NASHVILLE — Two goals from a local boy and another two made in Italy. Toronto FC put on a show Saturday.
Sure there were some rough spots and a nervy ending but Toronto's 4-3 win in Nashville ended a 19-game winless stretch on the road while showing its newly revamped side is headed in the right direction.
"A really important win. … A lot of big positives," said coach Bob Bradley.
Jonathan Osorio, a product of Brampton, Ont., scored twice and Italians Federico Bernardeschi and Lorenzo Insigne added goals as Toronto (7-12-5) staved off a stubborn Nashville side for its first MLS road win in more than a year.
Toronto fullback Richie Laryea had an assist and won a penalty on his return to his hometown club.
Bernardeschi converted the 54th-minute penalty to put Toronto ahead 3-2 before Insigne opened his MLS account with a 77th-minute rocket, cutting inside to ghost past a defender before effortlessly hammering a right-footed shot from just outside the penalty box past goalkeeper Joe Willis.
Hany Mukhtar, Teal Bunbury and Walker Zimmerman scored for Nashville (8-8-9) in a wide-open, end-to-end game that saw the teams combine for three rapid-fire goals late in the first half, two penalties and 31 shots.
While Nashville had 21 of those shots, Toronto had an 8-6 edge in shots on target.
Zimmerman's 84th-minute goal, a header off a corner, made for a tense finale after surviving video review. Nashville never led but never gave up with TFC having to survive six tense minutes of added time.
Mukhtar had a chance in the 96th minute but his header was off-target.
Despite the loss, Nashville coach Gary Smith took solace in his team's effort and fightback after a demanding week that saw his team play three times, including mid-week in Portland.
"In terms of opportunities created, energy and endeavour at the end of a very tough week — and of course, three goals — I think we can all be very proud of the way the guys have gone about their work," said Smith, whose team drew the two previous outings.
"We were beaten today by a side of immensely talented individuals, that took advantage of their situations and moments when they came along."
Both teams had endured lean spells of late with each recording just one win in their seven previous league outings — Toronto at 1-4-2 and Nashville at 1-2-4. Still Nashville came into weekend play above the playoff line in the Western Conference and 10 points ahead of Toronto.
Toronto came into the game 0-7-4 away from home this season — the only team in the league yet to win on the road — and was winless in 19 straight away matches (0-13-6) dating back to July 24, 2021, when it won 2-1 at Chicago. Eight of the Toronto starters that day at Soldier Field have since left the club.
Laryea who returned to his hometown club Friday on loan from England's Nottingham Forest, started at right fullback for Toronto.
The 27-year-old was sold to Forest in January after three seasons with TFC but had trouble cracking the lineup of a winning Forest side and saw action in just five games. Laryea made 83 appearances across all competitions in his first go-round with Toronto, recording nine goals and 12 assists in three seasons.
He exited in the 64th minute Saturday after an impressive return performance.
"Obviously the love I have for this club is unconditional … I don't take it lightly playing for this club and representing this club," said Laryea, who is looking to get playing minutes ahead of this November's World Cup. "It's done a lot for me and my family. It's always good to put on this shirt."
It was 30 degrees Celsius, feeling like 34 degrees at kickoff at Geodis Park.
Osorio put Toronto ahead in the 19th minute with a marvellous effort. Facing three defenders, he shimmied right and left to make space for a shot and then, from the edge of the penalty box, fired a left-footed rocket into the corner of the goal with Willis rooted to the spot.
The goal ended Toronto's 380-minute scoring drought in league play on the road, dating back to a 2-2 tie at D.C. United on May 21 that saw Osorio score in the 89th minute.
A midfield giveaway by Bernardeschi led to a Nashville penalty late in the half. Mukhtar fed C.J. Sapong who went down after his trailing foot hit Alex Bono as he tried to accelerate past the goalkeeper. Laryea was booked as Toronto players delayed the spot kick, which Mukhtar fired high into the goal in the 41st minute for his 13th of the season.
Laryea played provider in the 44th minute, sending a low cross to Osorio to tap in at the far post for his eighth of the season, tying him for the club lead with Jesus Jimenez. Bernardeschi did his part, finding Laryea in the penalty box after a fine buildup that saw Toronto move the ball from side to side.
Osorio has now scored six goals in his last 10 games, after scoring six goals in his previous 42 regular-season appearances.
Nashville tied it up in first-half stoppage time when Dave Romney got away from his marker, Toronto captain Michael Bradley, on a Mukhtar corner and flicked a backward header that went off Bunbury's head past Bono. The goal stood despite complaints of offside.
"To be clear. there's a bunch of really tight calls in this game," said Bob Bradley.
Bunbury, a Canadian-born U.S. international whose father is former Canadian international Alex Bunbury, has now scored in four straight games to up his career MLS total to 68.
Allen Chapman awarded a penalty in the 53rd minute when Laryea went down after contact with Daniel Lovitz. The Nashville fullback, a former TFC draft choice, waved his finger in disagreement with the call but it stood.
Bernardeschi stepped up to the spot after winning a debate with Jimenez over who was taking the penalty.
Nashville is now winless in five games (0-2-3), a run that included three straight 1-1 draws in games that it had led.
Winger Jacob Shaffelburg, who joined Nashville on loan from Toronto this week, did not make the Nashville match squad.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2022
The Canadian Press