It was September 14, 2014 the last time Toronto FC were shut out in consecutive games at BMO Field. The “bloody big disaster” season was coming to an end, and the 2-0 loss on that day to the Philadelphia Union came in the first ever home game for new TFC coach Greg Vanney.
Saturday’s 2-0 loss to the Columbus Crew, which followed a 0-0 home draw against the Colorado Rapids might not quite be the same. The shutouts came in two different competitions, the first of which had TFC already up 2-0 on aggregate.
But the point remains that it is not often Toronto FC are held scoreless on their home turf, certainly not for 180 straight minutes. The past three seasons they have consistently been among the best in the league in home goals for.
Two games is an extraordinarily small sample size, and during any ordinary season this dry spell for TFC could be quickly forgotten. But with a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal date with arguably the best team in the continent on Wednesday, Toronto FC need to start scoring, now.
Toronto FC’s slow offensive start to the season isn’t out of the ordinary. In fact, all three previous seasons with Vanney in charge have seen the team struggle to score early in the year. Last year, TFC scored just seven times in the first six matches of the season. Usually, it’s not a cause for concern.
The club hasn’t played enough games yet to truly label this a slow start, and there’s no need to overreact to Saturday’s loss. Toronto came painfully close against Columbus, hitting the woodwork three times.
But there are a couple of troubling signs from the first three matches. Namely, Toronto FC’s three biggest attacking threats haven’t looked very sharp early this season.
Sebastian Giovinco has been the best of the three, and already has a goal to his name this year. However, the Italian inexplicably passed up a number of good shooting chances against Columbus. Volume shooting has always been when he is at his best, so seeing that was a bit bizarre. You certainly can’t fault the effort from him of late, however.
Toronto FC’s playoff hero last season, Jozy Altidore, has missed a couple of clear chances already this season. Victor Vazquez, meanwhile, was hardly involved on Saturday before going off with a back injury.
Teams also seem to have quickly figured out Toronto FC in the 4-4-2 diamond formation. By pressing high and making sure Toronto’s fullbacks don’t have a lane to get forward, both Colorado in the second leg and especially Columbus forced Toronto to attack through the middle. They didn’t look very comfortable doing that, especially on BMO Field’s rough pitch.
This group is talented enough to figure out ways around this, but for now it might be better to go back to the more comfortable 3-5-2. This is especially true against a Tigres team that is likely to control a good share of possession on Wednesday, TFC is going to have to make the most of theirs.
It’s a formation that allows them to push their wide players a little further forward and perhaps give the Mexican champions a few more threats to think about. This is also why, for this game at least, Toronto should start Auro over Gregory van der Wiel. While the latter has far more big game experience, circumstances have dictated the latter becoming better acclimatized to Toronto’s system.
It would also be prudent to return Marky Delgado to the midfield. Delgado is certainly the least flashy of Toronto’s current midfield options, but the club could use some simplicity in the middle of the park right now. Delgado’s ability to move the ball quick and decisively will also help Toronto on the counter attack.
If Toronto FC don’t show themselves to at least be a threat going forward, a club like Tigres isn’t going to hold back. While TFC are used to a visitors giving them respect at BMO Field, they should except none from Tigres.
Toronto is going to need at least one goal at home, but probably more than that, to have a realistic hope of moving on in the competition. So while it’s still early in their season, missed chances, poor execution and underwhelming performances just aren’t going to cut it on Wednesday.