Player is in the starting lineup. The club are 3-3-5 when not in the lineup.
“For me one of the best in the league in this part of the field,” said Armas. “Smart, understands space, a good decision maker.”
After conceding eight goals and collecting just one point in their first three league games, Toronto has beaten their opponents 3-1 with four points in their last two outings.
“They have a good dynamic,” said Pareja.
Toronto will be without Spain’s playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo (thigh) for the 10th game in a row in 2021. The stylish designated player was injured in the pre-season and missed the entire TFC Champions League game and CONCACAF Scotiabank.
Armas said Pozuelo should be back in full training next week and should be available within “next week”.
Veteran full-back Justin Morrow (hip) is also absent while former Orlando forward Dom Dwyer (thigh) is questionable.
The good news is that Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio is in good health after a thigh injury. He saw just 29 minutes of action in Toronto’s first five league games.
“You can expect to see it (Saturday),” Armas said.
For Orlando, Joao Moutinho, David Loera and WIlfredo Rivera are all questionable. Alexandre Pato and Uri Rosell are out.
Brazilian full-back Ruan could return after being excluded from the DC United game with a leg injury.
TORONTO FC (1-2-2) AT ORLANDO CITY SC (2-0-3)
Saturday, 7 p.m. ET at Exploria Stadium.
HOME SWEET HOME: Neither team has lost this season at Exploria, which serves as TFC’s home stadium during the pandemic. Orlando is 1-0-2 there while Toronto is 1-0-1.
MILESTONES: Nani’s next goal will tie him with Kaka for second place in Orlando club history in all competitions (25). Canada’s Tesho Akindele is two goals behind 40th in the MLS regular season. He has 14 goals for Orlando City and 24 for FC Dallas.
STORY: Toronto has an 8-2-2 advantage in all-time meetings with Orlando. The two haven’t met since a 1-1 draw on August 10, 2019 at BMO Field.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 21, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press