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Toronto FC can only overcome the odds without full-strength XI for so long

The Reds’ ability to cope with losses has been lauded this season, but eventually they were going to catch up with them.

MLS: Toronto FC at FC Dallas Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Greg Vanney was as riled up as we’ve seen him this season.

After bemoaning the way Toronto FC “played into [FC Dallas’] hands”, were “asking for trouble” and repeatedly did things that were “a recipe for a gift for a team that wants to play in transition”, he complained that Dallas’ Roland Lamah should have been sent off after 15 minutes having committed, in his view, two bookable offences.

Vanney could have shrugged his shoulders, noted the absences he had to deal with and pointed out that Dallas are a very good team, even without a few important players of their own. He could have acknowledged that playing away in MLS is always difficult and often unpredictable, and noted that his side ranks third in points per game away from their home stadium this season.

Instead, he was riled up.

The coach’s unwillingness to accept dropped points lightly has been pervasive throughout the squad this season, and is an admirable quality. A group lacking that mental fortitude could not have gone to Seattle shorthanded and won, or pulled victory from the jaws of defeat in Columbus.

But while you will never hear a TFC player use it as an excuse - mentality being one reason, not throwing teammates under the bus another - the effects of not being able to get their best lineup on the field away from home on a consistent basis were always going to be felt eventually.

Toronto’s first-choice back five has not conceded goal in the 211 minutes it has had together on the pitch this season. Victor Vazquez has been one of the signings of the season in midfield and though the Reds’ strike partnership has had its up and downs this year, there is still none better in MLS.

That team can beat anyone, anywhere.

The problem has been getting it out there, and when you write TFC’s list of injuries and international call-ups down on paper it certainly adds a shine to the points haul they have been able to accumulate so far. What do you think Vanney’s reply would have been if, on opening day, you had told him his defensive group alone would suffer a concussion, cardiac arrhythmia, an MCL tear, a damaged pancreas that required surgery and a quad strain by July 1?

You can only defy the setbacks Toronto have endured for so long. Scouting reports start to find holes and while sometimes you can get away with that slight loss of cohesion and the inevitable mistakes it produces, other times you can’t. The New England Revolution punished Toronto’s lapses a few weeks ago and so did Dallas on Saturday.

On this occasion their losses were at wing-back, with Steven Beitashour in hospital and Justin Morrow and Raheem Edwards leaving for the Gold Cup. Perhaps if Eriq Zavaleta was more in tune with rookie Ovyind Alseth, he would not have been drawn so tight to Lamah on the touchline and allowed Mayor Figueroa to slide a pass right through the middle of the pitch for Maxi Urruti to run on to.

Perhaps a more experienced player than Alseth would not have tried this wild cross on his left foot that resulted in a Dallas counter-attack, and perhaps a player who has not spent as many months on the sidelines as Ashtone Morgan would have been sharper in tucking in to close Mauro Diaz’s passing lane.

A more fundamental problem was Toronto’s lack of width throughout the game, with it becoming clear - to both teams - fairly quickly that Alseth and Morgan just did not have much to offer going forward. “We kept forcing our attacks down the middle of the field,” Vanney critiqued. “We never gave them a reason to respect the width of the field, to respect our wide players and our wide play.”

This is certainly not intended to pin the blame for the defeat on Alseth and Morgan. The former could have come off injured in the first minute and he still would have far surpassed what is expected of a third-round pick in his rookie year, while the latter has been out of MLS action for a long time and his return was never likely to be without a difficult moment or two.

The fact is, though, that they were just not as impactful as we have come to expect of Beitashour, Morrow and Edwards and the absences of those players knocked the rest of the team out of sync.

The bad news is it will not get much easier against Orlando City on Wednesday night, when Morgan and either Alseth or Tsubasa Endoh will have to go again. Fail to grind something out in Florida, and Toronto will be staring down the barrel of a three-game losing streak when they go to New York City later in the month.

The good news? That is located in the hearts and minds of Drew Moor, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and the rest, who tend not to lie down when adversity strikes.