Toronto FC made it clear that they were focusing most of their energy on the CONCACAF Champions League, but they have let their MLS results suffer as a result. This has looked like a fairly smart decision as it brought Toronto FC all the way to their first-ever CCL final, but now it certainly has to make you wonder if letting your MLS season suffer so much is the correct decision. After only one win and three points in the firstfive games, this really brings it into question.
But that isn’t the main point that I’m trying to put into question. Being that the Reds only have three points in their first five games, one of the worst records in the league, these next few games will define the rest of their season. Here’s why.
In this case, it’s all about the mental game. Toronto’s loss in the CCL final vs. Chivas Guadalajara yesterday could have a devastating effect on their confidence. It’s always demotivating to fight for something so hard — sacrificing so much too — only to not win what you were gunning for in the first place.
Another point for the mental game is when you’re losing multiple games, like any team that’s in a bad run of form, or is one of the bottom-ranked teams in the league, you’re going to continue to think about how bad you’ve been doing. That can really weigh on your mind when you’re going through such a tough period of time. In this case, although I think it will have some effect, I think Michael Bradley is one of the better captains to have in a period like this to really motivate the team into winning again.
Also, even though TFC has four losses already this season, two of which have been with a reserve squad, so there are a few excuses to be made about those losses, and the other two were where Toronto was simply not up for each of the games. They eventually broke that mentality when they beat Real Salt Lake 3-1, only to not be able to capitalize on that form in MLS because of CONCACAF play. But if the Reds players wouldn’t be able to get results versus the likes of Chicago Fire, or Philadelphia Union, who have both had “below-average” starts, then you’re simply going to struggle to get any sort of ignition to a good season in MLS — especially if your team’s goals are currently to win every competition they’re in, every season.
Adding to the previous point, Chicago and Philadelphia aren’t the best of teams in MLS. In fact, Toronto hasn’t been playing the best of teams so far in MLS so far. So they need to capitalize on playing teams that are tipped to be mid-table to bottom half teams while they’re playing them before they will play the “big guns” such as New York City FC or Atlanta United FC.
What goal would I set for Toronto FC? The Reds’ win (but loss on penalties) in Mexico looks a lot better, and may give them more confidence and motivation, than if they’d simply lost versus Chivas Guadalajara in Mexico. In terms of the next two MLS games (chronologically Chicago and Philadelphia), good results would be four points, meaning that Toronto FC would be unbeaten in those two games. Would this mean that Toronto FC are title contenders once again? I don’t know. But I certainly think that it would put them in a good position to get some good results in order to comfortably make the playoffs.
Winning the CCL would’ve been great to kickstart the rest of the season, but TFC will still come out of Estadio Chivas with a chip on their shoulder, and a whole lot of unfinished business in MLS.