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Defense First: Avoidable Errors Killing Toronto FC

Toronto are sacrificing defence for offence, and lately it has been catching up with them.

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

When the final whistle blew at BMO Field on Sunday, the scoreboard read New England 3 goals, Toronto FC 1. It might as well have been reversed: Toronto FC 3 mistakes, New England 1.

It was an early mistake that got Toronto off on the wrong foot, as Damien Perquis redirected the ball into the back of his own net to make it 1-0 New England just four minutes into the match.

TFC responded well, coming very close to scoring the equalizer several times. But by the time the halftime whistle was blown they were down 2-0.

When play resumed, however, they continued their fight. Robbie Findley found the back of the net to cut New England's lead in half. Everything was going Toronto's way.

Then they blew it. Michael Bradley, for some inexplicable reason, decided to twirl aimlessly at the top of his box and spilled the ball to Kelyn Rowe. Opposing players don't miss gift-wrapped chances like that, certainly not against Toronto FC.

This time there was no coming back, all of that fight and resilience evaporated and Toronto trudged around the field for the rest of the match, wondering how they let a gun that looked so ready to deliver a killing blow end up misfiring into their own foot.

Once again defensive mistakes cost Toronto Sunday's game, just as they are about to cost them one of the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference heading into the playoffs.

What's so frustrating is how unavoidable the majority of those defensive mistakes have been.

Under Vanney, Toronto FC have been an offensive team first, and currently have the second most goals in Major League Soccer this season. Unfortunately, that offense style has often come with the sacrifice of the team's defensive play.

On Sunday, this was evident before the game had ever started. Without Benoit Cheyrou and Collen Warner at his disposal, Greg Vanney elected to start two attacking midfielders in the middle of the field. Even with five at the back it was an offensive gamble that ended up costing the team.

The mistakes continue to build up because of the style Toronto elects to play, specifically at the back.

Part of the Toronto FC offensive revolution has been their ability to play the ball out of the back, which allows the team to hold possession and dictate the play.

The problem with this? Toronto FC defenders are taking too many risks at the back and it is costing them. The team has conceded the second most goals in the league, with 46.

Passes out of the back are being intercepted, turned into counter attacks, and finding their way into the back of the Toronto net at an alarming rate.

It happened in a loss to New York Red Bulls earlier in the month, it happened in a 4-1 victory over Orlando City, it happened the last time Toronto played the New England Revolution. Those are just the obvious examples from the past month.

Playing it safe at the back isn't always pretty, rarely helps in the accumulation of possession, and is starting to lose a grip in the modern game. But for a team that gives up goals as easily as Toronto does, safe is better than sorry.

If there is one thing this team hasn't had problems doing this season, at least not in a macro sense, it is scoring goals. This is why the tactics and risks taken by Toronto are so confusing.

A lot of things that have been implemented in the Vanney era have been positive: game in and game out Toronto are a difficult team to play against. Offensively they are dangerous, at home they are relentless.

But unless the team figures out a way to limit, or eliminate as best they can, defensive mistakes, Sunday's game will continue to be the standard.

It won't matter how much possession, how many shots and how many chances Toronto FC can generate.