Alex Bono stood tall in goal and Toronto FC got goals from Yeferson Soteldo and Nick DeLeon, hanging on for a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday that extended its unbeaten record under interim coach Javier Perez to four games.
After going behind in the second minute, Chicago roared back and attacked a makeshift Toronto defence with Bono forced to make save after save. The teams exchanged late goals to make for a tense finale, with the Fire looking for the equalizer.
Chicago outshot Toronto 31-8 (14-3 in shots on target), fired in 41 crosses and had a 13-1 edge in corners as TFC lived dangerously at Soldier Field.
Bono’s 14 saves were a career-high. While Bono was sharp, Chicago’s finishing often left something to be desired.
Toronto (3-8-4) went ahead after 90 seconds with its high press forcing a turnover deep in Chicago territory. The ball went to Ralph Priso who slid it towards Tsubasa Endoh. His touch was heavy but Soteldo was the first to reach the ball in the box and he poked it into the far corner of the goal for his second of the season.
DeLeon padded the lead in the 76th minute, finishing off a move by Soteldo and Patrick Mullins, beating veteran goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth from a tight angle.
Chicago (3-9-3) replied a minute later with Alvaro Medran taking advantage of Toronto failing to clear a cross, pivoting to fire a shot that finally beat Bono.
With Justin Morrow a late scratch, ailing Brazilian Auro on the bench and Richie Laryea and Kemar Lawrence away at the Gold Cup, Toronto was a without a specialist fullback. Luke Singh, a centre back, and Mark Delgado, a midfielder, filled in with Chicago often taking advantage on the flank.
Chicago fired in 22 crosses in the first half alone.
Toronto’s defensive woes mounted when Singh was forced to leave in the 81st minute with what appeared to be leg cramps.
Both teams have been trying to dig themselves out of an early-season hole. Chicago was 12th in the Eastern Conference and Toronto 13th going into weekend play.
Toronto now has two wins and two ties under Perez, who took over after Chris Armas was fired July 4 with the team mired in a six-game losing streak at 1-8-2.
The Fire had lost just once in five previous games (2-1-2) after a 1-7-1 start to the season.
Perez made two changes to the team that tied the Red Bulls 1-1 on Wednesday with Priso and Singh coming in for Auro, who limped off 18 minutes into the midweek game, and Morrow.
Star striker Jozy Altidore, still working his way to match fitness after spending eight weeks on the outs with the club, started on the bench for the third straight game. He was introduced at halftime along with Mullins.
Chicago was unchanged from the starting 11 that settled for a midweek 2-2 tie with D.C. United after conceding goals in the 82nd and 87th minute.
Bono made two big stops after Toronto went ahead early, denying Argentine under-23 international Ignacio Aliseda in the 10th minute after Omar Gonzalez’s attempt at a clearing header went straight to the Fire attacker. The TFC ‘keeper then saved a header seconds later from an unmarked Medran.
Bono then kicked out a Boris Sekulic shot as Chicago came on.
After video review, Chicago defender Miguel Angel Navarro escaped punishment for a challenge stopping Endoh from going in on goal alone.
The Fire had another chance in the 31st after a Toronto turnover but Aliseda’s shot from in-close went straight at Bono. A minute later, a sliding Robert Beric poked the ball just wide after the Toronto defence was carved open again.
Beric had another chance in the 35th with a diving Bono pushing the ball away.
At the other end, Shuttleworth got a hand to a curling Soteldo shot in the 39th minute. Bono stopped Aliseda again in the 43rd, after Singh was caught short on the left flank.
Toronto looked a bit more composed in the second half but Chicago kept coming. Bono was called into action again in the 55th minute, getting to the ball before an onrushing Aliseda.
Priso, after requiring treatment, exited in the 63rd minute with DeLeon coming on.
Toronto is now unbeaten in 12 straight matches (9-0-3) against Chicago dating back to 2015. The Fire had gone unbeaten in 12 meetings (6-0-6) before that, from September 2010 through April 2015.
TFC was without four players at the Gold Cup: Jonathan Osorio and Laryea (Canada), Eriq Zavaleta (El Salvador) and Lawrence (Jamaica). Forward Ayo Akinola had also been with Canada but suffered a season-ending knee injury in Canada’s 1-0 loss to the U.S. last Sunday.
Fire captain Francisco Calvo is also at the Gold Cup with Costa Rica. Chicago was also without head coach Raphael Wicky, who is in Switzerland attending to a family health matter. Assistant coach Frank Klopas was in charge for the third straight game.
Toronto hosts Nashville SC next Sunday at BMO Field.