St Patrick’s Day may have just passed, but Toronto FC, it would seem, are still dealing with a hangover. MLS Cup hangover, CCL hangover, whatever you want to call it the Reds just haven’t quite looked themselves through the first two matches of the season.
Two games against rivals, two losses and no goals scored. It’s still far too early to label that much of anything. Toronto could just as easily go on an extended winning streak and any hangover talk would quickly disappear.
But history would indicate that there might be a few more below standard games from the Reds in MLS play over the next few weeks. It also isn’t something that is worth getting worked up about.
The MLS Cup hangover is real, to a degree. Teams who have lifted the trophy the year before tend to play poorly in their first six games of the following season. For multiple reasons, it takes them about a month and a half to regain their former powers.
Since the 2008 season (counting the 2007 champion), MLS Cup winners have averaged just seven points in their first six games of the following season. Toronto FC, coming off their MLS Cup final appearance, started last year with that same record.
There are exceptions to this rule: the 2013 Los Angeles Galaxy and 2014 Sporting Kansas City both started the season on fire. But the vast majority, seven out of the 10 MLS Cup winners since 2007 (not counting TFC evidently), have played worse in their first six games than the rest of the season.
Why was the cut-off drawn at the first six games, or just about 18% of the season? Because that’s about how long it usually takes winners to get over any sort of hangover. It’s also while why they exist they are so inconsequential in the bigger picture.
MLS Cup winners since 2007 finish an average of sixth overall in the standings. Interestingly, they have performed a bit worse of late as the league becomes more competitive, but it is hardly a damaging drop-off.
In that time only one MLS Cup winner has missed the playoffs the following season, that being the 2016 Portland Timbers. Nobody needs to be worried about that happening to Toronto FC, although I doubt anyone falls into this category.
Why do MLS Cup Champions struggle a little bit out of the gate? It is probably nothing you haven’t heard before.
The short offseason means that players come into the season generally more tired than they would be in previous years. For a club like Toronto (or the Sounders) who has been to two straight finals (both in MLS and the Voyageurs Cup) that adds up eventually.
This can happen especially early in the year teams are also eager to prove themselves against last year’s champs. Meanwhile, the champions themselves may take a little bit to get interested in playing matches with less on the line.
Toronto FC is also uniquely positioned with an especially shortened offseason due to CONCACAF Champions League format chances. Adding the round of 16, and extra games this time of year, saw all three MLS teams involved in the competition lose this weekend.
However, eventually, talent rules out. MLS Cup champions won for a reason and they quickly get back to their winning ways. The same will happen with Toronto FC this season, and it might not even take them the usual six games.