Toronto FC digs early hole in Chicago as Colombian teen Jhon Duran leads Fire to win


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CHICAGO - The job of rebuilding Toronto FC continues for coach Bob Bradley. And on nights like Wednesday, the to-do list grows.

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CHICAGO – The job of rebuilding Toronto FC continues for coach Bob Bradley. And on nights like Wednesday, the to-do list grows.

Toronto dug an early hole at Soldier Field, conceding two goals to Colombian teenager Jhon Duran in the first 16 minutes, and was unable to get out of it as the Chicago Fire won 2-0.

Toronto, whose defence has been suspect all season, could not handle Duran’s pace and power. And it failed to muster much offence.

Chicago Fire FC’s Xherdan Shaqiri fights for possession of the ball with Toronto FC’s Kosi Thompson during first half MLS soccer action in Toronto on Saturday, May 28, 2022. Toronto FC and the Chicago Fire, two teams in need of a change of fortune, meet Wednesday night at Soldier Field. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jon Blacker

“Tonight we never gave ourselves a chance,” said Bradley.

The veteran coach acknowledged that the repair job on TFC’s roster is still underway. More than 20 players have exited since the end of last season and the influx of new faces continues.

“There was a lot that needed to be done just to get rid of some guys,” he said bluntly. “Now that we’re at this point, there are areas where we’ve got to find ways to see if we secure ourselves. There’s also then just trying to get more from the guys you have.”

Bradley returned to that theme.

“We’ve had a lot of games this year where you would look around and say, ‘Yeah, maybe on the night we didn’t quite have enough quality.’ But … on an away game against a team that’s just lost (3-2 to Columbus) after being ahead by two goals, tonight we didn’t have enough guys tonight that really were ready for all parts of the game from the beginning.”

Toronto had 57.8 per cent possession and had five corners to Chicago’s two but was outshot 12-5 (6-2 in shots on target).

TFC defender Chris Mavinga was second-best to the Colombian youth international on both of his goals and didn’t last the first half. Fellow centre backs Shane O’Neill and Lukas MacNaughton, who replaced Mavinga, were both yellow-carded in the first half for trying to illegally slow down Duran.

Duran was 17 when he signed with Chicago in January 2021, becoming the youngest international player signing in MLS history. He spent the 2021 season with Colombia’s Envigado FC before his contract with the Fire officially kicked in.

With Mexican centre back Carlos Salcedo released from his contract Monday by mutual agreement, Toronto is short at centre back. With Mavinga having an up-and-down season, help is sorely needed.

“It’s an area where we’re pretty thin, no doubt about that,” said Bradley.

Mavinga took to social media after the game “to say sorry for tonight.”

“I didn’t want to make (it) as an excuse but yes I have been struggling not only on but off the field with some family issues … Hopefully one day I will be ready to talk about my personal issues because I know you want to see the best version of me on the field,” wrote the French-born Congolese international.

Both teams came into the game needing a change in fortune.

Chicago (5-10-5) started the day at the bottom of the 14-team Eastern Conference, two points and two places below Toronto (5-11-4). After going 2-0-2 to start the season, the Fire were mired in a 2-10-3 slump going into Wednesday’s match.

The win moved the Fire two places up the standings, past Toronto. TFC could have ended up in the basement, had D.C. United beaten Columbus instead of tying 2-2.

TFC is now winless in its last four league outings (0-3-1), has just two victories in its last 13 games (2-9-2) and has yet to win on the road this season (0-6-3).

The loss ended Toronto’s 14-game unbeaten run (11-0-3) against Chicago dating back to September 2015. No MLS team has ever gone 15 straight regular-season meetings against a single opponent without losing.

Soldier Field was the site of TFC’s last away win in league play, a 2-1 decision on July 24, 2021. Toronto has gone 0-12-5 away from home since then.

Toronto’s defence looked shaky from the start Wednesday and Chicago went ahead in the fourth minute after Mavinga lost the ball under Duran’s pressing just inside the Chicago half.

The ball went to Chris Mueller whose through ball found Duran behind the Toronto defence and the 18-year-old beat a defenceless Quentin Westberg with Chicago’s first shot of the evening.

It marked the seventh goal Toronto has given up in the first 15 minutes of a match this season. Only Montreal, with eight, has conceded more in that period.

Duran beat Mavinga again in the 16th minute, outmuscling and racing past him after taking an elegant flick-on by Brian Gutierrez at midfield. Once again Westberg was left unprotected and Duran slipped the ball past the ‘keeper as he came out for his third goal of the season.

Mavinga limped off in the 31st minute, holding the back of his left thigh.

Toronto’s only scoring chance of the half came in the 41st minute when newly acquired midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye’s curling shot from outside the penalty box forced a diving save from 18-year-old goalkeeper Gaga Slonina, who reportedly is being targeted by England’s Chelsea.

Bradley replaced Spanish striker Jesus Jimenez with Ayo Akinola at halftime. Kaye gave way to Italian fullback Domenico Criscito in the 63rd minute.

Duran left to applause from the Chicago fans in the 68th minute. Five minutes later, Slonina made an acrobatic one-handed save to tip away Criscito’s long-range shot.

Toronto came into the game 26th in the 28-team league on defence, conceding 1.89 goals a game on average.

It has not blanked the opposition since a 0-0 draw at Colorado on Sept. 25, 2021 — a run of 28 straight games without a clean sheet, which ties the fourth-longest regular season streak in league history (set by the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2018-19 and the now-defunct Miami Fusion in 1998-99).

Toronto did not have a designated player in its lineup with Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo traded to Inter Miami last weekand Salcedo headed back to Mexico for family reasons.

Later Wednesday, FC Juarez posted video of Salcedo taking a variety of medical tests.

Italian star Lorenzo Insigne, the team’s other DP, has yet to make his TFC debut due to a calf injury.

Toronto, which was also without injured midfielder Noble Okello, visits CF Montreal on Saturday.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 13, 2022.

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