Four days after paying for some sloppy defending in a 2-1 loss to visiting FC Cincinnati, Toronto FC will be short on the backline when the two teams meet again Wednesday in Ohio.
Mexican centre back Carlos Salcedo, along with forward Ifunanyachi Achara, is in health and safety protocols. Fellow defender Chris Mavinga, a French-born Congolese international, is dealing with a leg injury that forced him out of Saturday's game at BMO Field in the 29th minute.
"Like many people around the world, we're still dealing with some parts of protocols when you get in these situations," said Toronto coach Bob Bradley. "So yeah, we're down on guys and numbers. But the key is the response of the rest of the guys, the mentality. In these situations, we still believe that we've to go there with belief and confidence, play football, move the ball quickly, do the things that we work on every day."
Mavinga was listed as being out on TFC's player availability report ahead of the game. Bradley's in-person assessement was "it's likely that he's out."
Shane O'Neill and Lukas MacNaughton will likely fill the void on the backline.
Defence has been hard to come by for the Canadian MLS teams this season. Vancouver is conceding 2.13 goals a game on average, compared to 2.11 for Toronto and 2.0 for Montreal.
Contrast that with East-leading Philadelphia, which is yielding a stingy 0.67 goals a game.
Toronto has not kept a clean sheet in its last 17 league outings, since Sept. 26 when it drew 0-0 at Colorado.
On the plus side, sort of, nine of the 17 goals it has conceded this season came in two outings (a 4-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls in TFC's home opener and a 5-4 road defeat at New York City FC).
Toronto (3-4-2) is also without the injured Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty (knee) and Noble Okello (lower body). Jacob Shaffelburg is questionable.
Cincinnati (3-5-1) is missing Allan Cruz, Ray Gaddis, Alec Kann and Ronald Matarrita.
A win Wednesday and Cincinnati, currently 11th in the Eastern Conference will leapfrog Toronto, which holds down eighth.
Toronto is looking to snap a 12-game winless streak (0-8-4) on the road, having not won away from home in league play since a 2-1 win in Chicago on July 24. Only five members of the starting 11 that day — Alex Bono, Mavinga, Ralph Priso, Alejandro Pozuelo and captain Michael Bradley — remain with Toronto (six if you include Luke Singh who is on loan to FC Edmonton).
Saturday's win in Toronto was Cincinnati's third of the season, one short of all of last year when it went 4-22-8 to finish last in the then 27-team league. TFC was 26th at 6-18-10.
It also marked the 17th all-time league victory for Cincinnati, now in its fourth season. Three of those wins have come against Toronto with two more against Montreal.
Cincinnati has won three of its last seven after recording just three victories in its previous 31 games.
Nigerian midfielder Obinna Nwobodo, Cincinnati's newest designated player, made his MLS debut off the bench Saturday in Toronto. Nwobodo was acquired from Turkey's Goztepe SK.
It's "Stars Wars Night" at TQL Stadium with the team noting "light sabres are allowed but subject to removal if used improperly." May 4 is informally treated as Star Wars Day, because the film's trademark saying "May the Force be with you" is close to "May the 4th Be With You."
Asked about his interest in the "Star Wars" night, a smiling Bob Bradley replied: "I'm not (interested) so it doesn't mean much to me.
"I could talk about Oscar Robertson playing in Cincinnati a long time ago but not too much about 'Star Wars,'" he added referencing the Hall of Fame guard who played in the NBA for the Cincinnati Royals and Milwaukee Bucks in the 1960s and '70s.
On Tuesday, Cincinnati acquired US$125,000 in general allocation money plus US$25,000 in conditional GAM and the No. 2 spot in the allocation ranking from Real Salt Lake in exchange for the No. 1 spot in the allocation ranking. MLS uses the allocation ranking to acquire select U.S. senior and youth internationals or reacquire former MLS players who left on a transfer fee of at least US$500,000.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 3, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press