Toronto FC: Let them be judged at end of season

For the first time ever, every Canadian team will be in the MLS playoffs. James Sharman and Brendan Dunlop preview the action, including Toronto FC’s game against the red-hot Montreal Impact.

It’s easy to be cynical with Toronto FC, to not see the silver lining around the cloud that seems to permanently hover over this club.

The previous eight seasons have made many who follow this team, either as a fan or as a member of the media, so incredibly jaded that it’s difficult to give the Reds the benefit of the doubt.

Sunday’s 2–1 loss away to the Montreal Impact hardly helped matters. In the span of 11 days TFC went from second place in the East and a bye into the conference semi-finals where they would have enjoyed home field advantage to sixth place and a first-round playoff date with the Impact in Montreal.

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Last season Toronto was seventh in the East. This year they finished sixth in a conference with two expansion teams. TFC would be on the outside looking in but for the expansion playoff format. Two losses to end the regular season, punctuated by a second-half collapse against Montreal, has rightly led to skepticism over the team’s playoff hopes. Based on the form of both clubs, Montreal has to be considered the favourite for Thursday’s tussle.

But before we write off TFC, let’s take a moment. Let’s breathe. Let’s calm down.

Let’s not allow rage and cynicism to taint our view of the big picture. Let’s shelve the chatter about a crisis along with the calls for the coach and general manager to be fired. Let’s not get caught up in the smarm-fest on Twitter, and all the doom and gloom.

Instead, let’s simply wait to see what happens on Thursday. Let’s see how the post-season plays out before we call the Reds’ 2015 campaign a success or failure. Let’s allow TFC the opportunity to prove us wrong before we start penning their obit.

This isn’t to say blithely ignore the lingering issues with this team, of which there are many—foremost among them being the league’s worse defensive record and an inability to beat the top teams in MLS.

But let’s also remain open to the possibility of a playoff run in a league known for its parity.

Sports, lest we forget, are as much about luck and fortune as they are about skill. The difference between winning and losing, between success and failure, can be ever so slight. Soccer is a game of slender, tiny margins. In MLS, those margins are even tinier.

TFC is sixth in the East, but they could have easily finished fourth and clinched a home playoff date had they earned a draw in Montreal. Had Michael Bradley scored from deep inside the box, instead of slamming his shot off the crossbar, we’d be having a completely different discussion right now. Tiny margins, indeed.

Toronto finished sixth with 49 points, just four points off the pace of second-place Columbus. Four measly points: the difference between a first-round bye and playing the first round on the road. Again, tiny margins.

This is the MLS post-season, and anything can happen. There are no sure things, no guarantees of success for the bookies’ favourites—go ask the Seattle Sounders and New York Red Bulls.

There’s no question that TFC under-achieved with its sixth-place finish in the regular season. It’s important to remember, though, that the season isn’t over. The playoffs are the barometer by which this team will and should be judged.

There will come a time to pass judgement on Toronto FC. Now is not that time. Let them be judged at the very end of the season, not before.

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