TFC’s playoff hopes suffer brutal setback in loss to LAFC


Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco (10) is brought down by Los Angeles FC's Dejan Jakovic during first half MLS action in Toronto on Saturday September 1, 2018. (Chris Young/CP)

• Los Angeles FC 4 (Rossi 23’, 47’; Nguyen 49’; Vela 90’+4’), Toronto FC 2 (Altidore 74’, 90’+3’)
• Toronto 9 points out of playoff spot with 7 games left
• LA coach Bob Bradley bests son, TFC’s Michael Bradley

TORONTO — The coffin hasn’t been shut, but the undertaker is lurking with a hammer and a box of nails in his hand.

Toronto FC’s hopes of making the MLS playoffs suffered another brutal setback on Saturday night, as the Reds fell 4-2 to Los Angeles FC before 28,247 fans at BMO Field.

The loss dropped TFC to 7-14-6 on the season, and they now sit nine points and three spots behind the Montreal Impact, who hold down the sixth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, with seven matches remaining in the campaign.

Toronto has a game in hand on Montreal, who won at home on Saturday night, but that’s the lone silver lining (if you can even call it that) for the reigning league champions. With the number of games shrinking and the gap widening, it’s next to impossible to see how the Reds are going to turn this around and avoid the embarrassment of failing to qualify for the playoffs after winning last season’s MLS Cup.

How times have changed. In April, Toronto FC looked to be on top of the world after almost becoming the first MLS team to win the CONCACAF Champions League. Today, they’re fighting for their playoff lives. How did things turn so sour so quickly? How did TFC go from capping off a historic, treble campaign by winning the 2017 MLS Cup final in December at BMO Field to being on the brink of elimination from the post-season a scant nine months later?

Toronto captain Michael Bradley stoically laid the sobering truth bare when speaking to reporters after Saturday’s loss.

“You run out of things to say. For me, it’s very simple. We have an incredible year last year, but Champions League aside, this year we have not had enough people in this club from the top to all the way down to the bottom, and everybody is included – we have not had enough people who have understood how hard it was going to be, what it was going to take to navigate through another season where we had to play every week like our lives depended on it,” Bradley explained.

“Last year, that was the mentality. Last year, that’s what we were able to do. But when you win everything like we did, then you have to understand to come back and do it again it’s going to be even harder. Through 27 [MLS] games this year, it’s not even been close. Not even close.”

Bradley admitted there is now “zero room for error,” and the team probably has to win at least six of its remaining seven games to even have a shot at the playoffs. It’s a bleak assessment, but he’s not wrong.

“Look man, we gotta keep going. That’s all we can do. We owe it to ourselves, the fans… We just got to go for it, every game now go for it and put our best foot forward. That’s all we can do,” forward Jozy Altidore affirmed.

Defensive errors continue to kill TFC. That was one of the main storylines in the latest loss.

“We have to play complete games. We’re not playing compete games. … The continuity of it from minute one to minute 90 has been lacking,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney offered.

He later added: “We’re making mistakes that we shouldn’t make as professional players.”

It was a sentiment echoed by veteran defender Drew Moor.

“We’re just giving up too many goals. It’s not even a lack of concentration today – we just had some bad defending. Poor clearances, not getting close to guys, getting beat on the dribble. It’s just not good enough,” Moor admitted.

LAFC is coached by Bob Bradley, the father of Michael Bradley, but Bradley Sr. showed his son no mercy on this night. LA was ruthless in punishing Toronto, exposing the home side’s defensive frailties with its speed and systematic pressing game. The two shared a quick embrace after the final whistle.

Influential midfielder Victor Vazquez, who has been dealing with a back issue and missed Wednesday’s 2-0 road loss to the Portland Timbers, was named to TFC’s starting 11. Also returning to Toronto’s lineup were defenders Gregory van der Wiel and Moor, midfielder Jonathan Osorio, and forward Sebastian Giovinco – all of them didn’t play in Portland.

Backup goalkeeper Clint Irwin started his second consecutive game ahead of Alex Bono. The Reds were missing defender Chris Mavinga and full-back Auro Jr., both out with long-term hamstring injuries.

LAFC’s lineup featured fullback Steven Beitashour, who left Toronto in the off-season and signed with the expansion club, and Canadian international Dejan Jakovic.

Toronto showed great patience in its build-up play, setting the pace of the game with its controlled possession, while LA used its pressing style and quick counter-attack to unnerve the hosts.

Giovinco showed a great piece of skill with a bicycle kick attempt from just outside the box that forced LA goalkeeper Tyler Miller to tip the ball over the crossbar.

LA took the lead against the run of play on a fortuitous goal. Diego Rossi unleashed a shot from 25 yards out that took a double deflection off Justin Morrow’s foot and LA forward Carlos Vela’s arm, before skipping past a helpless Irwin and settling inside the far post. Things went from bad to worse for Toronto moments later when Vazquez had to leave the game with an injury. He was replaced by Lucas Janson.

Irwin came up big later in the half, making a crucial kick save on Marco Urena after he was played in clear on goal via through ball from Vela.

Irwin’s save on Urena proved to be only a brief reprieve, as LA bagged two goals in quick succession to start the second half. Rossi scored after van der Wiel failed to clear a routine diagonal cross played near the box, while Lee Nguyen fired home from inside the penalty area off a setup from Vela.

Giovinco should have cut into LA’s lead when Delgado played a pass back to him at the top of the six-yard box. But the Italian comically shanked his shot wide of the far post with Miller at his mercy. It was that kind of night for Toronto.

Toronto finally got on the board when Giovinco played a defence-splitting pass into the box for Altidore, who kept his composure in rounding Miller and tapped into an empty net.

Altidore added a second deep into injury time, but LA responded with a goal seconds later through Vela to ice the game.

TFC is now off until Sept. 15 when it will host Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the LA Galaxy.


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