By losing against New York City FC, Toronto FC have made a crucial part of the season a lot more difficult. It wasn't who they lost to, or even the points that they lost that will make the next couple of weeks more challenging. It was how they lost the game.
Going into Saturday's match Toronto FC was playing arguably the best stretch of soccer in their history. So instead of trying to beat them at soccer, New York played anti-soccer. They stopped the game from having any flow, consistently fouled Toronto's stars and had no regard for the game's rules.
"If we are good enough in what we [wanted] to do and sharp enough than I don't think we are talking about [New York's strategy]," said Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley after the match.
But they couldn't overcome New York, so now everyone is talking about bullying Toronto FC out of their own park. The book is out on how to beat Toronto FC at BMO Field, and the rest of the league is eagerly reading.
Things are going to be even more difficult when the Gold Cup rolls around in a couple of weeks. Without Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Jonathan Osorio and Ashtone Morgan the target is going to be on Sebastian Giovinco more than ever before.
The Montreal Impact, today's opponent, have already shown that they can effectively play the "New York City style". With players like Callum Mallace and Marco Donadel, the Impact are in a perfect position to replicate anti-soccer.
If this is the case then Toronto FC are going to be knocked down a lot more in the next couple of matches, but what matters is how they get up. On Saturday, they got up and went right at the referee or the opposition player. They let New York win by not taking the fouls in stride.
When this happens again Toronto can't respond by a call to arms, which only plays into their opponent's strategy. Nobody would be trying this if they thought they were better at soccer than the home side.
Instead, Toronto FC just have to take their bumps and bruises and when they are knocked down keep getting up and moving forward. Let their coach and management do the complaining, as they surely will.
Greg Vanney was clearly displeased with the refereeing last match, and you can be certain that league offices have received a call since then. Next time someone tries to foul Toronto FC that viciously it's more than likely the officials will be watching like hawks.
The good news is that Toronto FC already have some important players in their camp who understand the need for cooler heads to prevail. After the last match, Bradley was one of the only players who was willing to face the media.
He delivered this message: it wasn't the refereeing that did us in, it was how we played. Our opponents can play however they want, we have to learn how to beat them.
This is a clear sign of growing up from the Toronto captain, who last season was known for complaining consistently about the level of refereeing in the league.
At the time he wasn't necessarily wrong with what he said, truth be told the league still hasn't done nearly enough to augment their caliber of officiating. But he's said his piece and now it is time to let other people fight that battle.
The summer months are crucial to the success of Toronto FC's season. They absolutely cannot let something petty like this get in their way. The best way to deal with bullying is to ignore it.