They could have blamed the bugs that swarmed the stadium. They could have blamed the curious refereeing decision that allowed New England to retake a crucial corner. They could have blamed the pitch, which once again wasn't quite up to standard. But Toronto FC players blamed nobody but themselves for the latest in their signature series of late game collapses.
Lee Nguyen scored on a penalty kick in the 86th minute to give the New England Revolution a 2-1 victory. Patrick Mullins had the other goal for New England, while Jackson scored the lone goal for Toronto, though via a deflection that wrongfooted Bobby Shuttleworth, it really should go down as an own goal. The loss drops Toronto's record to 3-4-0.
Asked about the many factors that stood in the way of a Toronto victory, the players made no excuses as for why they lost this crucial game. Chief amongst the discussion was the decision to allow New England to retake a corner kick that ultimately led to Nguyen's winning goal.
Michael Bradley had the best reaction of all, taking an incredibly long and awkward time to careful choose his words before mumbling "I'm not sure what you really can say". He then acknowledged that they still should have defended the second corner kick better.
Two players on either end of the pitch stood out as disappointing for Toronto, and both were big factors in the loss. Doneil Henry will be the one that gets the most negative press, as his return from injury was well out of line with the quality of performance he delivered prior to his medical leave. It was Henry's giveaway that led to Mullins' equalizer. His handball also led to the penalty that ultimately won the game for New England.
After the match, however, manager Ryan Nelsen defended the young centreback, saying that he had a decent match despite the mistakes. Henry took full responsibility for the first goal, saying it was his fault.
"I'm not the type of guy to shy away [from blame] when I make mistakes, and I like to be credited when I do well," said Henry. "I'm going to put this one behind me and I'm going to get ready for the game on Wednesday."
Up front, Gilberto continues to receive the ball in prime scoring positions and fail to translate those opportunities into goals. To be fair, in terms of overall performance it was likely the Brazilian's best match in a TFC uniform. He even had an assist on Jackson's goal, although his pass hardly put Jackson in a prime scoring position.
However, it is hard to see Jermain Defoe or several of his other teammates missing the chances he received, and had he finished them the narrative of the match would have been very different. The defining moment of Gilberto's match may have been early, when he stole the ball in a very good position from teammate Jonathan Osorio and promptly pulled his shot well wide of the net. Gilberto did not speak to media after the match.
"He's doing everything right, sometimes it happens where, as a forward, you get chances and you are just so close," said Defoe, adding that "all the lads are behind him."
Defoe himself was not incredibly effective for Toronto either. He had by far his poorest match for the club, failing to generate any significant scoring chances despite getting fairly decent service. His poor match was a significant factor in Toronto's inability to execute in the final third.
"He's not going to score a hattrick every match," said Nelsen, who proceeded to cite the poor pitch as a massive factor in Defoe's play.
Even the positive aspects of this match had a negative flavour for Toronto. Jonathan Osorio, who looked significantly better than two weeks ago after returning from injury, was injured once again right at the end of the game. After gamely hobbling around for the last couple of minutes as TFC had used all their subs at that point, the midfielder looked incredibly unhappy after the match as he limped around the dressing room on a crutch to support his right leg, on which he was unable to put weight. On that evidence, saying he will only miss Wednesday's match against Vancouver is being incredibly optimistic.
For the first time this season, Toronto had the majority of the possession in the match, finishing with just over 60 per cent. But that possession came coupled with the worst execution Toronto has shown all season. Play through the midfield was only rarely coherent. While Osorio and Bradley had solid games, Jackson, despite the goal, was poor. So was Kyle Bekker, who made Nelsen's decision to let him start the match look very questionable.
After the match Steven Caldwell called for the team to put the loss behind them, as they can do nothing about it now.
"We don't look back we look forward all the time," said Caldwell. "We have to analyze what went wrong and make it better. We've had some great wins, but we have to be more consistent."
Toronto's opportunity to move forward from this loss comes Wednesday when they play the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Voyageurs Cup.