At this stage we all know that Toronto FC is struggling to find the back of the net in MLS action. They did manage to net 7 goals in their 4 CONCACAF Champions League matches but that is not enough to hide the fact that they have only 2 goals in their first 4 MLS matches.
This is a team that was supposed to have a wealth of attacking talent with the question marks being in the defensive third. Instead the worst possible thing is happening and even the team's strengths are failing to show themselves so far in the season. So how do you explain the lack of goals from an attacking group that boasts Danny Koevermans, Ryan Johnson, Joao Plata, and Luis Silva? Well a look at the stats from the season can show a few basic areas where the team is having struggles.
It is a bit of a puzzling situation that the team has been held off the score sheet twice already this season and the two goals that they do have were basically no more than consolation efforts in games that were already out of reach. Last year after Danny Koevermans and Torsten Frings were signed, TFC was held scoreless only 3 times in their final 13 MLS matches. During that same stretch of games the Reds netted 19 goals which works out to an average of 1.46 goals per game. That number may not seem that high but when you consider that the Seattle Sounders were the top scoring team in MLS last season with 56 goals for and that works out to an average of 1.64 goals per game, it's not too bad. The LA Galaxy won the supporters shield last season with 48 goals or 1.41 goals per game which is a very comparable number to what Toronto FC was achieving.
Before the roster makeover really hit the team they did only manage to score 17 goals in their first 21 goals which is an average of only 0.80 goals per match and that run included the team being held scoreless a staggering 10 times. Those days were supposed to be behind us with all the attacking options on the club but for the first four games of the season they seem to have resurfaced.Despite the lack of goal scoring punch it has been a bit of a recurring theme that the team feels the chances are coming, but the issue is that they are not making them count. In the CCL they were able to take advantage of the chances that were coming but many of the issues that are showing in the league did rear their heads in the CCL. The difference is that in the CCL they got the goals and results needed to gloss over some of the other issues.
The first stat that is worth looking at in trying to understand the lack of scoring is the teams shot totals. For the sake of comparrison I will include the numbers from the CCL games in hopes of discovering why there was such a drastic difference in the goal scoring. The following is shots on goal followed by total shots taken on a game-by-game basis.
March 7th vs. LA Galaxy: 4/11
March 14th @ LA Galaxy: 2/7
March 17th @Seattle Sounders: 3/13
March 24th vs. San Jose Earthquakes: 1/13
March 28th vs. Santos Laguna: 5/14
March 31st vs. Columbus Crew: 3/14
April 4th @ Santos Laguna: 8/15
April 7th @ Montreal Impact: 5/14
At first glance those numbers tell me one thing. That is that there is obviously not a lack of shots coming from Toronto FC with the team hitting double figure shots in all but one match so far this campaign. The issue is that the team has taken a total of 101 shots but only 31 of them have been on target. That works out to only 31% of the teams shots even forcing the goalie to put in a minimum amount of effort. It also works out to only 9 goals on 101 shots or a 9% conversion rate. The better news from these numbers is that with 9 goals on 31 shots on target, that percentage is a much better 29%. So when the team is actually finding a way to get their shots on target they are finding the back of the net with relative efficiency.
So the shots are there but the shots on goal are lacking. So how do you account for the 70 shots that have not even managed to test the goal keeper? Well the first thing to do is look at where all these shots are coming from. So far on the season TFC has taken 52 shots from outside of the 18 yard block. That works out to more than half of the teams total shots coming from less than the most dangerous parts of the field. On a game-by-game basis it breaks down as follows (Shots outside of box/total shots)
March 7th vs. LA Galaxy: 7/11
March 14th @ LA Galaxy: 4/7
March 17th @Seattle Sounders: 8/13
March 24th vs. San Jose Earthquakes: 8/13
March 28th vs. Santos Laguna: 7/14
March 31st vs. Columbus Crew: 6/14
April 4th @ Santos Laguna: 5/15
April 7th @ Montreal Impact: 7/14
By taking it a game at a time you can see that the team taking the majority of their shots from outside of the 18 yard box is a trend and that the 51% number is not being impacted by any single game. Taking shots from outside the 18 yard box is not an issue in and of itself as the fact of the matter is that three of Toronto's goals this season have come from that range. What this number does indicate is that many of TFC's shots were not actually all that dangerous. Many of those 52 shots are not just on the edge of the box either with most coming from closer to the 25 yard range and a few even coming from closer to the half way line, looking at you Danny Koevermans! It would seem that the team has been getting shots but a lot of that is due to them settling for long range efforts rather than getting in to the dangerous areas of the field and then taking shots.
The next number to look at is how many of Toronto's shots are being blocked. A blocked shot is a good indication that it was taken in a crowd or just lashed at without the player having a good look at goal. Some blocks are due to defenders doing a good job and stopping the attack but there may still be a trend to find in these numbers. The following is the game-by-game break down of the blocks (blocked shots/total shots)
March 7th vs. LA Galaxy: 3/11
March 14th @ LA Galaxy: 3/7
March 17th @Seattle Sounders: 3/13
March 24th vs. San Jose Earthquakes: 4/13
March 28th vs. Santos Laguna: 5/14
March 31st vs. Columbus Crew: 4/14
April 4th @ Santos Laguna: 0/15
April 7th @ Montreal Impact: 3/14
If you add it all up TFC has had 25 of their 101 shots blocked so far this season which works out to a just fractionally under 25% (duh). That is not that significant of a number on the whole as teams are going to get bodies back and there will be a number of shots being recorded as blocks each game. So it would seem that for the most part when TFC is taking shots they are finding enough room to at least get their efforts past the defenders even if they fail to work the keeper most of the time.
Looking at all of those numbers in combination you can see that Toronto might be getting a fair few shots so far this season but it would be hard to call them quality shots. With 25% of the shots being blocked, 51% coming from outside the box, and only 29% being on target it is no wonder that they are having issues with scoring goals. It is always going to be hard to score more than a goal a game if you are settling for long range efforts.
The other issue with Toronto's attack that has been noticeable while watching the game is the number of corners and crosses that are not turning in to anything. That led me to look at the stats just to see if the team really was putting in as many crosses as it seemed to me while I was watching. So here are the numbers again on a game-by-game basis.
March 7th vs. LA Galaxy: 19
March 14th @ LA Galaxy: 26
March 17th @Seattle Sounders: 12
March 24th vs. San Jose Earthquakes: 33
March 28th vs. Santos Laguna: 26
March 31st vs. Columbus Crew: 27
April 4th @ Santos Laguna: 10
April 7th @ Montreal Impact: 17
It would appear that my eyes and my memory were not deceiving me as Toronto FC has been getting a lot of crosses in from open play. The two low numbers in the bunch, @Seattle and @Santos, were games where Toronto barely had enough of the ball to be able to get forward and get a cross in. Any game that they have had the ball a fair bit they seem to be going forward and whipping crosses into the box. Problem is that not very many of the teams goals or scoring chances have been coming from all these crosses. Most of the time the likes of Nick Soolsma, Richard Eckersley, Joao Plata, Ashtone Morgan, and Reggie Lambe are swinging the ball into the box to very few targets. More often than not Toronto only has one or two attackers positioned in the box to try and get on the end of all these crosses. It is asking a lot of Danny Koevermans and Ryan Johnson to expect them to beat out 3 or 4 defenders and the keeper to win the cross.
Having that many crosses can be a great way to create scoring chances but unless you are also willing to push bodies forward into the box it is not the best way to go about trying to create chances. With Julian De Guzman and Terry Dunfield being held so far back down the field the options for getting into the box are just too limited. Toronto is outnumbered so trying to cross is really not the best strategy. It is even more confusing when you factor in the fact that other than Soolsma most of the wingers like to cut in with the ball so why would the team be settling for so many crosses rather than trying to find space for that kind of more dangerous run?
What about the corners then? Toronto has basically done nothing off a corner so far this season with so many failing to even reach the danger area and being cleared away by the first defender. 2 goals so far have come from secondary efforts from corners, but none directly. So how many corners have they wasted? Well here is the game-by-game one last time!
March 7th vs. LA Galaxy: 6
March 14th @ LA Galaxy: 1
March 17th @Seattle Sounders: 5
March 24th vs. San Jose Earthquakes: 9
March 28th vs. Santos Laguna: 12
March 31st vs. Columbus Crew: 8
April 4th @ Santos Laguna: 10
April 7th @ Montreal Impact: 2
That is a grand total of 53 corners on the year. That is not a massive number, just under 7 per game, but it is still a significant number of chances to create problems for the opposition that are seemingly going to waste. The issues have less to do with TFC getting numbers in to the box, they do that, but more to do with delivery of the corners. Plata and Dunfield come to mind as guys who have had issues getting the ball into the danger zone but it has basically been a problem for anyone who has gone over to take a corner. Then when they do actually get the ball in to box winning the ball has also been an issue. Other than Logan Emory, and Doneil Henry in Torreon, no one has been able to really get decent headers on the ball but those chances are coming from too far out to be looked at as consistently dangerous. On the whole crossing and corners have led to so few quality chances despite there being so many chances to get the ball into the box.
If Toronto wants to improve their scoring record in the coming games there are really a few very simple keys. The first is to get more bodies into the dangerous areas. That will lead to better chances to win the ball when it is crossed in and will also increase the teams threat to get shots off from a closer range. It is of course easier said than done but the simple place to start is by improving the numbers game. If TFC only gets forward with 6 attackers and they have to deal with 8 defenders you can see the issue. It is a common trend with the two holding mids and the CBs basically doing nothing to help the attack. The second thing is that the team needs to be less willing to settle for the cross and try to force the issue with passing into the dangerous parts of the field. The simple fact is that many of the attackers are more dangerous with the ball at their feet than they are with their heads.
On the whole I do believe that the chances have been there for TFC and they will start to go in soon but there is certainly room to make the chances better. A bit of confidence may help with taking on defenders and getting a few more men forward but only time will tell if TFC can get back to that 1.5 goals per game range where we need them to be.