If Toronto FC are selling change and an "unleashed" team, then it would sure be a foolish investment to buy in just yet. The roster was very similar to what Nelsen would have played. The tactics were far from revolutionary. In the end, although impossible to say for sure, the result, a 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union, seemed to be very in line with the trend as of late.
But that was always going to be the case considering the timeframe in which new coach Greg Vanney was hired, and its proximity to this crucial match. It's hard to see him having a real chance to make this team playing his style, if it is indeed all that different than Nelsen's, before the end of the season. It was near impossible that it would be present after just one match.
The underlying theme of all of this continues to get worse, as does the team's form. For the second straight match they allowed a club below them in the Eastern Conference standings to catch up. While still not out of a playoff position, they now, as aforementioned, have the same 33 points as the Union, who are not in playoff spot. The picture is getting darker, and the window for improvement is shrinking.
Unleashed, as Vanney said the team would play, seemed to indicate disorganization more than anything else. While he absolutely had the team playing with significantly more energy than they have been as of late, it was wasted for the most part. Michael Bradley was an example of this. While he certainly had more spring in his step against Philadelphia, it turned into him being over involved and trying to do too much instead of the polar opposite that he has been criticized for recently.
On a positive note, a lack of concrete structure saw Jonathan Osorio once again move into the centre of midfield with Collen Warner and Bradley, as Dominic Oduro dropped back and played his side. This represented the best stretch of the match not only for those aforementioned central midfielders, but also for the entire team. While Osorio picked up a leg injury and could well be out for the next match, this was very promising. Nelsen saw Osorio as a winger, hopefully Vanney sees the fault in that logic.
The backline was only really better on the scoreboard. Vanney's big tactical maneuver, pushing his team further forward, could be exemplified best in his wide defenders, who pushed upwards on the wings. But this ultimately ended up created several gaps at the back that the Union exploited.
Another issue with this, was the loss in synchronization between the backline and the midfield. Playing wingbacks seemed to isolate Doneil Henry and Nick Hagglund, both of whom are not known for their composure on the ball. Bradley, and specifically Collen Warner, did not move back enough to provide options for these two. They didn't find much more help out wide where they used to have consistent options as part of a mainly flat backline.
In terms of change, there was only one really massive swap in the lineup. That was the largely banished Ashton Morgan coming in to play at the back. While it wasn't an overwhelmingly strong performance from the Canadian, he did demonstrate the he still has potential. His impression was cut short by a sending off in the 77th minute that really wasn't his fault, even if it had to be given.
The only stark contrast from the former side had little to do with the manager, as it was the resurgent play of Joe Bendik. Toronto FC has been giving up an incredible amount of goals lately, and while it was largely due to the defense, some of the blame has to fall at the feet, or rather hands, of Bendik. But he was the reason the aforementioned lacklustre backline only gave up the one goal, with several stellar saves.
With Osorio potentially joining the fray, the injury front continues to be a massive concern for the club. Without Steven Caldwell's presence, Henry and Hagglund has been struggling. It is hardly surprising, as there are very few places in the world where a 21-year-old centreback is starting, let alone next to another 21-year-old centreback.
But the biggest missing piece has undoubtedly been Jermaine Defoe's ability to score goals that shield this team's underlying issues with positive results. In this regard Toronto FC are very similar to last year's Montreal Impact, who also suffered a massive collapse around this time of year. Defoe has been doing a very good Marco Di Vaio impression, and one can only hope the end result is the same, playoffs.
There is a long way to go before that is a reality, however, and this Saturday's match is easily the biggest of the season for Toronto. They absolutely cannot continue to bleed points in massive matches to teams who directly hurt their playoff chances. Damage control has to happen right now, or the boat will sink quickly.
In that regard, whether it is a win or a loss, the Philadelphia match at BMO Field will likely serve as a spoiler for the still unclear ending to this entertaining season. Tonight's loss made that a reality.