Toronto FC

Reds secure dramatic comeback over Orlando: "There's no better feeling”


Toronto FC defeated Orlando City SC 2-1 on Saturday night at Inter&Co Stadium in Florida.

Duncan McGuire gave the home side the lead in the first half, arriving at the back-post to meet Facundo Torres’s ball with a sliding finish, but TFC regrouped at half-time and set themselves up to respond twice in the final three minutes of the match.

Tyrese Spicer headed in the equalizer in the 87th minute, leaping to redirect a Kobe Franklin cross from the right, and Prince Owusu got on the end of a Federico Bernardeschi ball in the 90th minute, beating Pedro Gallese with a downward header to seal the upset.

“We started the game strong, showed a good mindset to set the tone on how we wanted to come into this venue,” said John Herdman post-match. “The boys were brave right from the front and established a physical element to the game, but I'm really proud of that second half.”

“This is a tough place to come. There's always heat, humidity, we've just come off the back of a game this week, and to see the shift they put in... it was exceptional,” he highlighted. “And it was a complete performance, when you see five lads come off the bench contributing to the goals as well.

It was Toronto’s first come-from-behind win since the 2022 season, the first on the road since 2017, and their first victory over Orlando in nine attempts.

“It was a resilient response from us,” pinpointed Sean Johnson. “Over the course of the season, just looking at this group and how this group has evolved, we’ve been looking for a little challenge and adversity, to face it head on, and overcome that.”

“It's the first time we've come-from-behind,” he continued.

“And to win a game on the road, especially, is a big task. At half-time, we came in and regrouped, got out everything that we needed to say, and focused on winning the game.”

Spared what could have been a back-breaking second goal against by the offside flag in first half stoppage-time, Herdman refocused his group during the break.

“It was a tactical message,” he laid out. “Óscar [Pareja] got his tactics right, they had recognized the timing on our pressing triggers and were just going to keep finding McGuire or [Iván] Angulo in behind. We adapted well. Raoul [Petretta], Nicksoen [Gomis], Siggy [Sigurd Rosted], they, most of the time, got it right, but the one time we let Torres run, that was it, we were done.”

“Tactically we had to address that,” Herdman continued. “And then just reminding them, ‘You started well. You were in that game for 25 minutes. It was a tight game. You were the aggressor and it's only 1-0. We’re right there. We are right there.’”

“We did some things to try to get Nicksoen [Gomis] released on that left side more frequently, loosened Oso [Jonathan Osorio] so he could go find the ball more in the spaces between and behind. That helped, but it was more just the mentality,” he added. “‘Just be patient, you're right in this, and if you get the next goal...’ – we actually said – ‘If we get the next goal, we think we'll go on and win this.’”

Bernardeschi was the catalyst for both goals.

It was his raking cross-field ball that found Franklin in space on the right to pick out Spicer and then his tireless work and quality that created the opportunity for Owusu.

“You've got to give a special mention to Federico,” said Herdman. “He covered in at wing-back when Jahkeele [Marshall-Rutty] went off – there’s not many DPs will do that, but to do that, have a big impact, and then shift back into his forward position.... Yeah, he's a special human being.”

“I've gotten to know Fede over time now and he really cares – he cares about the state of the club, the team, and winning,” he added. “Hard to single him out because I thought there were some real Goliath performances tonight from people like Kevin Long and Prince Owusu.”

Bernardeschi is still awaiting his first goal of the season. Sometimes an assist is better than a goal; two surely are, but more to the point he has led by example.

“To be honest, I can't even find words to describe how important he's been to this group,” said Johnson. “The level that he brings every single game, game-in and game-out, what he does for this group – everybody obviously wants that goal for him, but the assists tonight, the tireless runs in behind, the tracking back last game to clear the ball off the line against New England.”

“It's the small things that he may not get a ton of credit for, but internally he's been something special this year. He's taken the responsibility on his shoulders in a big way,” he continued.

“I'm really proud to be his teammate and proud to share the pitch. Without his effort and what he brings to the group I don't think we are anywhere close to the target that we hit.”

“I know the goals are coming. The group knows the goals are coming. But what he's doing, that's something that we'll need every game going forward,” Johnson added. “I couldn't be happier for him tonight and what a feeling after the game to be able to celebrate winning with him and the boys. There's no better feeling.”

On the end of that second assist was Owusu, who continues his hot streak with a fifth goal in the last four matches, all competitions.

“Prince is a tremendous human being, first and foremost,” said Johnson. “Somebody who's truly hungry to come here and make sure he leaves a stamp.”

“Scoring goals, driving the line, his commitment to pressing, to be in the right spots and being available for guys,” he listed. “I’ve really been impressed with how he's taken a different level of responsibility with this group as well. It's not easy to come out every single game and have that pressure to have a game-changing moment, but it's something that he looks for, and all the other things that you don't necessarily see.”

“He's such an important piece of the group and so [I’m] proud that he's been able to do the things he's been doing the past few games,” he added. “And I have no doubt that he’ll continue moving forward.”

That both goals came from purposeful crosses was worth noting as well. It’s been a concerted effort since the defeat in Vancouver to make better use of being in good positions.

“Those two goals were from the training ground,” confirmed Herdman. “There's been a lot of scrutiny on our front players, our wing-backs, after that Vancouver game. There was some hard conversations, but at the same time the commitment to getting it right – it's easy to say we need to improve, but then you’ve got to do the work.”

“We've got our wing-back specialist, Alex Dodgshon, who is working on the crossing from Jahkeele and Tyrese, and if one is crossing the other is attacking the back-post, and the timing of that, and the quality of it,” detailed the coach. “Tyrese's goal was a wonderful goal, the quality of that, and Fede, to be able to stand that one up. It's definitely paying off. The work's gone in and the players, all through this period of time, whenever we’ve pushed them, they’ve responded well.”

Saturday also saw the newest Red take to the pitch, as Derrick Etienne Jr., having just arrived from Atlanta United FC with the close of the Primary Transfer Window, entered the match in the 58th minute for Marshall-Rutty.

“Our front office did a good job with the signing of Etienne Jr.,” noted Herdman. “I've seen him internationally with Haiti. I told him in my first meeting, that ‘I got excited when the other guy got picked ahead of you.’ Whenever he came on he was a real handful for [Canada].”

“What Derrick did is bring an attacking poise,” he continued. “He has that ability just to slow it down when he needs to and you see that little scoop pass for Petretta. These are the X-factor elements that I'm going to keep encouraging him to bring to our team.”


Phase Three of the season in the books, Toronto celebrated the victory after the final whistle. Prior to the match Herdman explained that the target for this portion of the year was to be in reach of the top four in the Eastern Conference. The overachievement was to be in the top four itself.

At the conclusion of the Saturday matches TFC sit in fourth place. The result between the Philadelphia Union and Seattle Sounders FC may shift that around, but either way that target has been achieved.

Having fallen two goals short of the target midweek against Simcoe County Rovers FC the side was not satisfied with ‘nearly’.

“Sean said it in the huddle at the end,” recounted Herdman. “We felt like the ‘nearly men’ after Simcoe. I challenged the group, to say, ‘We either do. Or we don’t. The nearly men is not where we want to be.’”

“Sean let the lads know we hit our target after the first ten games: we are right in touch with that top four, so I'm proud of them,” he continued.

“They committed tonight. In the pregame conversations, they made some commitments as a collective and individually and watching them live that’s a proud moment as a coach.”

“We're ten games into the season. We haven’t won the FA Cup or Champions League, but we’re going to celebrate and enjoy this moment because it's one of the first times this team has came back for a long time and won. It's a tough place to come. [Orlando] are a very good team, as everyone knows, and they were in good form. The lads, they’ve got to enjoy this moment,” Herdman closed. “We’ve hit a target, there will be an extra day off this week, and then we’ll regroup and get ready to bring that intensity, that passion, home to our fans.”