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Alarm bells ringing louder as Toronto FC falls to fifth straight defeat

ORLANDO, Fla. — Ten games into Toronto FC's season and the alarm bells are ringing louder every time out. Toronto's nightmarish start continued Saturday, beaten 2-0 by FC Cincinnati for its fifth straight loss.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Ten games into Toronto FC's season and the alarm bells are ringing louder every time out.

Toronto's nightmarish start continued Saturday, beaten 2-0 by FC Cincinnati for its fifth straight loss. A long way from home, TFC is digging itself a deep hole.

With his team playing its third game in a week, coach Chris Armas rang in the changes in both personnel and formation. But it was the same old story as Toronto (1-7-2) shot itself in the foot, giving up a goal in the fourth minute. 

"Exactly what we didn't need," said Armas, whose team is now 0-6-1 this season when conceding the first goal.

Goals by Allan Cruz, in the fourth minute, and Luciano Acosta, in the 68th, added to Toronto's misery in the latest in a line of uneven performances. Toronto is now winless in six games and its record in all competitions this season is 2-9-3.

The last time TFC lost five in a row was in April-May 2013.

Five points in 10 games represents the second-worst start in club history. The only worse opening was 2012 when the team lost nine straight.

Watching Armas after games has become almost painful. A likeable, hard-working coach who clearly cares deeply about what he does, he struggles for answers.

As do supporters, who wonder about the team's nosedive.

On Saturday, Armas embarked on an almost stream-of-consciousness soliloquy when asked what he tells the team at a time like this.

"There's a lot of winners in that room. And winners don't accept this," said Armas, in his first year at TFC's helm. "Imagine our supporters. It's disaster. I'm embarrassed. I'm tasked to do a job here. And yeah, we all know it's been hard. You play without your DPs (designated players), you can go down the list. It's not time to do that. You've got to figure a solution. You can't accept this. Chris Armas doesn't accept this, supporters (don't accept this). It's sickening."

And while Armas steers away from such, there are mitigating factors.

Due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, Saturday's contest marked Toronto's 25th league game away from home since its last match at BMO Field on Sept. 1, 2020. And Toronto was without all three of its designated players.

Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo, the league's reigning MVP, did not dress after being substituted at halftime in Nashville due to hamstring tightness. Winger Yeferson Soteldo, recovered from his own hamstring injury, is with Venezuela at the Copa America.

That's a lot of the team's creativity away from the pitch.

And Jozy Altidore remains on the outs with the club, training separately while talks continue about his future. That's US$3.6 million worth of striker gathering dust and distraction.

Still Toronto keeps making the same mistakes.

TFC, which gave up goals in the first and eighth minute in a 3-2 loss to Orlando City last weekend, has conceded a league-worst six goals in the first 15 minutes of play this season. As in previous games, its play improved after the early blunder but it could not restore order.

Cincinnati outshot Toronto 10-3 (4-1 in shots on target).

The rot started Saturday when Mark Delgado lost the ball in front of goal as TFC tried to work it out from the back. Isaac Atanga's through ball split the Toronto defence and Cruz, a Costa Rican international, beat Alex Bono for his first goal of the season.

Cincinnati packed its defence in the second half, content to sit back and pack its end of the field while hoping for a counter-attack if Toronto overcommitted. The second goal came in the 68th minute with Acosta, a diminutive Argentine designated player, curling a beautiful shot past Bono from outside the penalty box.

It started with a Cincinnati throw-in just on its side of midfield. TFC defender Eriq Zavaleta's header went straight to Japanese midfielder Yuya Kubo, who survived Ayo Akinola's challenge to drive into the heart of Toronto territory before finding Brandon Vazquez in the penalty box. He sent the ball back to Acosta who, ignoring the nine TFC players in front of him, hit a wonder-strike.

"It's true the mistakes are hurting us. Constantly being down and chasing these games is tough," said veteran fullback Justin Morrow.

"If there's a positive it feels like we are hurting ourselves," he added. "And if we can clean that up then I think there's a lot there for us on the other side."

The 33-year-old Morrow, a 12-year-veteran, is not hitting the panic button.

"I think everyone understands that we have everything we need in the locker-room to make it right," he said. "But we're just hurting ourselves right now."

Cincinnati (3-5-1) came into the game at Exploria Stadium 24th overall in the league standings. Toronto, which finished second in the Supporters' Shield race last season, languishes in 26th place.

Cincinnati started the season winless in four games (0-3-1) but has gone 3-2-0 since. And it has now won three straight away matches for the first time in club history, dispatching the Fire 1-0 in Chicago last Wednesday and CF Montreal 2-1 on May 22 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., before taking care of Toronto.

Cincinnati was 4-21-3 on the road in its first two seasons.

Armas made five changes to the starting 11 that lost 3-2 midweek at Nashville SC, shifted to a three-man backline with Zavaleta, Omar Gonzalez and Chris Mavinga and started Patrick Mullins and Dom Dwyer as a tandem up front.

For Zavaleta, it was his 100th career MLS regular-season start.

Quentin Westberg, who had started the last two games in goal, did not dress due to a finger injury. He had appeared to jam his hand against the crossbar making a save off a Daniel Lovitz free kick midweek in Nashville. Bono, who had started the first seven league games, returned with 23-year-old Kevin Silva serving as backup.

Delgado had a chance to make up for his earlier gaffe but goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer somehow managed to stop his point-blank header in the 18th minute after a fine run by Richie Laryea. Toronto also had chances in a 30th-minute goalmouth scramble as mayhem ensued after Gonzalez headed a Michael Bradley free kick back in front of goal.

A timely intervention by Cincinnati defender Ronald Matarrita in the 35th minute denied Mullins after Dwyer found him in front of goal.

Dwyer had two good scoring chances early in the second half, putting the ball in the net on one, but both were ruled offside.

Cincinnati brought on former TFC defender Nick Hagglund in the 52nd minute to bolster the backline.

Toronto came into the game ranking 26th on defence, conceding an average of 2.00 goals a game. Only Cincinnati, at 2.13, had leaked more goals per game. TFC had conceded a league-worst 18 goals.

Toronto had won all three previous encounters with Cincinnati, with an 8-2 edge in goals.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 26, 2021

The Canadian Press