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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — New coach John Herdman got a first-hand look at the massive repair job in front of him as Toronto FC was thumped 3-0 by Charlotte FC on Wednesday.
Polish international Karol Swiderski scored twice from the penalty spot to up his season goals total to 11 as a purple wave washed over Toronto in the first half at Bank of America Stadium. Belgian midfielder Brecht Dejaegere made it 3-0 in the 56th minute with a highlight-reel first MLS goal, an exquisite backheel flick.
The final score could have been worse had it not been for the acrobatics of Toronto goalkeeper Luka Gavran in just his third start.
Toronto (4-18-10, 22 points) has lost five straight and won just one of its last 19 games (1-15-3) in all competitions. With just two games remaining, it is in danger of recording franchise lows in wins and points (set in 2012, when it went 5-21-8 with 23 points).
While Herdman and his staff were on hand to take in the game, interim coach Terry Dunfield and his team were on the sideline. They will do the same for Saturday’s contest at the New York Red Bulls with Herdman and his team taking over during the international break that precedes the Oct. 21 season finale against Orlando City at BMO Field.
Herdman was seen taking notes in a stadium booth. A stiff drink might have been more appropriate.
What the former Canada coach saw was one-way traffic with Charlotte swarming an outmatched Toronto defence that had to resort to hacking attackers to the ground. It was 2-0 at the break, but could have been 8-0.
Charlotte, a team that sat 27th overall in the league standings coming into Wednesday’s game, had 62.6% possession and outshot Toronto 11-2 (4-2 in shots on target) in the first half.
The final shots count was 17-6 (6-3 on target) for Charlotte.
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Charlotte (8-11-12) came into Wednesday 11 points ahead of Toronto, but four below the playoff line with Inter Miami, the Red Bulls, Chicago Fire and D.C. United between it and CF Montreal in ninth place.
Mired in the basement, TFC is winless in its last 20 away outings (0-16-4) in all competitions. TFC has lost its last nine road games, outscored 27-1. And it has failed to score in its last seven road games, a goalless drought that stretches 709 minutes. Toronto’s last away win was in Charlotte, a 2-0 decision on Aug. 27, 2022.
Charlotte was awarded an early penalty after Gavran was deemed to have taken down midfielder Kamil Jozwiak in the box. Referee Malik Badawi initially let the play go, but after prompting by the video assistant referee eventually pointed to the penalty spot.
The 6-foot-6 Gavran, who stopped a penalty against New York City FC two games ago, went the wrong way as Swiderski stroked the ball into the corner. A bad sign for a Toronto team that came into the game 0-15-1 when conceding the first goal.
It should have been 2-0 in the 14th minute, but an unmarked Enzo Copetti sent his header wide off the Toronto goal. And it was more of the same in the 30th when an onrushing Dejaegere, also unmarked, sent his header off target.
Swiderski appeared to have doubled the lead in the 33rd minute, slotting home a low shot as the Toronto defence, despite seven players in the box, was caught short. But video review took the goal off the board for offside.
Toronto defender Aime Mabika had to make a saving tackle from behind after a Charlotte attacker was sent in alone.
After a diving Gavran made a remarkable one-handed save to parry Copetti’s header, Toronto conceded another penalty with Alonso Coello called for taking Ashley Westwood down. It seemed like a harsh call, but Swiderski beat Gavran in the 47th minute in a repeat of the first spot kick.
It marked Charlotte’s first win in four career meetings (1-2-1) with Toronto.
Gavran started his third straight game in goal for Toronto with defender Cristian Gutierrez making his second start — and first since June 24. Veteran midfielder Victor Vazquez made his third start of the season.
Teenage forward Hugo Mbongue was handed his first MLS start. The 19-year-old had made 10 prior substitute appearances for TFC totalling 198 minutes.
Captain Michael Bradley started in defence in the middle of a back three that lost Sigurd Rosted to injury in the 44th minute.
Federico Bernardeschi accounted for Toronto’s offence in the first half with a pair of shots including one off a quickly taken free kick. The Italian set up Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty early in the second half, but the substitute’s shot was handled by goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina.
Toronto was without goalkeepers Sean Jonson (hand) and Greg Ranjitsingh (knee), fullback Raoul Petretta (back), midfielders Latif Blessing (concussion) and Brandon Servania (lower leg) and forwards Deandre Kerr (back), Adama Diomande (lower body) and Lorenzo Insigne (lower body).
Toronto signed TFC 2 midfielder Julian Altobelli to a short-term agreement prior to the game to bolster the roster.
Former Canada captain Scott Arfield was on the Charlotte bench.