The match was a perfect storm of the issues that currently have Toronto FC sitting seven points out of the playoffs through the first 11 matches of the season. The margins, as TFC captain Micheal Bradley put it after the game, are becoming slimmer and slimmer for the club.
Toronto FC once again conceded an early goal, which became compounded as they couldn’t finish the chances they generated themselves, then injuries continued to plague the team which resulted in yet another dropped result at home. Throw those in a blender and you’ve got the toxic combination that has resulted in the best team in MLS history at the bottom of the standings.
Not all of these factors have played an equal part in the equation, and perhaps the biggest one, especially lately, has been Toronto FC’s inability to finish their chances. Excluding last night’s game, which is certain to put TFC further up these standings, Toronto sit seventh in the league with 18.7 expected goals. They have only scored 14, which is fourth-worst.
“We had 23 shots and zero goals to come away with and those aren’t 23 light looks, probably within them are eight or nine good looks including a penalty kick,” said Vanney of last night’s game. “Goals change games. Goals change the flow of games. Goals change the approach of the opposition; they change a lot of things.”
Above is a look at how Toronto FC made FC Dallas keeper Jesse Gonzalez work incredibly hard for his clean sheet last night. This isn’t out of the ordinary, Toronto FC are now second in the league behind only the Columbus Crew in terms of shots taken.
Three of the top ten players in MLS in terms of the difference between expected goals and the goals they have actually scored play for Toronto FC: Jordan Hamilton, Sebastian Giovinco and Ager Aketxe. Tosaint Ricketts is also in the top 30.
The absence of Jozy Altidore certainly looms large in this regard. But for a club like Toronto FC, who were the best finishers in the league last season, it hasn’t been nearly good enough in front of goal this season.
All of this has been compounded by the fact that Toronto FC have found themselves behind early so often. As Vanney said, goals change games. TFC once again went behind to FC Dallas within the first 15 minutes last night. The club has conceded six times in that time frame in just 11 games this season, not even counting CCL.
“It was a big thing for us [last season] to win the first 15 minutes of both halves,” said Vanney. He considered going into reasons as to why it was happened, but settled on the fact that “it doesn’t even matter what it is, it just has to change”.
Perhaps one of the reasons he was thinking of bringing up was injuries, something he’s clearly grown tired of citing this season despite the fact it does continue to be a factor. TFC has only been able to play the same backline three times this year, and that is a group that is a back four that has included Bradley as a centre back.
This amount of turnover means TFC’s defenders have been unfamiliar with one another, which is partially why teams have often been able to exploit them early before they have settled. As versatile as Bradley is, it was clear again tonight that the backline is not a great spot for him.
The injury crisis didn’t get any better today, with the recently returned Chris Mavinga going off before halftime with hamstring tightness. Eriq Zavaleta, Ager Aketxe and Marky Delgado were also unavailable.
“I am not sure I have seen anything like it, it is a killer,” said Bradley of the injury crisis. “In terms of consistency, training quality as we have such low numbers some days.”
Toronto’s captain, however, was unwilling to use that as an excuse for the loss, however, saying that “regardless, there is no way that we should be losing a game like that”.
What hurts Toronto even more is that this was yet another loss at BMO Field. While the stadium was the most difficult place in the league for away teams to pick up points last season, TFC have already dropped more points (11) than they did all of last year (9) at home.
“As much as anything it’s about taking pride in winning games at home because it’s our home and we are in front of our fans,” said Vanney, “and we are in front of our city that supports us and we’re supposed to win games and we didn’t win the game.”
Had Toronto won that game, it would have been the first time this season they have built on momentum and started to truly dig themselves out of their early hole. Instead, this is the one step forward, one step back
The results themselves are enough reason to be concerned. But the fact that Toronto FC’s issues are so easy to put a finger on yet they can’t seem to correct them is just as worrying.