Throwback Thursday: Toronto FC

Jun 19, 2021; Orlando, Florida, CAN;  Toronto FC defender Omar Gonzalez (44) and Orlando City
Jun 19, 2021; Orlando, Florida, CAN; Toronto FC defender Omar Gonzalez (44) and Orlando City / Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The pandemic did a lot of weird things to Major League Soccer. One of the weirder and longer trends of the COVID-altered league was the displacement of the league's three Canadian teams. It was a necessary decision due to restrictions north of the border, but it created strange and untenable situations for three MLS clubs.

Last season, Toronto FC started the year playing "home" games in central Florida, primarily at Exploria Stadium, but also hosting Champions League matches at the Wide World of Sports and Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

This temporary situation led to one of the strangest fixtures in Orlando City history: a road match in Exploria Stadium.

The Reds of Toronto "hosted" the Lions on June 19 in front of an empty Exploria Stadium in a bizarre atmosphere. Just over a month before, the Lions hosted the Reds in the same building, a building filled to the temporary limited capacity and buzzing with life and energy.

Now in the reverse fixture, the chants were replaced with still air and home field advantage replaced with, well, home field advantage. Playing a road game at home is a strange occurrence, and playing at home in front of no fans is a drab a sporting event as they come.

The game itself was almost as bizarre as the atmosphere. Orlando came out as fast as possible, with Tesho Akindele finding the back of the net in the opening minute of the game. The Lions didn't relent, with captain Nani doubling the lead just a few minutes later.

It seemed like a dream start, but just two minutes after Nani's strike, Toronto's Ayo Akinola scored for the "hosts", cutting the deficit in half. Through just ten minutes, there were three goals and an incredibly strange, high-flying start.

The Reds grabbed their equalizer before halftime, with club legend Jonathan Osorio snagging the second goal in the 39 minute. It looked as if Orlando was going to choke away a dream start and drop points to a pretty dismal Toronto FC side.

The game entered the twilight stages and disappointment seemed inevitable, but in the 84 minutes, Brazilian midfielder Junior Urso did what he does best, crash the box as a secondary runner and finish past the keeper. The late winner capped off one of the stranger and more entertaining matches in the Oscar Pareja era so far.