What a difference two weeks can make.
Back on July 16, the TFC world was rocked by that disappointing night in San Jose. Two bizarre red cards, both later rescinded, and a Simon Dawkins strike, whiffed at by Alex Bono, lead to easily the worst result of the season – one could argue that the woeful 3-0 loss in New York, where Sebastian Giovinco limped off, was worse, but immediacy is a factor when disappointment is involved.
Fast-forward two weeks, and Toronto FC appear to have righted the ship, winning two straight, extending a home unbeaten run to seven, and climbing into the upper echelons of the Eastern Conference standings, albeit in a three-way tie for third.
Lost in the stramash was that this was a side who could have thrown in the towel. Losing your starting goalkeeper, captain, and Voyageurs Cup hero in quick succession, all while one designated player was already injured, again, and the other was ice cold, could easily undo whatever momentum was garnered by the strong opening on the road.
MLS is a streaky league, teams go on runs, flit in and out of form. Facing the challenges that confronted TFC at the start of July, it would have been easy to let heads fall, muddle through until the 'big names' returned.
But instead, Toronto have thrived.
Since that day when Will Johnson and Michael Bradley simultaneously joined Clint Irwin on the injury report, the club has lost just one of six league matches, winning three and drawing the other two, taking the Trillium Cup away from Columbus in the process.
Granted most of the matches have been at home and the strength of the opponent has not been of the highest calibre, but still, as the defeat in San Jose shows, situation does not determine outcome.
Over the course of a month, players stepped up. Those all but written off – Jordan Hamilton – have proven their worth, those at times forgotten – Marky Delgado – have reminded of their value, and those never really considered – Jay Chapman – have excelled.
There have been plenty of other great stories too: Bono stepping in, recovering nicely from that flub; Eriq Zavaleta proving himself a starter; Tsubasa Endoh nabbing the most peculiar goal scored at BMO Field since Nick LaBrocca's wind-assisted curler against Chicago – that late Will Hesmer strike comes to mind, though peculiar in an entirely different manner.
And the last two matches have seen the side explode.
Powered by the resurgence of Sebastian Giovinco, who has four goals and two assists in the last two matches, Toronto has outscored opponents 7-1, a rate unseen this season.
Consider this: in the 21 matches, all competitions, before the win over DC, TFC had only scored more than one goal on three occasions, two of which they lost.
Could it be that the club has finally found a balance between scoring and yet not conceding?
Last season they were dangerous in attack, scoring 58 goals, tied for second-most in the league. But they also leaked them at the back, allowing an equal number, mired in a three-way tie for league worst.
That is a lot of goals, in both directions, in a 34-game season – an average of 1.7 per match.
This year, the primary focus was shoring up the back-end, a task that has seen them concede just 23 goals in 21 matches, forcing that average down to 1.1. A drop of 0.6 goals per match will see a lot of games tilted in one's favour.
The side effect of that focus was that it impacted the goal-scoring rate, which makes a certain kind of sense – if a team is flinging everything forward to score, they will leave space at the back; preventing chances at one end may cost you some at the other.
Not necessarily an inversely proportional relationship, prior to these last two matches, it sure looked that way: TFC's goals-for mark had dropped that same rate, down to 1.1, negating the advantage accrued by renovations at the back.
The last two matches alone have pushed that scoring mark up to 1.3, granted a small sample size, but trending in the right direction.
This week sees the club play two more at home – against Real Salt Lake and New England Revolution – before embarking on a three-match road trip, ending August with a clash against Montreal under the lights of the Canadian National Exhibition, which invades the grounds this month.
It will be an interesting spell for the side, looking to continue momentum, create some separation in the table, and challenge the upper reaches, all while welcoming back those long-injured (more on that next week).
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