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The Same Old Story: Toronto FC lose Crucial Match against New York Red Bulls

After eight years of trying, one would think Toronto FC would be able to create a better ending for their season. But long existing major flaws in their plot ultimately led to a disappointing conclusion to their playoff hopes at the hands of the New York Red Bulls.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

This season Toronto FC wrote a very compelling story. They had a start that caught the audience's attention. They had compelling characters: Jermain Defoe the English legend, Michael Bradley the American midfield general, Gilberto the mysterious but promising Brazilian and Dwayne De Rosario the prodigal son who had returned home and made good with the franchise.

There were also a lot of positive chapters. They had the most wins and points in franchise history. Several games stand out as being some of the most exciting in the team’s history. The cast of characters each had their turn providing moments of inspiration. This team has been writing the same story for long enough that the differences in plot seemed to hint at a better ending.

But as always Toronto FC failed to pen an agreeable conclusion, and therefore everything that precedes is meaningless. In the end few will remember positives from this year, instead lumping it in with the other seven failed manuscripts the team has produced. The lasting memory won’t be the fairy tale like 2-1 start to the season against the Seattle Sounders, but will instead be tonight’s 3-1 heartbreaking loss to the New York Red Bulls that effectively eliminates them from the playoffs.

The match was over before halftime, and perhaps that was why it was so crushing. The team had a good second half under the circumstances, one where the New York defense faltered just enough that it seemed like Toronto could get back into the game. Jonathan Osorio’s lone goal instantly brought flashbacks of a more positive recent memory: the 3-2 comeback victory over the Portland Timbers which turned out to be the team’s last stand.

The foreshadowing for all this was present for a long time: a group of small rips that were barely noticeable until they eventually tore the team apart. In the end, Greg Vanney was right when he said that all of TFC’s positional issues were connected, and they all fell at once. The Red Bulls game was a perfect microcosm of that.

The offense died a while ago, and changing the parts to try and jumpstart it hasn’t helped at all. The club were shutout in five of their last nine games. Only two of the team’s nine goals during that stretch were scored by strikers. Gilberto continued to work hard, but returned to his early season habit of missing big chances. Luke Moore looked less and less engaged with each passing match. Jermain Defoe, when he finally returned, just threw up his hands in disbelief.

The defense was probably the first to go, dating back to a 3-0 loss to DC United on July 30. Since that match, they have given up almost two goals and a game. With the offense in its aforementioned state it is not surprising that the team only won four of those thirteen games. It is hard to pinpoint any blame on an individual player for this because it truly was a system issue. A lot of goals were the result of breakdowns in the midfield that put the backline at a disadvantage. Ball-watching also became a horrible plague.

As a result, Joe Bendik was largely left at the mercy of the shooter. He definitely did his part down the stretch to give his team an opportunity to make things turn out differently than they did. They only reward he got was being put in even more horrible situations than before.

The glue that was supposed to keep everything together, the midfield, lost its stick at some point after the World Cup when it became clear that Michael Bradley and Collen Warner were not going to work well together. Bradley looked far better when he played beside Osorio, but not good enough to give the falling team a foothold. Vanney’s experiment of putting Kyle Bekker in the middle became exposed when it was clear he was not good enough defensively to fill his envisioned role, yet he was still given playing time. The wingers showed flashes but nothing consistent or substantial: Oduro has pace and little else, if Jackson is playing well it means something bad to him, or to someone else that will see him ejected.

All of these issues developed slowly over time, not always present but around consistently enough that they were noticeable. There were times when it genuinely seemed like the team could reach the playoffs despite them. But nobody could correct them, not Vanney, not Tim Bezbatchenko, not the players and evidently not Ryan Nelsen.

They were all present against the Red Bulls. The team swarmed the net on several occasions but were unable to find the back of the net. They allowed far too much space between the midfield and the defense where Thierry Henry and others destroyed them. They allowed players to get open in defense. Their playoff hopes ended with a summary of why they had long been in question.

In that way it was almost the perfect ending, just not the one that anyone hoped would actually find its way into print.