A constant refrain over the last few weeks as Toronto FC just keep losing, as well as talk of bad luck, is that TFC are playing well and often look really good, better than their 0-7-0 record would suggest. They're attacking and taking the game to the opposition, creating chances, and generally deserving a lot better than they have so far earned. How can a team playing so well be losing so much? Aside from the simple answer of defensive mistakes undoing the good work, there's 2 reasons why TFC's recent games seem to be following that similar script.
First of all, anyone scouting TFC will have noticed that it's really quite easy to score against them. You can sit back, play it safe, and you'll still get plenty of chances on the counter attack against a slow defence playing a suspect offside trap. Failing that, one way or another TFC will eventually gift you a good chance. There's very little necessity to really push them to create chances, and that allows TFC to carry the game, and look like they're on top, both possession and territorial wise.
The second factor, hugely compounding that opposition tendency to sit back and absorb pressure, is that TFC is almost always behind. In any game, the team with the lead will often become more conservative to protect what they have, while the trailing team is forced to be more aggressive and chase the game. This will make them look more urgent and creative, as if they're the better team.
We all know that TFC have been in the lead for just 1 minute so far through 7 games, a quite spectacularly poor 0.2% of the time, but how about the other way around, how much time have TFC spent chasing the game? Here's the amount of time in minutes they've spent ahead, on level terms and behind in each league game so far.
Seattle Sounders: 17 tied, 73 behind.
San Jose Earthquakes: 9 tied 81 behind
Columbus Crew: 56 tied, 34 behind
Montreal Impact: 18 tied, 72 behind
Chivas USA: 31 tied, 59 behind
Chicago Fire: 1 ahead, 22 tied, 67 behind
Real Salt Lake: 28 tied, 62 behind.
All together that's 1 minute ahead, 181 tied, 448 behind, in 630 combined minutes, or 0.2%, 28.7% and 71.1%.
As a comparison of just how bad those numbers are, here are the numbers for New England Revolution and Columbus, the 2nd and 3rd worst teams so far this year in terms of points. New England have been ahead for 182 minutes, tied for 219 and behind for 229, or 28.9%, 34.7% and 36.4%, very evenly spread out. Columbus have been ahead for 101 minutes, tied for 324 and behind for 205, or 16%, 51.4% and 32.6%.
Any team that's spent as much time as TFC have chasing the game is going to have times when it looks better and more likely to score than the opposition, simply because they have to try harder. It doesn't necessarily mean they're playing better than the opposition, they're just playing different roles, and it's making TFC look better than they are.
Another stat to look at is just how they do when the teams are tied, and theoretically both trying just as hard to score a goal, and that's really not pretty, as it's been way too easy for the opposing teams. Seattle scored after 17 minutes, San Jose scored after 9, Columbus after 56, Montreal after 18, Chivas after 31, Chicago took the lead after 1 minute, gave up the 2-1 goal for TFC's only lead of the season after 4 minutes,and the 3-2 go ahead goal came 17 minutes after tying it at 2, Salt lake needed 7, 9 and 12 minutes respectively to take the lead 3 times.
In the 181 minutes that the teams have been level, or to put it another way in the equivalent of just over 2 games, 10 goals have been conceded. In that time TFC scored just the once. All of a sudden, that 0-7-0 stat really doesn't look like bad luck any more does it?