Toronto FC looks to breach Orlando City's formidable defence

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After holding MLS's most potent offence to a 1-1 tie last week at New York City FC, Toronto FC faces one of the league's stingiest defences on Saturday in Orlando.

Orlando City is tied with Seattle in conceding a league-low 0.40 goals a game. In comparison, Toronto ranks 25th in the league, giving up an average of 1.80 goals an outing.

Orlando's Peruvian international 'keeper Pedro Gallese is tied for the league lead with three shutouts, which matches his total in 19 games in 2020. Orlando has given up just two goals this season, one of which came from a penalty kick.

Orlando has allowed just 15 shots on target this season, the lowest in the league.

Orlando (2-0-3) is also one of three unbeaten sides in Major League Soccer, along with the Seattle Sounders (5-0-1) and Nashville SC (1-0-4). Orlando's five-match undefeated start to the season is a club record, erasing the previous mark of four in 2016.

"It starts with, I believe, the head coach Oscar Pareja, who I know pretty well," said Toronto coach Chris Armas. "Many many years ago, we played against each other in MLS.

"He sees the game both ways. So his team is creative and they attack and they're good in transition going forward. But they're a team that works hard, just the way he did. As much as he was an attacker, he also understands the other side … They're a team that's together. You can see it. They attack together, they defend together."

With Toronto setting up shop in Orlando during the pandemic, Exploria Stadium serves as TFC's home base. But Armas's team will officially be the visitors Saturday.

“It’s going to be a good derby, let’s see it that way," said Pareja, a former Colombian international who played more than 200 games for FC Dallas and the New England Revolution between 1998 and 2005.

Toronto midfielder Mark Delgado says being the visitors at their temporary 'home' venue will be strange, especially with fans rooting against them.

"It is weird but it's exciting. We get to play in front of fans, have the opportunity to beat them on their home turf," he said.

And that playing surface is special, according to Armas. "It's a putting green," he said.

"We feel at home on any pitch but now we're starting to relate to that one a bit more," he added. "We'll be up for it."

Toronto has had a week to prepare after a congested schedule that saw it play four matches in 12 days. Armas, while speaking highly of the Orlando team, says it is vulnerable at times.

"It sets up to be a good one for us," said Armas. "A good test. We're looking forward to it."

Toronto got a break Friday when Portuguese star Nani, Orlando's captain, was suspended for two games and fined by the league's disciplinary committee for "unwanted physical contact" with referee Alex Chilowicz in last week's 1-0 win over D.C. United.

Nani will miss Orlando's games against Toronto FC and May 29 against the New York Red Bulls.

There is still flair in the Orlando attack with Chris Mueller and Canadian Tesho Akindele.

"It's a nice group," said Armas. "They can be dangerous in possession because they have guys that can use the ball the right way."

Toronto will have to keep a watchful eye on Uruguayan playmaker Mauricio Pereyra, who scored the decider in the win over D.C. United. Orlando is 10-1-6 in regular-season play since the start of the 2020 season when the Orlando designated player is in the starting lineup. The club is 3-3-5 when he's not in the lineup.

"For me, one of the best in the league in that part of the field," said Armas. "Intelligent, understands space, a good-decision maker."

After conceding eight goals and collecting just one point in its first three league games, Toronto has outscored its opposition 3-1 in picking up four points from its last two outings.

"They have good momentum," said Pareja.

Toronto will be without Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo (thigh) for the 10th straight game in 2021. The stylish designated player was injured in the pre-season and has missed all of TFC's league and Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League play.

Armas said Pozuelo is expected to be back in full training next week and should be available in the "next week or so."

Veteran fullback Justin Morrow (hip) is also out while former Orlando forward Dom Dwyer (thigh) is questionable.

The good news is Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio is healthy after a thigh injury. He has seen just 29 minutes of action in Toronto's first five league games.

"You can expect to see him (Saturday)," said Armas.

For Orlando, Joao Moutinho, David Loera and WIlfredo Rivera are all questionable. Alexandre Pato and Uri Rosell are out.

Brazilian fullback Ruan could return after being held out of the D.C. 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 side has lost this season at Exploria, which is serving as TFC's home stadium during the pandemic. Orlando is 1-0-2 there while Toronto is 1-0-1.

MILESTONES: Canadian Tesho Akindele is two goals away from 40 in MLS regular-season play. He has 14 goals for Orlando City and 24 for FC Dallas.

HISTORY: Toronto has an 8-2-2 edge in all-time meetings with Orlando. The two have not met since a 1-1 tie Aug. 10, 2019, at BMO Field.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2021

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press