Toronto FC extends unbeaten run while Nashville records another shutout in 0-0 draw

NASHVILLE — Toronto FC hasn’t lost since its season opener Feb. 25. But it has only won once since with a string of draws slowing its progress up the MLS standings.

Toronto (1-1-5) extended its unbeaten run to six games (1-0-5) in a 0-0 draw with Nashville SC on Saturday. And while wins and goals (eight so far) have been hard to come by this year, TFC’s third shutout of the campaign matched its total from all of last season.

While Toronto had almost 60 per cent possession on the night, it managed to put just three shots on target. But there were still chances to pull ahead.

Nashville goalkeeper Joe Willis made two late game-saving saves — stopping a Federico Bernardeschi free kick in the 81st minute and a Jonathan Osorio threat in the 85th at GEODIS Park. And Michael Bradley’s header off a Bernardeschi corner in stoppage time flashed just high.

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“It’s just like the last missing piece,” said Toronto’s Norwegian defender Sigurd Rosted. “A difficult away-game today. If we could have turned one of those moments into like a little bigger margin, then we feel we could have scored and take the three points and that’s important, to not get the draws like we do at the moment.”

Chances are hard to come by against Nashville (3-2-2) which has conceded just two goals this season — the fewest in the league. So making the most of them is important.

Italian star Lorenzo Insigne and Norwegian striker Adama Diomande, both sidelined by injury, can’t come back soon enough for Toronto.

“As expected, a very tight, almost chess-like game,” said Nashville coach Gary Smith, whose team posted its fifth shutout of the season but only managed three shots of its own on target.

“All in all it looked like both defences were well on top,” he added. “And obviously for us, creating that defining moment was not there to be had, which is frustrating and disappointing at the end.”

That despite the best efforts of each team’s attacking talisman: German attacking midfielder Hany Mukhtar for Nashville and Bernardeschi for Toronto.

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“Fede kept turning up in good places, kept working to try to create chances for himself, for others, (draw) the fouls” said Bob Bradley. “It’s a night where it’s not like we’re creating all sorts of chances, so your attackers really have to work hard to make a difference and I thought Fede did a big job tonight.”

Bernardeschi has carried much of the offensive load for Toronto this season. The 29-year-old Italian has been involved in 10 of Toronto’s last 17 MLS goals (seven goals, three assists) dating back to Aug. 27, 2022.

He had two free kicks from good positions earlier Saturday but failed to find the target on either.

Mukhtar, with one goal and three assists coming into Saturday’s game, had been involved in four of Nashville’s six goals this season.

The 2022 league MVP, with 44 goals and 30 assists in four seasons with the club, had been involved in more than half of Nashville’s all-time regular-season goals (74 of 137).

Toronto was without Insigne for the sixth game in a row. The Italian has not played since hobbling off in the 34th minute of the Feb. 25 season-opener with a groin problem.

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Diomande (hamstring) has not appeared since exiting at halftime of the second game of the season, a 1-1 draw in Atlanta on March 4.

There is no ready replacement for the Norwegian with Jesus Jimenez having been traded to FC Dallas with Bradley trying both Deandre Kerr and Ayo Akinola in Diomande’s absence, with limited success.

The home side had a chance to go ahead in the first minute only to see C.J. Sapong’s powerful header hit Toronto centre back Matt Hedges flush in the face. The veteran defender finished out the half but was replaced at the break by Lukas McNaughton, making his first appearance of the season.

Bob Bradley said this withdrawal was due to the blow to the head, “so we will keep an eye on him.”

At the other end, former Toronto and Montreal fullback Daniel Lovitz made a saving tackle on an onrushing Mark-Anthony Kaye in the Nashville penalty box in the 25th minute.

Nashville winger Fafa Picault was yellow carded for a dangerous challenge on Richie Laryea in the 34th minute.

“I need to see it again, but yes that was a nasty challenge,” said Bob Bradley.

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Toronto fullback Raoul Petretta, for a challenge on Shaffelburg that involved a knee in the back, and Osorio, much to his shock for not retreating from a Nashville free kick, were also cautioned in the first half.

Willis almost dug a hole for himself in the 56th minute with a poor clearance but Toronto’s Brandon Servania lost his footing and could not take advantage.

Willis made a fine save on Laryea in the 74th after the fullback was put through by Bernardeschi.

Former TFC winger Jacob Shaffelburg was in the Nashville starting lineup for the sixth time in seven games this season.

The 23-year-old from Port William, N.S., came into Saturday’s match four goals in 13 regular-season outings with Nashville. He had three in 47 league games with Toronto.

Toronto has had little success away from home in recent times. It is 2-12-7 on the road in league play since the start of the 2022 season, meaning it had picked up just 13 of a possible 63 points away from BMO Field.

Bob Bradley made two changes to his starting 11 with Petretta returning after a two-game absence and Kerr replacing Akinola at forward.

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Michael Bradley made his 298th appearance for Toronto in all competitions, second only to Osorio (324).

Nashville was missing Costa Rican international defender Randall Leal (lower body) and defender Nick DePuy (out for the season after Achilles surgery).

There was a moment of silence before the game in memory of the victims of the Covenant School mass shooting March 27 in Nashville.

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