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WTR Mailbag – On Playing Away & Up a Man

Waking the Red's midweek call for your questions – Post-Houston, Pre-Philadelphia Edition

Houston Dynamo v Toronto FC
Vanney points the way. TFC know where to go, the difficulty is in getting there
Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

So it happened again.

Once more Toronto FC were in prime position to earn valuable away points, up a man over Houston on Sunday, only to fail to achieve the possible.

It is a disconcerting trend. There is no arguing that.

It was the second time in recent weeks, and third time all season, that TFC have been gifted the opportunity of playing up a man, only to struggle to breakdown the short-handed opponent.

The first came back in March, falling 1-0 to Sporting KC. It, however, was a different case, as Roger Espinoza was not sent off until the 84th minute, leaving precious little time to mount the comeback.

That occasion passed under the radar for that reason, and because of the controversial nature of Brad Davis' game-winner, bumping – read: fouling – Justin Morrow to win possession before beating Clint Irwin.

The second was an entirely different beast, with San Jose losing players either side of half-time, only to find the game-winner against the run of play in the second frame.

At the time, the loss in San Jose was the ultimate 'sky-is-falling' moment. There was even some ridiculousness calling for 'Vanney Out'.

And yet, once more the same problem has reared its head. Toronto had a full half with a man-advantage to break down the stingy Houston defenses; once more they could not do so.

Now again, there are reasons, though some would call them excuses: losing a pair of players early to injury and the need to be cautious with Jozy Altidore hamstrung Greg Vanney's options; the extended stay in Houston with the previously-arranged start time stormed out; Houston's home form and defensive solidity; the heat...

Rather than argue whether it was a point gained or two points lost, or fret over the inability to pick teams apart like they have proven they are capable of doing at home, perhaps a different tact could prove useful.

Grimace, lament, and move on to the next one.

It is convenient to analyze each game in isolation – there is much to be learned from such dissection, but in doing so, too often, the forest is lost for the trees.

Should TFC have tried shooting from distance in hope of luring the well-packed Dynamo out of position? Sure, wouldn't have hurt.

Should they have moved the ball out of the back with more pace, or pressed harder in order to force turnovers in better positions in hope of catching Houston inching forward? Could have done, though both moves come with risks: playing faster carries a higher possibility of turnovers, while pressing too high could open up gaps for a counter-attacking Houston to exploit – such as what happened in San Jose.

Should Altidore's time limit have been ignored, after all he was undoubtedly the most dangerous player on the pitch? Another question in response: is it worth risking him for two additional points, when there are so many left on offer over the rest of the season?

The key to success in MLS is winning at home and being difficult to beat, while collecting the odd point, on the road. Toronto is in good shape in that regard.

There is only one team in the East – NYC FC – who has a better road record than Toronto. Their six wins is by far the best in the league. In the West, only two teams have more wins than Toronto's three – Dallas and Los Angeles – while only three have more points – Salt Lake joining the aforementioned two.

That is pretty decent company to keep.

Toronto has ten matches remaining on the 2016 season, all but four will be played at home.

While draws may not be enjoyable, if they were to run out the season with a single point from each of those four away, chances are, they would not regret it – unless, of course, they were to falter at home.

Now all that said, Toronto will now be well aware of this short-coming in their game. With the just announced arrival of Armando Cooper on loan, reportedly an attacking midfielder – if recollection serves, he featured more as a wide attacker than a central one when he faced TFC in the CONCACAF Champions League with Arabe Unido (the clubs splits the series, each winning 1-0 at home), they have another tool in the arsenal.

And rest assured, Vanney and company will be working on this, with the knowledge that champions need to be ruthless.

When an opponent is wounded, vulnerable, it is vital to exploit that, put in the dagger, deliver the coup de grace, finish it off. Waste that chance and the foe may not pass when theirs comes.

The old saying, 'one game at a time' comes to mind in such situations. Michael Bradley is fond of it, so too is Vanney. They focus on each chance at three points as they come. While lessons must be learned from each, the goal remains the same: winning the next three. As they will in Philadelphia this weekend.

On to the next one.

Please leave your comments and questions in the section below and the WTR staff will respond in kind