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Most of the Toronto FC players started Saturday’s match against FC Cincinnati like they just crawled out of bed.

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The Reds dropped a 2-1 decision to the MLS Eastern Conference bottom-feeders at BMO Field as a result of an extremely sluggish first half. Toronto turned on the pressure in the final few minutes, with goal-scoring machine Jesus Jimenez pulling TFC to within one. But the comeback fell short and TFC has now lost two in a row. For Jimenez, it was his seventh goal in eight MLS games since joining TFC this season from Polish club Górnik Zabrze. He is tied with Sebastián Driussi of Austin FC for most in the league.

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“It’s disappointing that we didn’t have a stronger response right from the start,” said TFC coach Bob Bradley. “The start of the game, the tempo was too slow. We played to Cincinnati’s game plan. We didn’t move the ball fast enough, didn’t get forward quickly enough. And then the two (Cincinnati) goals — we give away a corner with an error. And then the second one is just a second ball off a throw-in. So those are two poor goals to give up.”

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The loss snapped a three-game home win streak for Toronto. TFC now have three wins, four losses and two draws this season and have conceded 19 goals in nine games, the second-most in MLS.

Despite the slow start, TFC was the superior side statistically, holding the edge in possession (66%-34%) and shots (11-7). Both teams directed three shots on goal. But, again, failing to play hard from the start buried the Reds.

On the good news front, forward Ayo Akinola substituted into the match in the 74th minute, the Canadian international’s first taste of game action since last July when he injured his knee playing for Canada. Akinola had a chance to tie the game in the 77th minute when he got the ball in his feet inside the box but could not pull the trigger. All in all, Akinola said he felt good.

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“This is just the first part of the season, so not everything is going to be firing on all cylinders to begin with,” said the Brampton native, when asked for his impressions on the loss. “And you know, still, we have a new coaching system. We have new players. So we don’t expect everything to jell quickly. Obviously there will be ups and downs. Right now we’re down with back-to-back losses but I expect things to turn around, the players expect things to turn around. We still keep our heads up. I think the team has a good mentality and we are in the right spirits.”

Ian Murphy scored for a depleted Cincinnati team in the first half and Luciano Acosta in the second half as the visitors jumped ahead 2-0 before Jimenez answered for Toronto. There were moments when TFC dominated on the attack in the second half, but overall, the Reds were, again, far too inconsistent defending.

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“As a team I still feel that we’ve have to be more consistent and find the right way to get our best guys playing at their best levels,” Bradley said. “That’s one of the most important aspects of building a good team. And I think we’ve had moments this year when that’s been going in a good direction, but I still think overall that’s still our biggest challenge and we’ve got to keep trying to find the right way.

“(But) that’s on the coaching staff, that’s on me, to find the right mix of those ideas and make sure that we go on the field with the intensity and the right mentally,” the coach added.

The Reds were without speedy fullback Jacob Shaffelburg and midfielder Ralph Priso (lower body injuries).

The Reds lost Chris Mavinga in the 29th minute with a right leg injury, which was unfortunate as the veteran center back was just finding his form after missing a number of games early in the season.

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Cincy’s goal came in the 44th minute after a terrible corner kick given away by Salcedo, a Designated Player who came into Toronto with a big reputation but has been very inconsistent. Murphy scored his first career MLS goal with a left-footed shot from the center of the box to the bottom right corner, with the assist going to former TFC favorite Nick Hagglund, who headed a pass to Murphy following a corner.

Cincinnati’s second goal also came off another set piece, this time on a throw in. The Toronto defenders, including Salcedo, looked lost as Acosta received the ball in the box and right-footed it into the goal for the 2-0 lead in the 52nd minute. Alvas Powell assisted.

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Jimenez’s goal in the 65th minute was brilliant. TFC was pushing hard in the Cincinnati end with the goal coming when Michael Bradley passed the ball towards the far post, defending Shane O’Neill then headed it into to the center of the box and Jimenez scored via a right footed shot box to the bottom right corner. O’Neill was given an assist, his first ever in MLS.

Toronto’ keeper Alex Bono made a huge save on Alvaro Barreal in added time as Cincy went on a counter attack.

As the clock wound down, TFC midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo, who was a bright light offensively all game for TFC, angrily kicked the ball out of bounds after referee Pierre-Luc Lauziere stopped the play during a Toronto attack when a Cincinnati player went down.

The two sides will meet up again on Wednesday night in Cincinnati.

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