For a brief period in Toronto FC's history there was an idea that BMO Field was a sort of fortress, where the club earned the vast majority of its points. It may have been the turf, but at any rate that idea no longer exists. Even in their best season as a franchise, a label which is getting more and more depressing to attribute to this season, the club has failed to use the advantage that comes with their home grounds.
Statistically, that can be seen in the fact that only Montreal and Chivas, last in the East and West respectively, have more losses at home. Visually, a demoralizing 3-0 loss in a crucial match against a team just below, now level, with them in the standings really drives the point home. In a league where getting results away from home is difficult, this simply isn't good enough. It comes down the character.
In contrast with Toronto's performance was that of the New England Revolution, the aforementioned opponent in this crucial match for both sides, who were top class. From the start, they looked like a team both inspired and hungry to improve their position in the standings. They not only believe they can make the playoffs, they want it, and that was exhibited throughout this match. They also have Jermaine Jones on the way, who looked confident and dominant like an early season Michael Bradley in his short appearance.
Toronto, on the other hand, haven't been aggressively searching for a better foothold in the standings for some time now. That's the kind of character that this team has lacked for some time now: a hunger to win even when it might not be accompanied with obvious incentive. Motivation, and will for victory, is starting to stand out in a very concerning way on this team. Players like Gilberto, Doneil Henry and Nick Hagglund represent that increasing minority.
This was without question a difficult fixture for Toronto FC. The Revolution were always going to come in with a newfound swagger that bringing in a new star at a crucial time in the season will spur, even if his on field role was limited.
Toronto were also without three huge players: Steven Caldwell, Justin Morrow and Jermain Defoe. But there aren't going to be any more simple fixtures as this season winds down. If Toronto want to make the playoffs, they simply can't afford to roll over and die every time the word "difficult" comes up.
But while the players on the field definitely deserve the majority of the blame on this occasion, and throughout this recent downward spiral, Ryan Nelsen is starting to look more and more embattled in the manager's position. It started with his tactics, a 4-2-3-1 which turned out to be very, very wrong. For this he cannot be blamed, his options are increasingly limited and he had to try something new.
There has to be something said, however, for the ability to motivate your players in crucial situations as a manager. Several times this season this team have failed to show up for a second half after dominating the first. Lately, they have been more likely to not make an appearance at all. His post-match disapproval of GM Tim Bezbatchenko saying that the players needed to "step it up a notch" because it "affected the guys" was shocking to say the least.
Defensively, the disease that has been contracted by the backline is spreading. Joe Bendik's downward spiral has been in unison with his club's, even if they are not directly related. He really should have had Lee Nguyen's opening goal, which started the fall for Toronto. It is also, to some degree, the keeper's responsibility to keep his backline organized, two words which have not found themselves together when describing this team for some time.
In front of the defense, Collen Warner and Michael Bradley have also been poor at shielding the backline. A large part of Ryan Nelsen's experimental tactic revolved around having Bradley and Warner both play a CDM role. This is also where the formation was exposed as both goals came off of massive gaps in that part of the midfield. After a very promising start, Warner has particularly dropped off as of late.
If Toronto really do want to fix these errors at the back they absolutely must improve communication. Far too many times lately, opposition players have been left open to do what they want in front of goal. Likewise, players have not been closed down fast enough as it seems nobody is sure what their particular role is at the back.
Tonight's loss does not by any means indicate Toronto will not make the playoffs, as some have suggested. They are still in a decent position in this regard, even if it is becoming more and more precarious. But in their next two matches, a home and away against Philadelphia Union, Toronto will absolutely display whether or not this team has the mental fortitude to hold on a make a first ever playoff appearance. Especially in the match at BMO Field.