‘More selfish’ play in front of goal may help TFC

Kleberson scored on a free kick from 25 yards out in stoppage time, lifting the Philadelphia Union to a 1-0 victory over Toronto FC. (CP/Chris Young)

TORONTO – If they didn’t have enough problems already, now Toronto FC has to deal with another pressing issue: a lack of scoring.

The goals have dried up for TFC, who have been blanked in their last three Major League Soccer outings, and are riding a 336-minute goal drought. The Reds last found the back of the net in the 24th minute of a 3-3 draw against the Montreal Impact on July 3.

Currently sitting second-last in the 19-team league standings with a 2-10-8 record, Toronto also boasts the second-worst offence in MLS, with just 17 goals in 20 games.

So, what’s going on?

Part of the recent problem is that injuries have forced coach Ryan Nelsen to juggle his lineup. Starting forwards Robert Earnshaw (the team’s top scorer with six goals) and Danny Koevermans are on the sidelines, with bench players Jeremy Brockie and Justin Braun trying to pick up the slack.

But TFC has also been gun shy in front of the opposition’s net. Toronto ranks second from the bottom in the league in both shots taken (196) and shots on goal (65) this season.

“We’re not hitting the target and making the goalkeeper work,” Brockie offered. “If we start getting our shots on target then the goalkeeper will start spilling (shots) or deflections will take place. We need to be more ruthless in front of goal and pull the trigger a bit more.”

A perfect example came in last weekend’s 0-0 draw against the New York Red Bulls.

Argentine midfielder Matias Laba did very well to deke past three New York players before delivering a killer pass that unleashed Jonathan Osorio inside the box. But the rookie midfielder took one too many touches, and was closed down before he could get a shot off.

“Sometimes we get into good positions and we look for a pass or take too many touches, instead of just striking the ball on goal. You don’t score goals without shooting so we could all probably be a bit more selfish in front of goal,” Brockie stated.

Toronto has also squandered some glorious scoring chances during this current goal drought, with Brockie being one of the main culprits.

“We’re going to miss some and we’re going to score some. Unfortunately, I’ve probably missed more than I would like to. But the main thing is I’m getting opportunities. If I wasn’t, I’d be even more worried,” Brockie said.

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Things could improve on the offensive end with the arrival of new recruits.

Both Nelsen and general manager Kevin Payne have publically stated in recent weeks that they hope to sign anywhere from two to four new players this summer, with emphasis being put on securing a forward, a winger and an attacking midfielder.

The MLS transfer window closes on Aug. 8, although teams can still add players who are out of contract, either from clubs within or outside the league, until the roster freeze deadline of Sept. 13. A source told sportsnet.ca that the club has been in talks with Spanish winger Alvaro Rey, who was on a trial with TFC earlier this summer.

So far, though, the team hasn’t added to a thin and somewhat depleted roster.

“Everybody is trying their hardest to get it done. I think there will be a few announcements the next couple of days. … Hopefully we’ll get it over the (finish) line as soon as possible,” Nelsen revealed on Tuesday.

Nelsen said that they have identified their major transfer targets, but that if deals with those players don’t materialize, they have backup options.

“We’ve done our due diligence and we’ve got the guys lined up. If they fall away, we’ve got replacements,” Nelsen explained.

Not for the first time, Nelsen stressed that TFC won’t be rushed into signing new players just because the team is going through a scoring drought.

“I know there’s an urgency but we have to do it right. We have to get the exact right person on the right terms, and if it’s not best for the club for the short- and long-term future then we’re just reliving the past,” Nelsen explained.

Signing players ad hoc has been a problem that has plagued TFC in the past, according to Nelsen, and he and Payne want to avoid making the same mistakes.

“You can go out there and take a risk on certain players but that’s what’s happened in the past here. To fix a long-term problem you don’t put in a short-term solution,” Nelsen stated. “I have to look at the bigger picture and look at next season and the years beyond. I want to put a foundation in place where not just for the next three months but for the next three years we’ll have a team that’ll be stable.

“Once it’s done right, we won’t have to bring in replacement after replacement after replacement. That’s what’s been happening here for the past seven years.”

Kovermans’ future

Koevermans only recently returned to action after suffering a season-ending knee injury last July.

The Dutch forward made a few appearances for the Reds but now finds himself back on the sidelines with a calf tear, and is expected to miss at least two more weeks of action.

At 34, there are some doubts as to whether Koevermans can make a full recovery and be a positive contributor to the TFC cause.

Nelsen was quick to shoot down questions as to whether or not Koevermans has played his last game for Toronto, and he reaffirmed that the designated player remains in his plans going forward.

“These things are normal for ACL injuries and guys of Danny’s age. To pick up little niggling injuries is normal. We’re trying to ease him back in as much as we can,” Nelsen said.

“When he gets back, hopefully he’ll be stronger and he can help us down the stretch.

NOTES: Robert Earnshaw (hamstring) did not train with the team on Tuesday morning. Nelsen said Earnshaw will likely be available for Saturday’s home game against the Columbus Crew… Justin Braun, another forward, is dealing with a minor toe injury, but should be fine to play on Saturday… Brockie said his loan deal with TFC runs until Aug. 26. At that point he’ll return to Australia’s A-League to re-join his team for pre-season training… Two members of TFC’s youth academy — Manny Aparicio and Mac Pridham — practised with the first team on Tuesday.

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