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WTR Mailbag: On Goals & Grinding

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

MLS: Toronto FC at Orlando City SC
The strain on their faces alone is further proof that TFC is grinding hard for results
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There are a lot of cliches in sports coverage. That's the nature of the beast.

Some of them are terrible and should be avoided at every expense. Some are more slippery, such as the tendency to utilize the language of war. There is metaphor there no doubt, and it is useful, but in no way ideal.

A pair of personal favourites come to mind when assessing the play of Toronto FC over the past month: 'goals win games', and 'MLS is a grind'.

The first is a more universal statement, about the nature of a low-scoring game where good passages of play can be erased, as if they never happened in the first place, by a single goal. The second is more MLS specific, referencing the way seasons have a tendency to play out.

When TFC lost 2-1 in San Jose despite a two-man advantage, many were desolate. But rather than get caught up in a single result, the defeat exposed a more troublesome trend: the inability to score more than one goal in a match.

Leaving aside the first two matches of the season where Toronto scored two goals in each, the club had only scored more than a single strike on three occasions. Three in a span of 21 games. That is a damning stat.

Furthermore, of those three occasions, the club had lost two of them. The only win coming in the 4-2 Voyageurs Cup win at home over Montreal.

Through 19 matches, up to that San Jose debacle, the club was averaging 1.10 goals per match.

Such a low figure makes winning matches very difficult. The margin of error is slim, a single mistake, defensive breakdown, or bad bounce can cost points.

In the seven matches since, however, where TFC have gone unbeaten, they have outscored opponents 18-5.

Scoring 2.57 goals per match provides a much more stable offensive output upon which defensive play can be based. There is room for error.

When Jared Jeffrey gets off a strike, or a late breakdown allows Teal Bunbury to score, or Ken Tribbett eludes his marker, or Cyle Larin backs off the shoulder of a defender to win a header, the points are no longer in jeopardy.

With Jozy Altidore on fire, Sebastian Giovinco doing his thing, and Tosaint Ricketts pitching in, the club is well positioned to score those goals that win games.

But alongside that firepower, Toronto has also been grinding out results.

For all the heralding of the club that has come in the last few weeks, it has been far from perfect. There have been plenty of nervous passages, plenty of mistakes that could have been punished.

That 'statement' result in Philadelphia was never as clear cut as the scoreline indicated. The Union were dangerous and TFC were fortunate to not concede more.

The same goes for the 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake, where the result was far from certain.

And the 1-1 draw in Houston was more nerve-wracking than it should have been – once more playing up a man for an extended period proved no benefit and the Dynamo had chances to steal all three points themselves.

Ask any coach or player who has spent time in this league and that cliched phrase, MLS is a grind, will inevitably come up when the summer months are discussed.

It does, because it is true. The matches come thick and fast, the summer heat weighs heavy, and the roster limitations prove a barrier to consistency as injuries mount, as they certainly will.

Clubs who excel during this period, that shirk off the exhaustion and misfortune, that take the pitch with a point to prove and the determination to prove it, are the ones that emerge when the colours change and the playoffs come around.

There is still much to be played – eight or so matches remain for most clubs – so any premature anointing must be delayed, saved for the end of the season, but what should be noted is that TFC are up for the grind, they compete, from first minute to last.

It is a trait that has been evidenced all season long. From clawing back points in losing positions, to surviving, even thriving, in the midst of a rash of injuries that would have felled lesser sides, to that last-second Will Johnson strike that won the Voyageurs Cup.

There is fight in this club, they battle – there it is... that vocabulary of war coming through once more.

Weak though it is, it certainly seems appropriate for a top of the Eastern table TFC.

And they ain't done yet.

Kindly leave your questions and comments in the section below and the WTR staff will respond post haste!