Yesterday marked the first time since 2013 that Toronto FC has recorded six losses before June. The 3-2 loss to the New England Revolution means the Reds sit second-last in the league, ahead of last-placed D.C. United, who have a game in hand.
Unfortunately for the team, that stat hasn’t been the only callback to the club’s dark past. Early goals, hollow performances and late equalizers from former players have all been a part of Toronto FC’s recent narrative.
All those painful memories clearly have Toronto FC fans feeling some type of way, and they were more than willing to express it all over the Internet last night. From the fourth-minute opener onward, the hot takes rained down wherever the Internet would allow them.
It is fair that Toronto FC fans are on edge; the club has dug itself quite a hole. But it’s also worth taking a deep breath and recognizing that while things are bad, it isn’t a disaster just yet.
There is plenty of precedent for teams starting slow, even this slow, and working their way back into the hunt. Look no further than last year’s MLS Cup finalist Seattle Sounders, who had 10 points through their first 11 matches of 2017. The side that won MLS Cup the year before had just 13 points through their first 12 games. The 2015 MLS Cup-winning Portland Timbers also only won two of their first nine.
Those are just a few examples, there are plenty more. That’s because this league is structured to reward teams for how they finish, not how they start.
Evidently, after last season’s treble win, expectations in Toronto are massive. They are just as big internally as externally; this club’s stated goal was winning everything in which it was involved this season. Two of those trophies are now out of reach.
A lot of blame is flying around right now as a result, a lot falling at the feet of Toronto coach Greg Vanney. Sure, Vanney has made some mistakes through the start of the season. His continued frustration with VAR probably isn’t the right way to approach this situation.
Any suggestion that he is anywhere close to being fired, however, is ludicrous. If anything, Vanney did exactly what those above him, specifically club president Bill Manning, wanted, which was to prioritize the CONCACAF Champions League and make as deep a run in that as possible.
Even in the TAM era of MLS, teams — even this team — don’t really come quite deep enough to balance both the CCL and the league. That’s why, despite how bad it looks now that Toronto wasn’t quite able to get over the final hurdle in Guadalajara, rotating the squad for MLS games during the competition was still the right decision.
Also the right decision is Vanney playing it safe right now with injured players. There is no doubt a lot of Toronto’s injury issues were compounded by a Champions League campaign where players played hurt in an effort to make history.
It’s May, these aren’t must-win games. There’s no sense making things even worse by rushing players back from injury, especially on a Gillette Stadium turf that is a public enemy to hamstrings everywhere. Furthermore, it’s unlikely returning players like Chris Mavinga, who haven’t played in several weeks, are 90 minutes fit.
Then there is Sebastian Giovinco, who got a dumb red card (and it was absolutely a red card) for putting his hands on the face of New England’s Wilfried Zahibo. He will miss Friday’s game against Orlando City as a result.
Again, it was an incredibly dumb move from Giovinco that certainly hurts Toronto, but it wasn’t part of a bigger problem. The red card he received last night was his first in 93 MLS matches. Sure, he whines and complains, but he doesn’t cross the line and it is clearly part of the process that allows him to play at the intensity that he does.
If there is any silver lining in last night’s performance it is that once Mavinga, Victor Vazquez and Giovinco came on, and Michael Bradley pushed back into the midfield, Toronto looked their dominant selves once again. A number of players are set to return from injury soon and put everyone back in their proper position.
Should everyone return and Toronto continue to struggle then it is time to man the panic stations. Until then, it is worth keeping a little perspective and not overreacting to a tough, but certainly not fatal, start to the season.