Orlando City’s biggest headache team didn’t even need Jozy Altidore or Sebastian Giovinco. Two defensive lapses is all it took for Toronto FC to snap a two-game slide and hand the Lions one of their own, beating Orlando 2-1 at BMO Field.
Jay Chapman and Ryan Telfer sandwiched a Cristian Higuita goal, with Telfer’s coming just moments from what would have been a hard-fought draw on the road for the not-quite-Cardiac-Cats. Orlando City (6-4-1, 19 points) did fall behind and then equalize, according to the familiar script, but Jason Kreis will grind his teeth to dust at conceding with just three minutes left in normal time against Toronto (3-6-1, 10 points).
Orlando City is now just 1-7-1 in nine all-time meetings against Toronto FC.
Kreis didn’t have Dom Dwyer (lower body injury) in Canada with him, so he made the simplest switch by plugging Stefano Pinho into the top of the 4-2-3-1 formation. With Pinho moving into the starting lineup, his spot on the bench was taken by Tony Rocha, while Dillon Powers stepped into the 18 for the suspended Yoshimar Yotún.
Toronto came out on the front foot, controlling the first five minutes while allowing Orlando very little possession. The Lions looked a little nervy early, with Cristian Higuita getting cute with the ball in his own penalty area and Joe Bendik eventually took charge, clearing the danger in the second minute. A minute later, Ryan Telfer beat Chris Mueller and Will Johnson down the left side and sent in a cross that Jordan Hamilton should have scored on but he missed the ball and Lamine Sané deflected it out for a corner.
The Lions started to settle into the match about 10 minutes in with their first foray up the field. Justin Meram made a great individual move to get past Michael Bradley and crossed into the box, but the pass was a bit too tall for Pinho and just shy of Mueller and Gregory Van der Wiel was able to thwart the attack. Sacha Kljestan nearly found Sané with a 15th-minute free kick but the defense did just enough to keep the French-Libyan from elevating to get a shot on target. Four minutes later, Meram got to the end line and crossed toward the top of the box but no one for Orlando filled the space. Mohamed El-Munir’s cross was behind everyone a moment after that.
Toronto started getting back on the front foot around the 25-minute mark. Victor Vazquez sent a long ball forward that found Telfer but he didn’t get much on his shot and Bendik made the save on the only shot of the first half to hit the target.
After a Meram drive from distance missed badly in the 28th, the Reds got forward again. A scramble in the box was nearly cleared but lost again and the ball back in found Telfer offside. Higuita fouled Telfer just outside the box in the 35th but Vazquez sent the free kick into the wall.
The Lions had an outstanding opportunity a minute later. Higuita stepped into a passing lane, took the ball from Bradley, and pushed forward with help in front of him and out on the wings in the forms of Pinho, Meram, and Mueller. But the Colombian grew impatient and opted not to try to find a teammate, instead squibbing a weak shot well wide to the left.
Telfer drew another free kick in the 38th and this time Vazquez tried to connect with a teammate and the Lions were wise to the play.
The final minutes of the half saw the Lions calm things down a bit more and Mueller found Pinho as the two worked up the right side. Pinho sent it back to Mueller, who played the ball back in, but unfortunately the Brazilian was easily muscled off the ball. That was a factor throughout the opening half, as Pinho could not handle the physicality of Toronto’s defenders, failing to hold up play time and again for his teammates, and losing the ball too easily.
The whistle finally blew on a scoreless and somewhat uneventful first half. Toronto led in shots, 6-3 (1-0 on target), possession (52%), and passing accuracy (88%-87%) in a back-and-forth opening 45 minutes without much danger by either team.
Each team looked for the breakthrough early after the restart. Meram lost the ball when he got up the left and showed too much of it to Auro at the top of the penalty area in the 49th minute. Seconds later, Amro Tarek gambled and lost going after a ball and Hamilton got in behind but the play was broken up by a back-tracking Higuita.
Good build-up from Higuita and Kljestan led to a chance for Mueller, whose shot skipped just wide. The rookie thought the ball was deflected for a corner but a goal kick was given. Three minutes later, a good pass sent Meram down the left again but he had no help in the attack, was eventually double-teamed, and lost the ball again.
After a couple near chances each way, Toronto broke through in the 63rd minute through Jay Chapman. An unfortunate deflection from Uri Rosell bounced straight to Vazquez, who quickly slotted Tosaint Ricketts in behind Sané. Ricketts’ shot hit the far post but Orlando couldn’t track down the rebound, which found the foot of Chapman, who passed it into the empty net to make it 1-0.
Josué Colmán came on for Pinho just after the goal and immediately impacted the game, crossing to Kljestan who headed right at Alex Bono in the 65th minute. Three minutes later it was Meram heading one on frame off a Mueller pass, forcing a good save by Bono.
Toronto appeared to double the lead off a corner in the 72nd minute. A second ball in found Ricketts behind the defense but the play was offside and the goal disallowed. There was no video review on the play. The ball came off Sané, but it was played off of him by a Toronto player, so the call looked correct. A minute later, Orlando City equalized.
Mohamed El-Munir got deep into the penalty area after an outstanding individual effort. Mo was able to send the ball across the box, where it bounced off Mueller, who went down under heavy contact. Colmán picked up the loose ball and found Higuita, who smashed it into the net to make it 1-1 in the 73rd minute. It was Higuita’s second goal of the season, which is his career high in MLS.
Orlando failed to take advantage of two more decent chances as time wound down. In the 78th minute, Mueller worked himself free for a shot but it was deflected and bounced straight to Bono. In the 85th, an outlet pass found Meram, who tried to take the shot with his weaker left foot, but he slipped and the ball ended up going out for a corner off a defender.
Two minutes later, Toronto found the winner out of nowhere. El-Munir had Auro pinned down near the touch line but instead of using the two boundaries as help, he lunged in and Auro made a quick move to get to the end line and beat the Orlando left back. Auro’s cross to the other side found Telfer, with Johnson having drifted too far toward the middle. Telfer hit the cross in the air and it went through Bendik for his first Toronto goal and the ultimate game winner at the 87-minute mark.
The Lions got two half chances in stoppage time. Colmán’s cross for substitute Richie Laryea was just out of reach in the 91st minute and the Paraguayan’s look at goal in the 93rd minute wasn’t well struck and was an easy save for Bono.
Ultimately, Orlando City played well in spurts and mostly defended well but an unlucky deflection off Rosell’s toe and a poor decision by El-Munir late in a tie game cost Orlando what would have been a helpful road point.
Toronto finished with a 14-10 advantage in shots (5-5 on target), with Orlando grabbing 51% of the possession and out-passing the Reds, 85%-84% on 46 more attempts. There were some positives to take from the match, but it was clear that Dwyer’s absence completely changed the attack.
The Lions will try to stop the bleeding next Saturday night at home in the purple palace, hosting the Chicago Fire at 7:30 p.m. ET.