Not yet panic time for Toronto FC

Sportsnet's Dan Dunleavy and Paul Dolan recap Toronto FC’s 3-0 loss to D.C. United.

Here’s what happened in Major League Soccer action between Toronto FC and D.C. United on Wednesday night at RFK Stadium, in case you missed it.

Game summary in a sentence

In a battle of second and third-place teams in the Eastern Conference, Toronto FC (third) failed to close the gap on D.C. United (second), and put in a dreadful defensive performance in a 3-0 loss.

• Read the full match report and check out the boxscore
Watch videos: Match highlights | TFC suffers loss to D.C.
More: As MLS evolves, so too do DP signings || Michael Bradley: ‘CONCACAF on the rise’ || Best yet to come from D.C. United’s Hamid

Main thoughts on the match

Not the time to panic—yet: One win in eight games. Eight consecutive matches without a clean sheet. Seven out of a possible 24 points since the World Cup break. Back to back losses to the teams they are chasing in the Eastern Conference, while the trailing pack draw a bit closer. Toronto FC appears to be in a bit of a free fall, unable to keep opponents from scoring and let down by their forwards in front of goal (more on these two problems in a moment).

But keep in mind that the Reds were missing three of their regular starting defenders tonight—including their two centre backs in captain Steven Caldwell (quad tear) and Doneil Henry (suspension). Warren Creavalle, acquired in a trade from Houston last week, made his team debut at right back, deputizing for Mark Bloom (MCL strain), and understandably looked out of sorts. Most MLS teams would struggle to pick up a point on the road with 75 percent of their regular back line missing.

Performances like this don’t instill a lot of confidence going forward, and TFC coach Ryan Nelsen hardly helped matters when he told reporters after this loss that Saturday’s road game in Montreal against the Impact is a “must win.” Emotions clearly got the better of Nelsen—there are no “must win” games in August with a little less than half the schedule still to come.

Despite their modest two-game losing skid, Toronto still sits firmly in the playoff zone in the East (they dropped to fourth place with this loss), tied with New England and Columbus on 26 points. Philadelphia and Chicago are also within touching distance of Toronto, but the Reds have games in hand on the other top six sides in the conference—including front runners Kansas City and D.C.

Toronto has stumbled in recent weeks, but it still controls its destiny and is in a favourable position. Is it time to panic? No. Not yet, anyway.

More “soft goals”: Coach Ryan Nelsen called both goals in the Reds’ weekend loss to Sporting Kansas City “soft,” stating that his players turned off, and continue to lack intensity and awareness in key junctures in the game.

The trend continued in Washington, with D.C. United taking advantage of some slack defending by the Reds on all three goals—especially on Eddie Johnson’s opener in the eighth minute. Perry Kitchen floated a pass from the right flank deep into the box where an unmarked Johnson wasn’t picked up by Bradley Orr and the U.S. international headed it home.

On the second, Nick DeLeon worked his way into the box far too easily, and Chris Rolfe buried a loose ball behind goalkeeper Joe Bendik as TFC’s defenders were caught flat footed. On the third, DeLeon beat through two tacklers and his shot deflected off defender Nick Hagglund and into the net.

All three goals were far too easy, the very definition of “soft.” Toronto has conceded such soft goals in each of their last five games. That’s worrying.

TFC not ruthless enough: “We need to be more ruthless.” That’s what Jermain Defoe told reporters when asked after Tuesday’s practice about the weekend loss to Sporting Kansas City. Defoe didn’t rage against the referees. Instead, he wanted TFC to take more responsibility. Defoe made a point of using the term “ruthless” five times when speaking about the Reds’ finishing in front of net after they squandered several chances against Kansas City.

One only wonders what word Defoe used after TFC didn’t make the most of its scoring chances in Washington. D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid made eight saves on the night, tying a career high, to blank the Reds. But it’s fair to say Hamid was never really tested, and that Toronto left him off the hook.

Dominic Oduro had a chance to open the scoring in the opening minutes after a great feed from Michael Bradley. Instead of taking on his defensive marker inside the box, he tried to dragg a shot from a difficult angle across the box and wide of the far post. It was the first of two blown chances by Oduro, who was let down by a poor first touch throughout the game.

Luke Moore, too, should have buried a pair of chances when he was in-close and all alone on the goalkeeper. But his tame efforts on goal were easily stopped by Hamid. With the Reds having defensive issues, they need their forwards to step up even more and supply some goals.

He said it

“It was extremely disappointing. In both boxes we weren’t good enough.” – Ryan Nelsen

3 stars

1) Chris Rolfe: The veteran burned Warren Creavalle several times with his speed, and scored his fourth goal of the season to give D.C. a 2-0 lead.
2) Nick DeLeon: A creative forced for D.C. on the night—set up Rolfe’s goal, and forced Nick Hagglund to score an own-goal to make it 3-0.
3) Bill Hamid: He turned away eight shots to keep TFC off the score sheet and record his fifth shutout of the campaign.

Stat of the night

After losing their first home game of the season, D.C. United has lost just one of 11 since—with seven wins.

Head to head

D.C. United leads the all-time series against Toronto with 12 wins and three draws in 21 games. D.C. has won five of ten games at home (with three draws). This was the third and final meeting of the season between the clubs. Toronto won the first one, but D.C. took the other two.

Tweet of the night

What’s next?

Toronto FC continues its four-game road trip with visits to Montreal (Aug. 2), Columbus (Aug. 9) and Kansas City (Aug. 16). Doniel Henry will be available for selection again on Saturday against the Impact.

Soccer Central podcast: SPORTSNET.CA’s Soccer Central podcast, hosted by John Molinaro and James Sharman, takes an in-depth look at the beautiful game and offers timely and thoughtful analysis on the sport’s biggest issues. To listen and subscribe to the podcast, CLICK HERE.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.