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Toronto FC Month Three In Review: May Malaise

Never has a fanbase - and likely the players, coaches, management - welcomed a two week break more than we the long (oh so long) suffering supporters of TFC. Did you even notice that TFC didn't play this past weekend? Didn't think so.

TFC makes us want to tear our hair out too Stephen
TFC makes us want to tear our hair out too Stephen

Zero points and one goal...just let that sink in for a moment. Zero points and one goal - that was the not so merry month of May for our Reds. Good times my friends, good the long endless slog of the 2013 season continues, we all keep searching for some sign, anything really no matter how small, to show that TFC are improving. *Crickets*

The month started with TFC getting shellacked by the Impact in the away leg of Voyageurs Cup play - hey if I have to think about it so do you! - and ended with a loss (shocking I know) to the Revolution. Whee.

I feel I must warn you dear reader that there won't be a lot of new things discussed in this month's review as well, the team hasn't really done all that much to change previously discussed points. If you're of a mind go back and check out the March and April reviews to see that the more things change the more...well, I was going to say stay the same but there's a chance that they got worse - super fun!

The overall theme for May (and the season) is that last minute goal concession - it has moved past the comical to the absurd to downright abject despondency. Almost every single bloody game they do it - whether they're somehow winning, they concede to either draw or if it's May, lose. Or if they've managed the unlikely feat of fighting back to tie the game, they again lose. If Payne, Nelsen and Co. haven't brought in a fleet of sports psychologists to exorcise those demons I'm not sure what they're waiting for. Seriously, let's get one for each player - maybe some kind of group rate?

Forwards: As I've said before; as goes Robert Earnshaw so go the Reds. And May was not a good month for our diminutive striker. Suddenly bereft of any touch, he hasn't scored a goal since April 13th against the Union. That's six weeks with no goals from our only striker. While strikers are streaky by nature, Earnshaw has looked less certain this past month, letting multiple opportunities go begging that at the beginning of the season would have been certain goals. Add to that a seeming lack of trust in his teammates - pass the damn ball Robert - and admittedly poor service and well, you get the picture.

It's not fair to lay everything at Earnshaw's doorstep as he's got little to no help up top. Justin Braun has had a few almost guaranteed scoring chances and muffed them as Nelsen continued to put him out there - really what choice does he have - as a target man for Earnshaw to play off. Braun while energetic, does not seem to have the killer instinct that is required for a goal scorer. Injured for much of the month, his lack of presence hasn't really been noticed. Andrew Wiedeman (mercifully) hasn't really featured and with Taylor Morgan and Ashton Bennett now both released, a bare cupboard is now almost empty.

What about Danny Koevermans you say? Well what about him? The saviour (err,not really) to TFC's season/goal scoring woes had been apparently progressing well in his rehab and hey if they weren't playing the Revolution (the home of the plastic pitch that derailed Danny last season) surely he would have played! Yes a fit and in form Koef can do wonders for what ails TFC but as he's yet to play more than five minutes in an MLS game this season and keeps tweaking things - his other knee, his back - do not get your hopes up. 4.5/10

Midfield: Strangely enough - terrible results notwithstanding - the midfield was almost a bright spot for TFC in May. While lack of creativity, build up through the middle and dynamic play on the wing continues to be largely absent, there are infinitesimal signs that this may be changing.

As the ever so slow makeover of the TFC roster continues; the not so lamented John Bostock - who barely played from April onwards - finally saw his loan with Toronto come to an end. Those early flashes of quality quickly disintegrated into maddening failed runs, much looking to the heavens and ball watching and not much else. Also departed is Ryan Nelsen's former QPR teammate Hogan Ephraim who really never impressed, being more often than not an invisible component out on the pitch.

However, one of the bright spots that I speak of is Matias Laba. Even on a team as terrible as Toronto FC Laba has shown more and more each game the potential for great things. Calm on the ball and under pressure, he's done yeoman's work at the back of the midfield with Jeremy Hall and is the first true building block for this team going forward. Clearly he possesses a good head for the game and while not the speediest of players - and he doesn't have to be in his position - he has been one of the few to put in a full 90 minutes of effort each time he steps onto the pitch.

The other small hint of hope comes in homegrown player Jonathan Osorio - seriously how can you not like this kid? Not even expected to make the team during the preseason he's now worked his way onto the national team and has been a spark for TFC whenever he steps onto the field. He's shown a penchant for being in the right place at the right time of scoring opportunities and has been one of the few to exhibit any creativity for the Reds. Again, Osorio is a player that TFC should be planning on as a building block for the future if he continues to play and develop the way he has been - young, talented, creative and can score the occasional goal? Yes please.

As for the rest? Do I have to talk about the rest? Reggie (0 in 6) Lambe has not done much worth mentioning except for inexplicably be one of TFC's mandatory six nominees for All-Star selection - sorry Reggie but your spot on that list should have gone to Osorio. Luis Silva (also a nominee - woot!) seems mired deep in the sophmore slump, looking tentative and somewhat lost a great deal of the time.

What about new Reds Jeremy Brockie and Bobby Convey you ask? Well it's a bit early to tell really. Brockie has had some nice moments but as his loan is only for the summer - he'll be heading back to the land of Oz in August - we can't get too excited/attached, difficult though that may be. As for Convey; well here lies some potential. A true wide player and an MLS veteran, his ability and experience should show dividends fairly soon. He's not played much due to injury but looked dangerous his last game - shining light! 5.5/10

Defense: What is there to really say about the defense? How about prone to injury, prone to inexplicable marking errors and of course everyone's favourite, the late game goal concession. The injury issue is a serious one as Nelsen has had to cobble together the backline more than once in recent weeks. Richard Eckersley's presence on the right (or the left depending on the day) is still being sorely missed but looks to be out for at least another month with the hamstring injury. Injuries to Logan Emory, Darel Russell and Danny Califf have also made fielding a solid back four difficult.

While Emory and Russell are not world beaters and really Emory's not a starter and Russell is a midfielder, the lack of options has meant some odd choices of late. Ryan Richter hasn't made as many gaffes as he did early on but is still often out of his depth and should be a bench player, nothing more for the moment. Captain Darren O'Dea has been playing left back while Nelsen holds Ashtone Morgan on the bench and while the curious case of Danny Califf (is he hurt, sick, hurt, being traded?) continues Doneil Henry continues to get minutes alongside the newest defensive signing, Stephen Caldwell.

The use of Richter and O'Dea as fullbacks has not exactly helped the Toronto attack as Richter just doesn't have the quality to make consistently good overlapping runs, and O'Dea is not the fleetest of foot. Although the O'Dea experiment hasn't been terrible - he's actually done alright - the team sorely misses the old Ashtone Morgan who could bomb down the wing and whip in a deadly cross.

The current centre pairing of Caldwell and Henry is still in the gelling process. While it's true that Henry can only benefit from playing between veteran defenders like Caldwell and O'Dea he is still a young player - both in terms of age and development. Likely signed to a pro contract too soon, Henry can be counted on to have at least one giant lapse in judgement per game - whether it's a rash foul or letting his mark slip away, he still needs to put in a complete game.

As for Caldwell - is he an upgrade over Califf? Hard to say really; he's not done anything to make me sit up and wonder why the hell he's out there. But neither has he done anything that stands out - and perhaps that's a good thing, you hope your defense doesn't have to do anything spectacular. And Califf hasn't played in so long I almost forget what he looked like out on the pitch.

But of course the main issue are those goals - the ones that crush our fragile spirits and continue to make TFC a laughing stock around the league - those maddening last minute goals. No one on the defense gets immunity on this one; they've all been guilty of inexplicable ball watching, poor marking, or hell in the case of Jack McInerney, completely forgetting to mark an opposition player. It's starting to feel like someone is playing a very cruel joke on we the faithful fans. Seriously - how can any team continue to be this inept at defending late in the game? 4.5/10

Goalkeeper: Joe Bendik is not losing that starting spot any time soon. As trade rumours continue to swirl around Stefan Frei and Bendik continues to be solid between the posts, this is the one constant for Toronto that should remain the same. While Bendik has not been as spectacular as he was early in the season he's not done much to warrant him sitting down. The main knock against Bendik are his kicks - he can send it a mile but it rarely finds a Red contributing to TFC's alarming possession woes. There may be hope however, in recent games he's utilized the short pass and even remembered that he's allowed to use his hands and send the ball out that way. 5.0/10

Coach: Ryan Nelsen is stuck between a rock and a hard place with this team. Not a team entirely of his making and as we all know not a very good team - he's looked more and more frustrated as the weeks pass - and why not?

However, he is complicit in that post-game rhetoric has been a little difficult to swallow for TFC fans, as he and Payne continue to speak of how close the team are to being in playoff contention. Or conveniently glossing over the last minute goal concessions when speaking of the Reds' efforts after a game in which they clearly messed up; again. I get that the coach doesn't necessarily want to come down on his team after each and every game, but always trying to present a losing effort in the best possible light gets frustrating for those of us who watched those games.

There have also been a few suspect substitutions - although subbing off Wiedeman for ineffectiveness after bringing him on in the Red Bulls game was excellent - and a few head scratching lineup choices. But still, he's done nothing to overtly make me sit up and think his time here should be done. So for now Nelsen should continue to be 'prisint'. 5.0/10

Bring on the summer transfer window! Or at least that's what we're being told. With June off to a rousing - hey, a goal and a point is rousing in TFC land - start, and some of the dead wood having been cleared away that shining light is getting brighter by the minute. Really. OK, it's likely not going to get better any time soon, will you settle for not getting worse? Hopefully two weeks off hasn't dulled their edge any further (please don't let them get duller) and we'll see something we've rarely seen this season - a complete 90 minute effort that doesn't make us all wish we'd never heard of Toronto FC.