This time next week, Toronto FC is back in MLS action against the Montreal Impact.
After a four-game home stand that couldn’t have gone much worse, the Reds may be relieved to get away from BMO Field for the trip to our near neighbours. To get some answers as to what went wrong, we asked Waking the Red’s team of contributors to identify what they saw as the single biggest problem the club had in September.
One of the many factors that has accounted for TFC's recent woes is consistency.
In the last four home matches, where they collected just three of twelve available points, Jozy Altidore has had three different strike partners and Greg Vanney has fielded four different midfields.
Altidore has partnered with Jordan Hamilton, Tosaint Ricketts, and Mo Babouli, while Michael Bradley and Jonathan Osorio are the only constants in the midfield four.
The ramifications of such is that the accumulative knowledge and the familiarity which one would normally lean on to get through these tough matches, where teams tighten up with the season on the line, is simply not there.
Any extra seconds wasted by lifting the head to make sure a run has been made, any stray passes or miscommunication born of such, makes breaking down an opponent with a defensive mindset that much more difficult.
One would hope that by this point in the season that crucial asset would have come together, but due to a variety of factors – fitness, schedule, injury, and suspension – Toronto has not been able to establish a first-choice team that has that essential rhythm in open play.
Goals from the midfield.
The fact that the team is getting more production from the defence than the midfield isn’t the biggest problem. It’s refreshing that Justin Morrow has grown into a legitimate offensive threat bombing down the left side and Drew Moor’s presence at set-piece situations is a benefit.
With Sebastian Giovinco out, though, more goals were going to need to come from somewhere. Outside of Jozy Altidore’s three, only Morrow and Bradley found the back of the net.
Jonathan Osorio in particular has been a key conduit in the attacking third for TFC but - outside of a sublime through ball on Morrow’s goal against the Union - was unable to contribute on the score sheet. Against Orlando City and D.C. United, Osorio saw a lot of the ball in and around the 18-yard box but failed to convert. When a quick shot would have been ideal he held on too long waiting for the perfect opening, and when patience was needed he rushed his shot.
On the bright side, Armando Cooper has come in and shown flashes of technical skill and composure that should be enough to keep him in the starting XI for the remaining two regular-season games. Perhaps his presence, in combination with a healthy Giovinco, can help jump start TFC’s sluggish offence on the road in Montreal.
The attack is obviously missing a little something - or someone - but that's not all there is to it. Another factor to look at is the defensive shape, especially against D.C. United.
One of the hallmarks of the TFC defence this season has been its organization. On both D.C. goals, though, Reds' suffered from lapses in concentration. First, Eriq Zavaleta failed to clear the ball and Mark Bloom didn’t step forward off the back post in sync with the rest of the scrambling defence, leaving Lamar Neagle onside.
For the second goal, the line was closer but still out of sync, playing Neagle on again as Zavaleta stepped up a fraction too late. These mistakes are what separates good teams from great teams, and are exactly what TFC can't afford.
Although we kept a clean sheet against Orlando and held Philadelphia to a single goal, the defence needs to return to its old, organized ways if we're going to head into the playoffs in decent form.
Toronto FC has a talented midfield. Michael Bradley, Benoit Cheyrou, Will Johnson, Jonathan Osorio and Armando Cooper can all, at the very least, be considered good, MLS-calibre players. The issue is that they all prefer to play on the inside.
Some of them have been used out of position as a result and Toronto's lack of wide options was evident during the four-game home stand.
Building a supply of quality balls into the box from those areas has been a nagging concern. Marky Delgado leads all wingers with two assists - tied for seventh on the team overall. Tsubasa Endoh, Daniel Lovitz and Tosaint Ricketts all have none and Ricketts’ name is the only one that fills me with confidence when seen on the team sheet.
Jozy Altidore needs better service from these players, as the rest of the team has been fairly consistent. Greg Vanney has a few other options at his disposal, including using Osorio or Cooper on the wing, and it will be interesting to see if and how this situation is resolved.
Someone has to say Seba, right?
Toronto can and should have won more games in this stretch even without the MVP and the reasons as to why they haven’t - lapses in defence, inconsistent team selection and tactics, a lack of goals from midfield and so on - have been outlined above.
But there is no doubt that a player of Sebastian Giovinco’s quality papers over a lot of those cracks by giving the Reds a better chance of scoring the first goal and creating something out of nothing when they are not playing well as a team.
A positive way to look at things, I suppose, is that Greg Vanney found out a lot about his team without their get-out-of-jail free card and he has the international break to digest it all.
If Vanney can correct some of those faults and welcome Giovinco back into the side at the same time, Toronto will be a force to be reckoned with in the postseason.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. If you’re interested in contributing to Waking the Red, feel free to drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.