Toronto FC's road back to respectability hit another bump Saturday.
Goals by Dylan Teves and Fredy Montero lifted the undermanned Seattle Sounders to a 2-0 victory over Toronto in an MLS game that left TFC players and coach frustrated.
Toronto (5-10-3) was disconnected in the first half and paid for slack defending on both goals.
Coach Bob Bradley, who has been tasked with overseeing a massive overhaul of an underachieving 6-18-10 side that finished second from last in the then-27-team league in 2021, didn't mince words after the game.
"A frustrating night," he said. "I'm disappointed because I think most nights we still of late feel like things have gotten better. But tonight (in) the first half, (it) was not the case."
Toronto captain Michael Bradley, Bob's son, was equally blunt.
"The first half wasn't good enough … Too slow, not sharp enough. Not enough intensity. Just not the way we want to play in any way," he said.
TFC likely needs more help than Italian newcomers Lorenzo Insigne and Domenico Criscito, who are waiting in the wings. But it also needs time, given 20 players exited after last season.
"Anyone whose been around here in this last stretch knew that it's going to take a little bit of time to put the pieces back together in a strong way and make a real team," said Michael Bradley. "A team that can play football, a team that has the right mentality, a team that can be resilient, a team that can win.
"Again anyone who's been around here knew that was no quick fix, there was no magic dust and all of a sudden everything was going to be perfect. We knew that. But tonight, especially the first half, is not good enough."
At times, it has been one step forward and two back this season. Bob Bradley has had to rely on a lot of young talent that is still learning its way.
When everything clicks, Toronto can move the ball quickly and smartly, putting the opposition under duress. But on nights like Saturday, the offence misfires, the defence wobbles and the midfield finds itself overrun.
Teves, scoring in his first career start, took advantage of poor Toronto defending to put Seattle (8-7-2) ahead in the 39th minute. Montero, a former Vancouver Whitecaps striker, added to the lead in the 60th minute as the TFC backline was caught short again.
The Sounders opened the scoring late on their first shot on target. An accurate clearance by goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland found Jimmy Medranda near midfield who controlled the ball and sent it on to Leo Chu down the flank. Chu outpaced defender Carlos Salcedo and sent in a cross that Teves, outmanoeuvring centre back Chris Mavinga, deflected in from close range.
Salcedo missed the mid-week game due to a family health-related issue.
Teves, a 22-year-old midfielder from Hawaii, was a collegiate star at the University of Washington, helping the Huskies finish runner-up at the 2021 NCAA men’s soccer championship. Before Saturday, he had made just one 18-minute appearance off the bench for the Sounders.
Toronto's defence was cut open again in the second half by Seattle captain Nicolas Lodeiro, who had two teammates to choose from with the TFC backline in disarray. He opted for Montero who easily beat defenceless goalkeeper Quentin Westberg for his second of the season and 82nd of his MLS career.
Toronto has now conceded goals in 26 straight league games. Its last shutout was July 25, 2021, when it tied 0-0 at Colorado.
Insigne and Criscito were part of the announced crowd of 23,954 at BMO Field on a warm evening. Both players are eligible to make their TFC debut next Saturday against the visiting San Jose Earthquakes after the league's secondary transfer window officially opens Thursday.
The two Italians received a standing ovation when they were introduced at halftime.
Toronto, which lost 2-1 to visiting Columbus mid-week, came into the game having won two of its last four league contests (2-0-2) but was 2-7-1 over its last 10 outings.
The Sounders have recovered from a poor 2-5-1 start to the season, although their four-game unbeaten run (3-0-1) ended in a mid-week 2-1 loss to visiting CF Montreal that marked the first Seattle defeat since May 22.
Seattle has lost just two of its last nine MLS contests (6-2-1) despite an injury list that includes star Peruvian forward Raul Ruidiaz, striker Will Bruin and Ecuador defender Xavier Arreaga.
Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei, Jordan Morris, Cristian Roldan and Albert Rusnak did not make the trip to Toronto, forcing Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer to dig deep into his roster with Ruidiaz and Rusnak both designated players, unavailable.
Saturday marked the first meeting between the two teams since the Sounders defeated Toronto 3-1 in the 2019 MLS Cup final in Seattle.
Only five Toronto starters from that championship game remain with the team. Lodeiro, the Sounders' other designated player, was the only Seattle starter from the 2019 MLS Cup in Saturday's starting 11.
Toronto and Seattle have met just 15 times in regular-season play with the Sounders holding a 10-3-2 edge in the series.
Seattle has now won the last four meetings, with Toronto's last victory coming in the 2017 MLS Cup final — a 2-0 win for TFC at BMO Field.
Saturday's game marked the 100th Toronto appearance in all competitions for Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo. The 30-year-old designated player, who joined Toronto in 2019 and won league MVP honours in 2020, is out of a contract at the end of the season.
Once again, Pozuelo was Toronto's best attacking threat. He led the team with 117 touches, completed 91.8 per cent of his passes and was handled roughly by Sounders tacklers on more than a few occasions.
Westberg, who missed the mid-week to Columbus with a knock to the knee, was back in the Toronto goal. Salcedo and Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio also returned, replacing Shane O'Neill and Ralph Priso.
Canadian referee Silviu Petrescu let little get past him, issuing three yellow cards — two to Seattle and one to Toronto — in the first half. He handed out two more, to Seattle, in the second half.
Toronto forward Ayo Akinola was pulled at halftime for the second game in a row. He had just 11 touches in the mid-week loss and 10 touches Saturday.
As in the mid-week game against Columbus, Toronto pressed as the second half wore on but failed to breach the Seattle defence.
Toronto outshot Seattle 13-11 (6-4 in shots on target) and had 61.7 per cent possession.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press