TORONTO—It’s time for some hard and uncomfortable truths about Toronto FC.
For all of the hype, for all of the money spent, for all of the superstar talent, TFC is a middle-of-the-pack club in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference, the fifth best side in a 10-team conference featuring two expansion franchises.
That point was forcefully driven home in Sunday’s 3-1 loss to the New England Revolution, a result that will surely consign TFC to fifth place in the East—assuming they end up qualifying.
Sunday painted a painfully clear picture of two vastly different MLS clubs fighting for playoff positioning in the East: One that has won five games in a row and is unbeaten in seven (New England) and one that is sputtering along and conceding goals at an alarming rate (Toronto). The Revs are sprinting to the playoff finish line, while TFC are limping along.
New England currently sits fourth in the Eastern Conference, one place and six points ahead of Toronto, although the Reds have a game in hand. The third- and fourth-place teams in the East will have home-field advantage in the first round of the MLS playoffs, so TFC badly needed a victory here to keep the Revs within distance in order to claim that fourth spot.
It’s hard to see that happening now, even with seven games remaining in the regular season. Playoffs? Sure. But a deep run? Don’t bank on it.
“Desperate to get into the home (playoff) position? I don’t think so, not yet,” coach Greg Vanney deflected. “This was an important game… but we have a favourable schedule in front of us.”
Captain Michael Bradley agreed: “We have games at home, games (with teams) right round us (in the standings) and are our ability to take care of business in these last seven games will dictate how good of a position we’ll be in.”
Bradley’s correct, of course. It is in the team’s hands. But recent performances, including this one, suggests that this is the best they can do—that Toronto FC can beat teams below them in the standings, but they can’t get the job done against the best in the league.
Despite the loss, Vanney was gushing about how Toronto performed on Sunday, touting his side’s statistical dominance and how they outplayed and out-chanced New England. But that doesn’t matter much when you commit a litany of defensive errors and lose 3-1.
“My honest opinion was that I thought it was one of the best performances that we’ve had all year. But sometimes the ball doesn’t go in the back of the net,” Vanney stated.
He later added: “We don’t give away an own goal, and we don’t give away the ball at the top of the box (on the third goal) and we finish two other of our 21 chances and we’re having a completing different discussion.”
He did, however, admit that this was a was a missed opportunity for TFC.
Vanney had five key starters back in the lineup who missed last week’s loss in Seattle for a variety of reasons, including central defender Damien Perquis, who’d been out with a quad injury since Aug. 5.
The Frenchman has been a liability as the season has progressed, and he had a disastrous start to this game, committing a needless giveaway in the opening moments that nearly led to a goal. In the fourth minute a perfect through ball from Jermaine Jones sprung Teal Bunbury whose low cross was turned into the Toronto net by Perquis.
To their credit, TFC valiantly fought back and forced New England on the back foot with some pretty passing plays and long stretches of possession. The best moment of the half came when Sebastian Giovinco dummied, pirouetted and slalomed his way through a number of Revolution players. Giovinco’s cross from the byline floated over Jonathan Osorio’s head at the back post, but the Italian’s marvellous act of improvisation had the BMO Field faithful on their feet in appreciation.
“The most incredible move I’ve ever seen in my life,” Vanney enthused.
Toronto was controlling the pace of the game before they switched off deep in their end of the field in the 39th minute. New England put together a passing sequence that carved open the defence and ended with Diego Fagundez striking a shot from the top of the box past a diving Chris Konopka in the TFC net. It was a world class finish from Fagundez, but he had all the time in the world as no Toronto player tried to close him down.
TFC again responded with great conviction to start the second half. Somewhat culpable on New England’s second goal, defender Justin Morrow made amends when he delivered a fabulous cross for Robbie Findlay to nod him in the 55th minute. It was just reward for Findlay, whose header hit the crossbar in the opening minutes and who was one of TFC’s best attacking players on the day.
But any chance Toronto had of equalizing came to an abrupt end when Bradley was caught in possession inside his box by Lee Nguyen. The Revs took full advantage of Bradley’s dawdling on the ball, as Kelyn Rowe beat Konopka with a low shot to restore his team’s two-goal advantage in the 71st minute.
Vanney called the goal a “dagger” to TFC’s comeback hopes. Bradley admitted it was a momentum killer.
“We’re at a point in the season where we can’t dwell on things and feel sorry for ourselves,” Bradley said.
NOTES: New England leads the all-time MLS series against Toronto with 10 wins and eight draws in 22 meetings… TFC have not defeated the Revolution at home since May 22, 2010… TFC travels to New York City FC for a game on Wednesday before returning home to host the Colorado Rapids next Saturday.