Late goals by substitutes Shaq Moore and Teal Bunbury gave Nashville SC a 2-0 win over a depleted Toronto FC in MLS play Wednesday.

In the wake of Saturday's ugly post-game melee with New York City FC, Toronto was without coach John Herdman and nine players. Adding to the degree of difficulty was the fact it as TFC's seventh match in 25 days in all competitions.

Nashville went ahead in the 81st minute on a scrappy goal with Walker Zimmerman heading a cross back across the goal into a tangle of players at the far post where the ball bounced in off Moore's leg.

Bunbury, the son of former Canadian international Alex Bunbury, added an insurance goal in the 91st minute with an easy tap-in after Toronto was caught short on a counterattack. Bunbury, who was born in Hamilton but grew up in the U.S. and has won four caps for the U.S., had come into the game three minutes earlier.

Assistant coach Jason DeVos, a former Canada captain and Canada Soccer director of development, ran the sideline in Herdman's absence. Herdman was not at Geodis Park, a club spokeswoman said.

While Nashville had more of the ball in an uneventful first half, Toronto showed more life towards the break. Neither team showed teeth in attack with Toronto recording the lone shot on target in the first 45 minutes.

The game opened up somewhat in the second half.

Italian star Lorenzo Insigne, who saw 14 minutes action on the weekend in returning from an eight-game injury absence, and Honduran midfielder Deybi Flores came on in the 62nd minute to strengthen Toronto. 

Toronto (6-6-1) went into mid-week play in fourth place in the Eastern Conference after the weekend 3-2 loss to NYCFC that ended a five-game winning streak in all competitions. Nashville (3-4-5), which stood 13th in the East, was coming off a 1-0 defeat at Charlotte FC and had won just once in its previous seven outings (1-4-2).

Nashville came into the game with just two wins in eight home matches this season (2-1-5).

Herdman, goalkeeper Sean Johnson and fullback/wingback Richie Laryea received one-game bans earlier in the day after the MLS Disciplinary Committee handed down its initial verdict on Saturday's misbehaviour.

Toronto attackers Federico Bernardeschi and Prince Owusu, along with NYCFC defender Strahinja Tanasijevic, were suspended after being red-carded in the post-match incident. Bernardeschi had been the only Toronto player to start every league game this season.

The bans handed down could be just the first wave, getting the two teams though their mid-week games, with the disciplinary committee continuing to review the matter.

TFC's starting 11 featured six changes from Saturday's lineup with wingback Raoul Petretta serving as skipper. Aime Mabika and Kosi Thompson made their first league starts of the season.

For Toronto rookie Tyrese Spicer, it was familiar surroundings. The wingback/winger from Trinidad and Tobago attended Lipscomb University in Nashville.

Captain Jonathan Osorio, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Shane O'Neil and Brandon Servania were injured.

Toronto signed Toronto FC 2 midfielders Charlie Staniland and Jesús Batiz and forward Charlie Sharp to MLS short-term agreements to make up the numbers for Wednesday’s contest.

Sharp, a third-round pick in the 2023 MLS SuperDraft, came on in the 75th minute for his MLS debut.

Canadian Jacob Shaffelburg, a former Toronto player, started for Nashville with Daniel Lovitz, formerly of Toronto and Montreal, on the bench. Nashville was missing the injured Randall Leal and Canadian defender Lukas MacNaughton, a former TFC player. 

Spicer and Shaffelburg were at close quarters, in a matchup of two of the fastest players on the pitch.

Toronto had a half-chance in the 35th minute when Spicer headed Alonso Coello's cross in front of goal. But U.S. international defender Zimmerman did enough to block an onrushing Sigurd Rosted from getting to the ball.

A poorly weighted back pass from Shaffelburg almost left Nashville goalkeeper Joe Willis high and dry with Toronto forward Deandre Kerr approaching but the ball bounced harmlessly into touch

Toronto 'keeper Luka Gavran had to come well out of his penalty box to clear a ball with a Nashville attacker bearing down on him late in the half.

Nashville sent on Moore and Tyler Boyd to start the second half. And the home side finally put a shot on goal in the 54th minute via Boyd, with Gavran making a comfortable save.

Hany Mukhtar shot just high in the 64th minute on a Nashville counterattack.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 15, 2024