Although Toronto is not off to a dreadful start in 2016, five points from its opening five matches are well below expectations. Media and fans have attributed blown refereeing decisions and the long road trip as reasons for its mediocre start and insist that Toronto will improve once these factors even out.
While that may be true, there are reasons for concern on the field that Toronto has full control over and must improve if they wish to be a top team in the league. One can simply point to Toronto's lackluster approach to matches and that they consistently allow the crucial first goal of the game.
In its first five matches, Toronto has been outscored 4-1 in the first half, with its only goal coming in injury time against New York City FC. Toronto has also started three matches down at least one goal within 30 minutes, being outscored 4-0 overall in the opening half hour. As a result, Toronto has never held a lead in the first half of a match yet and would have only 2 points if matches were to end at the halftime interval.
Considering each match individually, Toronto were extremely lucky to be tied with New York Red Bulls at half-time, fell 2-0 to New York City before the half hour mark, were down a goal and a man to Colorado before 20 minutes and were getting dismantled by New England for the first half hour as well.
Only against Kansas City did Toronto look to be at least even with their opponent for the first half hour, and that is up for debate. Essentially, while Toronto can point to external factors as reasons why they are sitting on 5 points, it is the first half hour of matches that is costing Toronto valuable early season points.
Although one would be correct in thinking five games are not a large enough sample, this problem dates back to when Greg Vanney first began taking charge. In his 49 MLS matches as head coach, Toronto has scored first only 15 times, while giving up the first goal on 33 occasions and played to one 0-0 draw.
Furthermore, in their vital playoff game last season, Toronto was down 3-0 before the halftime whistle. It is clear Toronto are consistently behind the eight ball and trying to play catch up in games, which is never a recipe for success.
It is truly difficult to pinpoint exactly why Toronto begins matches in this manner, but this concern began once Greg Vanney had been appointed as head coach. Toronto must ensure they play a full and tough 90 minutes each match and approach games as if they are already down 1-0 (without actually conceding a goal). What is bizarre is that Toronto typically responds well to being down a goal and it is as if the match starts once they allow that first goal.
If Toronto can find their form in the opening minutes, they can definitely be a competitive team and obtain momentum early in matches. Couple that with an abundance of home matches and a few favorable refereeing decisions, Toronto will find themselves near the top of the Eastern Conference in due time.