Five points from four games, that's what Toronto FC was able to collect from their first homestand of the 2016 season. After a 1-0 victory over FC Dallas in their home opener, the team went downhill. Not in their performances, perhaps, but certainly in the last three results.
Today's 0-0 draw with the Columbus Crew was a disappointing final chapter in what was a very mediocre introduction to the new-look BMO Field. If Toronto FC wants the stadium to be considered a fortress, they have to stop allowing opponents to steal points from it, especially those from the Eastern Conference.
The theme of the homestand, with the exception of the Vancouver Whitecaps game, was that Toronto FC performed fairly well, but could not deliver the killing blow. Even against FC Dallas, their lone victory of the homestand, they missed several chances that could have seen them win by an even bigger margin.
Tonight, they had their chances, even better they provided Sebastian Giovinco with those opportunities. But again, they could not finish, and ,as a result, let two points slip away today against a rival team that was there for the taking.
"Over the last two games we've done a pretty good job of minimizing opportunities for the opposition," said Greg Vanney post match. "I still think we need to do more to create more clear cut opportunities. That is what it was today, we did have our few that really could make the difference. We didn't take them."
While the Columbus Crew came limping into BMO Field, it can't be said that Toronto FC underestimated them as they have perhaps with other visiting opponents. Greg Vanney devised a three at the back strategy, which saw Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour join a five-man midfield.
This was meant to counteract Columbus Crew's attack, which builds through the wings. From that point of view it worked, Toronto FC was able to limit the Crew's opportunities. A backline trio of Josh Williams, Drew Moor and Eriq Zavaleta did a solid job of keeping Toronto's defensive mandate, earning them their fifth clean sheet of the season. Four goals allowed against the Vancouver Whitecaps a week ago now looks like an outlier.
"There's a lot of good things to take away," said Bradley of the team's performance. "We had this blip against Vancouver in terms of, and we spoke about it at the time, how every team over the course of the season can have a game like that. In the last two games now we've gotten back to conceding very little. The balance has been good."
From a midfield perspective, however, the formation struggled to create chances for Toronto FC. Jay Chapman's second start of the season was a bit of a disappointment, as he failed to provide a link between the midfield and attack. It wasn't until Tsubasa Endoh and Jonathan Osorio were introduced that the club was able to create offence from anywhere that wasn't Giovinco or Mo Babouli.
The pair created almost all of Toronto's dangerous opportunities during the game. Surprisingly, however, it was Giovinco who was unable to convert on the opportunities. The Italian had some uncharacteristic misses after being set up on a few occasions by his younger striker partner.
"We need to always have a menality of growing, whether we score on these opportunities or we don't," said Giovinco after the match. "Every game we need to grow. We also need to return to the way that we were playing in the first six or seven games. Like I said before I think this was one of my worst games and I take a lot of responsibility for this."
Mo Babouli, on the other hand, was Toronto FC's best player during the game, showing the potential that earned him a senior contract. Babouli was all over the field, creating several grade A chances for his Italian strike partner. Giovinco was clearly impressed after the match, and Greg Vanney and Michael Bradley also provided rave reviews.
"I think Mo was the best player on the field, he played a great game," said Giovinco after the match. "In my opinion he's a player who makes a difference and I'm very happy for him. I've told him that I hope he will keep it up. I missed the opportunties from the balls that were sent to me, and he definitely played the way he should, and in a great way."
Ultimately, this game was another let down for Toronto FC. It was a game where they held their opponent, but allowed them to escape unscathed. If Toronto wants to be considered an elite team in MLS they have to start proving it at home. Otherwise, they will fall back among the unpredictable and mediocre pack that has represented this year's Eastern Conference.