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TFC Notebook: Toronto FC are on pace for their worst season in franchise history

After losing to FC Cincinnati, could things possibly get worse for this Toronto FC team?

SOCCER: JUN 26 MLS - FC Cincinnati at Toronto FC
FC Cincinnati midfielder Luciano Acosta (11) celebrates scoring the 2nd goal of the game during the MLS soccer match between the Toronto FC and FC Cincinnati on June 26, 2021 at Explorer Stadium in Orlando, FL.
Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

TORONTO, Canada—Embarrassing. Demotivating. Demoralizing. Disaster.

All words that can be used to describe the play of Toronto FC right now as they sit tied for last in Major League Soccer (MLS) with only the Chicago Fire through 10 games.

“There’s a lot of winners in that room, and winners don’t accept this,” said head coach Chris Armas following Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to FC Cincinnati. “We don’t. We don’t do it. I mean, imagine our supporters, it’s a disaster. I’m embarrassed. I’m tasked to do a job here.

“Yeah, we all know it’s been hard. You play without your DPs, we can go down the list. It’s not time to do that. Got to figure a solution. Can’t accept this. Chris Armas doesn’t accept this. Supporters (don’t accept this), sickening.”

So let’s dive into this hot mess. Here’s my latest TFC Notebook.

Toronto FC off to their second worst start in franchise history

With just five points through their opening 10 MLS matches, highlighted by a jaw-dropping loss to FC Cincinnati of all teams, there’s only one season in Toronto FC history in which the team has started worse out of the gate: 2012. That year, the team had only three points from their opening 10 MLS games and went on to finish with a franchise-worst 23 points in 34 matches.

But that wasn’t a team that had the expectations that this current Toronto FC team has, which makes this season’s struggles sting that much more if you’re a supporter. On top of being one of—if not the highest—spending clubs in MLS, the majority of this roster is still the same one that finished second in the Supporters’ Shield race a season ago, and actually led the league table with just four matches to play.

The team had turned the page from being abysmal and mediocre to consistently being touted as one of the elite teams in MLS, but this season, they’ve taken quite a few steps back after years of digging themselves out of that hole (the gloomy years from 2007 to 2013) which we all can vividly remember.

With 29.4 per cent of this season already in the books, the club is actually on pace for their worst year in franchise history. If they continue picking up points at this rate, which it’s hard to imagine that they will, TFC will finish with just 17 points. Absolutely shocking.

Chris Armas on the hot seat?

Cruz Azul v Toronto FC - Concacaf Champions League 2021

When you’re the one major change that Toronto FC have made over the offseason, it’s inevitable that fingers are going to be pointed in your direction if things aren’t working out.

But before we get into the blame game, it’s only fair that we mention just how unfortunate the circumstances Armas and his coaching staff have had to navigate through are.

The team is away from home playing in Florida, in a different country, in front of no supporters. It’s impossible to measure just how difficult that must be, especially in a league like MLS where it’s difficult to win on the road.

The team had a shortened training camp as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak in preseason, one which left them with just over a week to prepare for a CONCACAF Champions League run and a busy start to the MLS season. Again, tough to know just how much of an effect something like that can have on you, especially for a new coach coming into the mix that’s trying to implement a certain, somewhat different, style of play.

Then there’s been the prolonged absences of key players, namely the reigning MVP Alejandro Pozuelo and other designated players Yeferson Soteldo and Jozy Altidore (which we’ll get to more later). There’s not many teams in MLS that are expected to compete when you don’t have any of your designated players—your game changers—in the lineup.

The reality is, for Armas and his coaching staff, that the task at hand appears to be quite the mountain to overcome. But despite all of their trials and tribulations, did anyone expect them to still be at the bottom of that mountain?

Coaching wise, Armas, who some within the TFC organization have described to me as stubborn at times, has shown lately that he is willing to adapt, although it took quite the disastrous start to the year for things to sort of move on that front.

He’s tried different ideas in hopes of taking this team to the next level. When that didn’t work, he tried ideas similar to what has worked for the club in the past, and again, unsuccessful.

And against FC Cincinnati, we saw the team roll out a formation we haven’t seen this season, a 5-3-2 in hopes of preventing transition moments. But once again, the final result, which at this point in the year with the position TFC find themselves in, is what’s most important, remained the same as the club was left searching for answers, yet again.

And now, it’s reached a point where Armas has been left questioning his own methodology.

“I’m always going to ask myself, ‘Chris, come on, you thought you made it clear?” said a frustrated Armas on Saturday, referring to the careless mistakes his team continues to make that result in conceding early goals. “‘You didn’t.’ Or maybe, I have to look at who I’m putting out there or how much more training you have to do to say, let’s play in their end where we can’t get hurt early on.

“This is talked about, but it’s not being executed, then yeah, it comes back to me.”

As Armas mentions, even though there are times—many times—where some of these goals that TFC are conceding are not the coach’s fault, if you’re not getting the best out of your players and results are few and far between, then the burden will inevitably fall on the shoulders of the head coach, that’s just the business of team sports.

So while the blame should stretch well beyond Armas, it’s hard to imagine that he isn’t on the hot seat. And after the team’s most recent loss to a lowly FC Cincinnati side, you have to wonder, for how much longer?

Jozy Altidore saga continues

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Toronto FC

The icing on the cake with Toronto FC’s disastrous start to the year has been the ongoing Jozy Altidore saga, as the club legend is still on the outside looking in, training on his own, while both parties seek out a long-term resolution after Altidore had some choice words for Armas in May that the club didn’t take too kindly to.

While that situation is a mess on its own, it doesn’t help that it has been simultaneous with the club’s horrific run of play.

And thus, naturally questions begin to arise: Would Altidore’s presence make a difference? Has Toronto FC’s culture become weaker without their star striker? Would TFC still be trending down this path had Altidore been included in the squad? Was Altidore right to call out Armas?

If you couple the handling of the Jozy situation with the team’s poor form this year, it isn’t a stretch to suggest that things are going array on all fronts right now for TFC, both on and off the field. And the longer that this goes on, I believe the louder that those aforementioned questions will be asked.

Liam Fraser speaks about his loan move away from TFC

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch

Toronto native Liam Fraser had been trying to break through with his hometown club for a number of years before a loan move finally presented itself at the beginning of May as the Canadian international was granted a move away from Toronto FC to the reigning MLS Cup Champions Columbus Crew SC for the duration of 2021.

At the time, it made sense with the likes of Ralph Priso and Noble Okello, who are both younger than Fraser, earning more minutes in the centre of the park than Fraser himself. However, with neither Okello or Priso being given a chance to continue building off their strong starts to the year, and with the likes of Auro Jr. being slotted in at centre of the park, you have to wonder why exactly a player like Fraser would be loaned out.

And after he spoke to media over the weekend, now we know it was Fraser who pushed for that move away from Toronto FC as he didn’t see a clear path to continue his development with the club.

That’s really disappointing to hear from someone who we all know wanted to find success here. At the start of 2020, here’s what Fraser told media:

TFC to return home in July?

As usual, I’m going to try and leave you all on a positive note. I’m hearing there’s a real chance that Toronto FC will be returning home to BMO Field in mid-to-late July.

While a return-to-home scenario is very dynamic with a lot of different variables, and nothing is officially finalized yet as the team continues to work with government officials towards a resolution, there’s a growing sense from those that I have spoken to that the team will indeed be preparing to return home before the end of the next month—and are expecting to play in front of fans (limited capacity) at BMO Field.

Toronto FC play at home July 17 vs. Orlando, July 21 vs. NY Red Bulls, and August 1 vs. Nashville with a location still TBD for all three of those dates.

I’m expecting to hear more on this in the coming weeks. But for now, try and stay positive TFC fans. It’s only uphill from here...right?