Anyone saying that the players who wear the red and white of Toronto FC don't care about the fact that their season is slipping away from them are quite frankly wrong. This is a team who are every bit as frustrated as their supporters. For both that frustration only continues to grow as the situation surrounding the club transforms into a nightmare.
"It's frustrating...for all of us to sit here afterward and try to put words to it, it's not easy," said Michael Bradley, shaking his head throughout. "You can talk about it all you want but it's still up to us to go out there and take care of the game."
Needless to say, they haven't been taking care of it, as Toronto FC can only lose so called "must win" matches so many times before that statement actually becomes statistically true. This 2-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union was likely the most important match the club has played in several years, followed only by the 1-0 loss just a couple of days ago.
Optically, they looked slow and disinterested once again. But disinterest can often be confused with disorganization, and that would be the case in this scenario. Toronto is rapidly becoming a team of individuals trying to do too much instead of trusting each other, which went out the window long ago. Bradley is the prime example of this. He was constantly looking to make long, wild, runs with the ball, relying on his own skills over the team's.
"The ball needs to move faster," explained manager Greg Vanney. "We don't need to necessarily run more, the ball needs to move faster. We need to move it at the right times and to the right spaces."
Recreating that organization is only going to get more and more difficult with each loss, as the players get pulled further and further from each other. As a result, Greg Vanney's already impossible task is increasing in difficulty by the match.
Confidence is another issue. Earlier in the season, even going down by two goals, this team would have continued to attack and truly believed that they could get back into the match. This killer instinct has apparently evaporated from their game, as while they created chances in the second half that belief didn't appear to be present.
"Just being tough to play against," said Nick Hagglund of what the team has been lacking. "Teams come in and we don't come at them."
At least injuries are making this team more familiar, they seem to have taken on the form of last year's edition of the club. Why? Because anything that made them different from last year's side now has a hamstring injury. Collen Warner may have joined that list in this match, meaning exactly half of their starters are now out. In a salary cap league very few teams can be expected to recover from that.
Part of their resemblance to past editions of Toronto FC has been their recent inability to find the back of the net, it's been three matches. Being well on pace to score more goals than any of their predecessors can be credited with the majority of the successes that they have had this year. That is why it is such a big contrast now that it has disappeared completely. But as Greg Vanney mentions, it is all connected.
"I don't think it's a worry," says Vanney. "It's more about the whole game. If we defend better, we give ourselves a better chance. If we move the ball quicker, we give ourselves a better chance. We need to be a little hungrier in front of goal. But I don't think it's one thing, we have guys who can score goals."
If there is one positive to be gleaned from this match, it might have been Greg Vanney's post match press conference. The man clearly has plenty of soccer intelligence, preferring to explain exactly why certain things went wrong and how they can be fixed, instead of making excuses on their behalf. Sure, they are all words at this point. But the men who have ran this team in the past haven't been very good at words, and what has taken place on the field has mirrored that sentiment.
But the window of opportunity it closing, some will say has closed after this match. There are eight games left, and realistically Toronto needs to win about five of them to make the playoffs. This is concerning, especially since none of their performances in the last five games has warranted, or resulted in, a victory.
"These next eight games are playoffs for us," said Hagglund. "We're now in playoff mode."
It will now be more surprising if Toronto does make the playoffs, than if they don't. That is a huge statement considering their form in the early part of the season. The bloody big deal is about the come down to a bloody interesting conclusion. At this point no matter how it goes, there is certainly going to be a lot of intrigue. Especially if they can turn their frustration into determination.
"[We're] frustrated for sure but not even close to giving up," said Michael Bradley. "But not even close to giving up. There are a lot of games left, a lot of soccer to be played and a lot of points still on the board. Anybody who think were ready to pack it in has another thing coming."