Tonight was supposed to be a celebration at BMO Field. Before kickoff, the stadium had a carnival-like atmosphere, and not just because there was one happening just outside. There were fireworks, coloured smoke, and a massive banner unveiled after a thunderous national anthem.
Instead, Toronto FC’s performance failed to live up to the circumstance, even before Ignacio Piatti fired the 10-man Montreal Impact in front in the 73rd minute. Tonight’s party at BMO Field was allowed to be spoiled by the visitors, who certainly enjoyed themselves.
After winning their last seven matches, Toronto FC is allowed a bit of leeway after this loss, even if it was unsettling to watch. However, it was proof that a Toronto FC team which has looked invincible for the past couple of weeks still has at least one fatal flaw.
The three most recent matches in which Toronto FC dropped a point this season have come against teams who had a player sent off. Tonight it was Calum Mallace who was given a red card for what was essentially a body check on TFC’s Steven Beitashour.
In fact, all six MLS matches this season in which an opponent has been sent off resulted in either a draw or a loss for Toronto FC. Their only win up a man came against the Impact in the Canadian Championship, and they allowed two goals in that match.
However, that isn’t the underlying problem, it only brings it to the surface in a more disturbing way. The issue is that Toronto FC has consistently shown that they cannot break down teams who bunker up defensively and play their entire team behind the ball.
It’s not an easy thing to do, as underdogs (or “cowards” as Hope Solo prefers) globally have been getting shock results playing the very same system. But Toronto FC looks particularly bad when they can’t stretch an opponent’s defense.
The Impact deserve plenty of credit for what they did tonight. It was a gutsy performance from a team who really needed one at this stage in the year. What this meant to them was clear after the final whistle, as they celebrated relentlessly.
When down a man, there is a lack of creativity that usually just results in TFC trying to do the same thing over and over again. The last few times it has been trying to find open crosses from the wing. Today, it was floating balls in centrally from outside of the box. The point of attack was different, but the results were the same, nothing doing.
A big part of the problem is that outside of Sebastian Giovinco, no Toronto FC player seems particularly willing to fire shots from outside of the box. This allows the opposition to easily neutralise all of Toronto’s threats close to goal.
Toronto FC didn’t even have Giovinco for the final push in this match, as a groin injury forced him to leave the match in the 67th minute. The severity of the injury is not known at this time, but it didn’t look good and forced Giovinco down the tunnel.
It might be good, then, that Toronto FC does not play again until September 10, when they travel to take on the Chicago Fire. A number of players on this club could use the international break to heal up a little bit more, and get ready for the final part of the season.
For Toronto FC fans, it is worth it to brush this one off, even if it did come against a bitter rival. The team has shown a ton more strength than weakness lately, and remain in a good place going into the final seven games of the season.
The team itself, however, needs to figure this out before it truly costs them. Maybe work on more set plays, or draw up a different way to unlock a rigid backline. Just make sure the next time an opponent goes a man down, Toronto FC actually takes advantage.