High-flying FC Cincinnati demonstrated why it is a contender again this season in Major League Soccer. Toronto FC showed it is headed in the right direction, but isn't quite there yet.

Sergio Santos' 93rd-minute strike proved to be the difference Saturday as Cincinnati edged Toronto 4-3 in a wild affair to extend its winning streak to a club-record seven games. It was a back-and-forth thriller with both teams clawing their way back from deficits.

Cincinnati (10-2-3) also got two goals from Luca Orellano and one Kevin Kelsy. Deiby Flores and Lorenzo Insigne, from the penalty spot replied for Toronto (7-7-1) which also benefited from an own goal.

"I felt we showed a championship ability against a team that is a championship team," Toronto coach John Herdman said. "But there was a gap still. And the gap was the loss. We've got to close that gap. … We're close."

Cincinnati, which clinched the Supporters' Shield with a 3-2 win in Toronto last September, went into weekend play second overall in the standings — eight points ahead of Toronto. The victory moved it into first place, at least temporarily pending Inter Miami's result later in Vancouver.

Cincinnati arrived boasting the league's stingiest defence, averaging 0.79 goals against per game. It had conceded a league-low eight goals from open play and now has nine wins in games decided by one goal this season.

Saturday's win was a club-record record fourth straight away from home, raising its season road record to 6-1-1.

Cincinnati outshot Toronto 15-11 (7-4 in shots on target).

"Certainly a wild one, but pleased that the guys were able to come out on top," said Cincinnati coach Pat Noonan. "Not what we typically see in terms of just the chaos and how back and forth that was. But I guess from an entertainment standpoint the viewers got their money worth."

Insigne was a man on a mission for Toronto. The Italian star almost scored again in the 89th minute but his fierce shot from distance rattled off the woodwork. He did score in the 96th minute, but the offside flag went up to the dismay of the announced crowd of 27,941.

"He has so much quality," said captain Jonathan Osorio. "He's shown it throughout his career. He's a champion. And today he showed it. The will that he had to win was really contagious. It spread throughout the team.

"With him on our team, you always believe that you're in the game, that you can come back and win a game."

Toronto had done a good job of shutting down Argentina playmaker Lucho Acosta, until the dying minutes. The Cincinnati captain helped create the winning goal, driving into the Toronto penalty box and chipping it in front of goal for Santos to knock home.

Insigne's 85th-minute penalty had lifted Toronto into a 3-3 tie after Miles Robinson pulled down Prince Owusu.

Orellano's second goal of the game in the 79th minute had seemed to have secured three points for Cincinnati, making it 3-2. The goal came from a well-worked attack that saw Orellano take a pass from Santos and find the corner of the goal.

Toronto had pulled even at 2-2 in the 63rd minute. It was credited as an Ian Murphy own goal but Insigne was the instigator. The Italian started the play with a short corner, with Osorio eventually teeing the ball up for Insigne to send it into traffic in front of goal where it bounced in off the defender, who covered his face in disbelief.

Cincinnati went ahead 2-1 on goals by Orellano and Kelsy in the 53rd and 55th minutes.

Flores opened the scoring for Toronto in the 25th minute with a fine header off an Insigne corner. The hard-nosed Honduran midfielder, known more for stopping goals than scoring them, celebrated opening his MLS account by sprinting toward the sideline to celebrate with the bench.

Insigne's delivery from corners caused Cincinnati headaches all evening.

Toronto had won seven of its previous nine games (7-2-0) in all competitions and scored 13 goals in its previous two outings, including a 5-1 shellacking of Montreal last Saturday.

The two teams had played to a scoreless draw in Cincinnati in their season opener Feb. 25.

Herdman made nine changes from the team that scored a club- and tournament-record eight goals in a lopsided Canadian Championship win Tuesday over semi-pro side CS Saint-Laurent, with only Insigne and Marshall-Rutty retaining their place.

Italian star Federico Bernardeschi was missing, serving a suspension for yellow card accumulation, with centre back Kevin Long coming off the bench in the second half after missing three games through injury and suspension.

Cincinnati made two changes from the team that beat St. Louis 3-1 last weekend with Robinson and Kelsy slotting in. The visitors were missing the injured Corey Baird, Aaron Boupendza and Alvas Powell.

Cincinnati is undefeated in six games (5-0-1) against TFC since Noonan took over as coach in 2022. Toronto last beat Cincinnati 3-2 at BMO Field on Sept. 29, 2021.

Saturday’s game was Toronto’s 10th since April 20, with two more to come on the road next week, at the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday and D.C. United on Saturday before a welcome two-week break.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2024.