Deep breaths. There have been improvements from Toronto FC in the last few games and though they weren't as apparent in today's game, or barely apparent at all to be frank, that doesn't mean that the whole thing was just an illusion. Fatigue was mentioned (and practically served up on a platter as an excuse by the hard hitting post game interview team of Lee Godfrey and Adrian Serioux) and it is a legitimate excuse, the schedule has been tough and frankly I was expecting this sort of tired showing midweek against Dallas, given the circumstances it was inevitable it would come eventually.
So I wouldn't necessarily pin this on the players that were out there, though there was certainly a few rough outings, or some kind of coaching failure, though the Philadelphia Union seemed to find success again and again in the exact same ways all game long without any noticeable changes made to counter it. Where I would pin blame is with all the off field problems that set up that inevitability, and it's all about squad depth, and the glaring lack of it, and it's what been killing TFC all season, under both coaches. Yes the players looked tired out there, which is really only to be expected after what is now 7 games in 23 days, often in brutally hot weather, so in retrospect, was the decision to play the exact same starting lineup for the 3rd straight game a wise one? A look at the subs bench shows that aside from Julian de Guzman, there's not really a whole lot of obvious options that could have been brought in.
Doneil Henry's had some good games this year, but against Houston and Kansas City in particular, he looked error prone and in need of a rest, Aaron Maund doesn't inspire confidence of a steady hand back there either. So, with injuries playing a part here for sure, a converted Right Back and someone who until this year was playing in the NASL are currently our best options in the middle of defence. In midfield, presumably Julian de Guzman isn't recovered from his recent illness, as I can't really see why he'd be kept out of the lineup if fully fit, but Matt Stinson, Nick Soolsma and Luis Silva haven't really suggested they should be in there ahead of Torsten Frings. Up front, when we only used 1 Centre Forward, Koevermans and Johnson were a decent couple of options, but now, with both of them starting, there's no obvious replacements for them at all. Let's not forget the fact that we're just one Milos Kocic injury away from having an 18 year old starting goalie. The depth just isn't there to be able to rest players and stop them from eventually putting in a performance like this.
Of course TFC are really a victims of their own success here, with the CCL and Voyageurs Cup runs meaning they've played more than any other team in MLS so far, with probably the squad least able to handle it. I'd sympathise with that if it wasn't for the fact that we're just a couple of weeks away from the big pointless Liverpool friendly, which certainly won't help things there.
Hopefully reinforcements will soon arrive, but the transfer window's already been open for a couple of weeks and all Mariner and co have got to show for it is some dizziness from Joey Saputo and Joao Plata running rings around them. The excuse could be made that the squad was built to play under Aron Winter's system, but there's been time to address that, according to Earl Cochrane, they've spent months working on loaning Plata out, what else have they been doing? Is there a plan B after Alessandro Nesta got scooped up by Montreal? If not, and the squad doesn't really change before the window closes on July 27th, then we'll be seeing similar lethargic efforts throughout the season, as this year's CCL will make sure the schedule doesn't get any easier later on in the season.
I guess I should talk about the game at some point, and defensively, TFC never looked good. The back line was set up very close to each other, as if to ensure there were few holes through the middle. That's not a bad thing in and of itself, but the midfield was also very narrow and seemingly focused on clogging up the middle of the field. That meant a well timed ball down the flank, or particularly a switch to the opposite side was guaranteed to find plenty of room, as the wide midfielders seemed unwilling or unable to drop back and fill the space left by the full backs. That of course led to many many crosses, and we've seen all season how balls into the box can cause chaos and panic for TFC. The first two goals, within minutes of each other late in the first half were both scored from the ball coming from out wide and unmarked Union players finishing the moves.
The other trend saw TFC's defence play a very high line, and time and time again balls were played over the top to be met by well timed runs, as not enough pressure was put on the Philly defence, allowing them the time to make the accurate long passes. Logan Emory in particular really struggled to keep up with the strikers running onto these balls throughout the game in what was easily his worst game since coming to Toronto, and the 3rd goal was a ridiculously simple through ball, with Emory allowing Antoine Hoppenot to get by him way too easily, before lifting the ball over Kocic.
The second half did see a few chances for TFC, with Danny Koevermans unlucky not to extend his scoring streak, but there was never any doubt how this was going to end. Philadelphia ended the game with 62.3% possession, their fans olé-ing and the referee ignoring what should have been at least a couple of minutes of injury time and mercifully ending it right at 90 minutes. That's the 9th place team in the East, toying with us at the end.
3-0 was very much what TFC deserved, a depressing end to the equally deserved 5 game unbeaten streak. The lack of ability to build a competitive squad has really hamstrung both Winter and Mariner, and Mariner has done what has been needed to get the best out of the squad as it is. His back to basics approach has led to improvements, we shouldn't let this performance blind us to that, and we'll be competitive a lot more than under Aron Winter this year, but the lack of depth means that this sort of defeat is always likely to happen now and again.
It's now 7 points in 7 games under Mariner, and that's about right really. We've lost some points here and there through defensive breakdowns, but at the same time have ridden a hot streak from Koevermans that was never going to continue indefinitely. These 3 weeks under Mariner have probably been as good as it's going to get with the current squad, this game was a good reminder of just how much work remains to be done.