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Visit by FC Cincinnati provides Toronto FC with tough Major League Soccer test

TORONTO — After scoring a club- and tournament-record eight goals in a lopsided Canadian Championship win Tuesday over semi-pro CS Saint-Laurent, Toronto FC steps up in class Saturday when FC Cincinnati comes to BMO Field.
CS Saint-Laurent's Oussama Boughanmi, left, challenges Toronto FC's Jonathan Osorio (21) during first half Canadian Championship quarterfinal soccer action in Montreal, Wednesday, May 8, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

TORONTO — After scoring a club- and tournament-record eight goals in a lopsided Canadian Championship win Tuesday over semi-pro CS Saint-Laurent, Toronto FC steps up in class Saturday when FC Cincinnati comes to BMO Field.

Cincinnati (9-2-3) stands second overall in Major League Soccer and has won six straight since a 2-1 loss at CF Montreal on April 13. A victory Saturday would make that winning run a club record.

"I think Cincinnati is just a real championship team," said Toronto coach John Herdman. "They're consistent and they have the levels of concentration that puts them where they are in the table. Points per game (a league-high 2.14) doesn't lie. The standings don't lie. They're a top, top team."

Cincinnati also sports a formidable 5-1-1 road record. The club has won three straight away from home (at Atlanta, Orlando and Columbus), tied for the longest road win streak in club history

"I think we have a group of guys that understand when you're on the road against different types of teams, especially teams that are good with the ball, you have to understand how to defend for durations that you don't necessarily like but that allow you to get results," said Cincinnati coach Pat Noonan.

"That I think our group has done well. Toronto's another team that has the quality with the ball to break teams down, they have the individual talent to break you down. And they can score in different ways. Our group has understood at different times how to struggle and how to defend the (penalty) box and how to play under pressure. And that's certainly important when you go on the road."

It's working.

Cincinnati boasts the league's stingiest defence, averaging 0.79 goals against per game. It has conceded a league-low eight goals from open play and has eight wins in games decided by one goal this season.

Roman Celentano leads all goalkeepers in fewest goals allowed (five in 10 games) and goals-against average (0.50).

TFC has been on a run of its own.

Toronto (7-6-1) is seventh in the Supporters' Shield race, has won seven of its last nine games (7-2-0) in all competitions and scored 13 goals in its last two outings, including a 5-1 shellacking of Montreal last Saturday.

But Toronto will be without Federico Bernardeschi on Saturday. The Italian star, who has been involved in 11 goals (seven goals and four assists) in his last six matches across all competitions, is suspended for yellow card accumulation.

"(A) massive blow," said Herdman.

Cincinnati star playmaker Lucho Acosta, meanwhile, has recorded a goal or assist in eight straight games the longest active streak in MLS and tied with Miami's Lionel Messi (from Feb. 21 to May 4) for the longest such run this season. The 29-year-old attacking midfielder from Argentina also leads the league in game-winning goals (five) this season.

At US$4.22 million this season, the 2023 MVP is the 13th-highest-paid player in MLS.

Acosta's name was audible at training Friday as Toronto assistant coach Jason deVos oversaw a defensive drill.

"We've been developing the Acosta rules … You can develop them but applying them are two different things," said Herdman.

The two teams played to a scoreless draw in Cincinnati in their season opener Feb. 25.

Noonan describes today's TFC as a "team that's certainly improved" since then.

"They have a better idea of each other," he said. "They're in good form."

BMO Field has been a happy hunting ground for Cincinnati. Its most recent visit, last September, was a 3-2 win that clinched the Supporters' Shield.

"I feel like they've been able to just tick over that machine over from last season and they haven't really skipped a beat," said Herdman.

Cincinnati leads the all-time series 6-4-1. It took all six points from Toronto last season and is undefeated in five games (4-0-1) against TFC since Noonan took over in 2022. Toronto last beat Cininnati 3-2 at BMO Field on Sept. 29, 2021.

Toronto captain Jonathan Osorio and centre back Kevin Long are available after missing the last three games through injury or suspension. Herdman said fullback/wingback Richie Laryea, who has been out since injuring a hamstring in the season opener, will likely return next week.

Shane O'Neill and Brandon Servania remain on the Toronto injured list. Laryea was listed as questionable on the league's injury report.

Cincinnati is without the injured Yuya Kubo, Aaron Boupendza, Alvas Powell and Corey Baird.

Saturday's game is Toronto's 10th since April 20, with two more to come next week. It's the seventh outing for Cincinnati over the same time period.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 24, 2024.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press