Aiming to stay on track for a playoff place, Orlando City host MLS Eastern Conference strugglers Toronto at Exploria Stadium on Tuesday.
Ending a three-match winless run at the weekend saw the Orange County club consolidate a top-six place, while their Canadian counterparts were beaten at home and remain second-bottom of the standings.
Though they have won only four of their 11 home fixtures so far, victory on Saturday night extended Orlando’s unbeaten streak in Florida to six consecutive matches; keeping fellow playoff contenders Chicago at arm’s length in the process.
The Lions pulled eight points clear of their visitors in the Eastern Conference standings, largely thanks to a brace from in-form Facundo Torres, who found the net either side of the break.
After the Uruguayan, who recently returned from international duty with La Celeste, opened the scoring with a header, his second came from the penalty spot; providing the platform for maximum points with his sixth and seventh goals of the 2023 campaign.
Orlando’s 3-1 win ends a brief barren spell stretching back to mid-June, and with 20 games played they are very much on course for another top-seven finish this season.
Occupying sixth spot in the East, Oscar Pareja’s men have a five-point buffer to eighth-placed Montreal, and if they can improve their home record further by beating lowly Toronto on Tuesday they will become even tougher to dislodge from the playoff places.
Having lost to Orlando twice last term, conceding five goals and failing to score even once themselves, Toronto surely travel south more in hope than expectation this week.
Recent form suggests their hopes of success are relatively slim, after the post-Bob Bradley era began with a last-gasp defeat on Canada Day: Real Salt Lake stole all three points in stoppage time on Saturday night, when the teams met at BMO Field.
Terry Dunfield’s first match since stepping up from the Under-17s and being named interim first-team coach almost ended in a draw, but after a scoreless 90 minutes, the visitors delivered a late dagger blow to quieten the crowd in Ontario.
After the Reds finished 13th last year, only Inter Miami sit below them in the Eastern Conference standings this time around – by a margin of three points – and the club soon set to welcome Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and coach Tata Martino still have two games in hand.
Things could get worse before they get any better, as ahead of their trip to the Sunshine State, Toronto have picked up just four points on the road this year and are yet to win away from home in 10 attempts.
After Orlando coach Oscar Pareja made three changes to his starting lineup at the weekend – with Mauricio Pereyra, Rodrigo Schlegel and Kyle Smith all promoted to the first XI – further rotation could be in store on Tuesday.
In midfield, Cesar Araujo returns following a one-match ban for yellow card accumulation, which could see Pereyra slip down to the bench. Forward Facundo Torres – who recently scored for Uruguay against Cuba – is likely to be retained, as he now leads City’s scoring charts with seven goals in all competitions.
Michael Halliday’s participation remains in doubt due to a thigh problem, so Smith stays on standby to play at right-back, while Gaston Gonzalez (also thigh) and Abdi Salim (knee) are set to miss out.
While 18-year-old Favian Loyola made his Orlando debut as a late substitute at the weekend, Toronto’s interim coach Terry Dunfield handed 16-year-old Lazar Stefanovic his first-team bow on Saturday.
Such opportunities have arisen due to a depleted squad, as Matt Hedges (hamstring) and Cristian Gutierrez (calf) are sidelined by injury, while Jonathan Osorio and Richie Laryea remain on Gold Cup duty for Canada.
Tomas Romero of El Salvador and United States goalkeeper Sean Johnson are also unavailable; Greg Ranjitsingh deputises for the latter once again.
Orlando City possible starting lineup:
Gallese; Smith, Schlegel, Jansson, Santos; Araujo, Cartagena; Angulo, Torres, Ojeda; McGuire
Toronto possible starting lineup:
Ranjitsingh; Marshall-Rutty, O’Neill, Mabika, Petretta; Kaye, Servania; Thompson, Bernardeschi, Insigne; Sapong