Toronto FC’s game last night was... something. Two different teams in red took the pitch to play D.C. United: one that conceded three goals in the first half, and another that scored four in the second.
There’s a lot to unpack from a game like that, but the basic state of things in TFC-land is still far from rosy. The Reds, tenth in MLS’s Eastern Conference, are four points out of a playoff spot (after the Montreal Impact did them a favour and hammered Orlando City last night). There are 20 games left in the season for TFC, starting with a date at Yankee Stadium with New York City FC at the end of June.
It’s hard to gauge what exactly the mood is in TFC’s dressing room exactly, especially after a wild game like that. Michael Bradley himself expressed as much; he said there’s no singular overriding emotion at the moment — rather, there are a thousand competing emotions.
You wouldn’t quite say we learned a lot about TFC last night. Actually, we mostly had previous suspicions confirmed. The defence was subject to the same lapses on the counter-attack as it has been for much of the year. Possession (59% in the first half) without purpose is meaningless. And finally, hot damn has this club missed Justin Morrow.
“To me [Morrow] is the best left-back in the league. You can’t really duplicate that,” said Greg Vanney on Wednesday. “It just adds another dimension to our team, especially at times when we don’t have Jozy [Altidore], we don’t have somebody who will stretch the backline on a regular basis, Justin will constantly try to get behind on that left side and he’ll be aggressive.”
Vanney added that the team has missed Ashtone Morgan’s ability to step into that spot as well, and that Ryan Telfer — who has become very comfortable on the left side in attack — still has work to do on the defensive side of the ball to make him a viable option as an out-and-out left-back.
It is, no doubt, concerning to see how quickly and thoroughly TFC were exposed on the counter-attack. We can say the defence improved in the second half, but in fairness they weren’t tested as much with D.C. putting eleven men behind the ball for 45 minutes — and they were scored on extremely quickly after Hagglund’s first equalizer.
“In the first half we were so poor,” said Michael Bradley. ”The second half is a decent response, but these are games that we should win.”
He’s right. D.C. at home is one of the easiest fixtures TFC will have all season. In the second half, they showed why — TFC found so much joy with several attacking moves that were almost identical to the one before it.
Seeing Toronto’s attackers manipulate a suspect D.C. defence is a reminder of how insane it was that they were down 3-0 at halftime. For the first time in recent memory, the Reds were booed off the pitch at the interval.
“We’ve got a lot of things to be worried about, and that doesn’t come in real high at the moment,“ said Bradley. “We need our fans’ support in a big, big way, even more so now when things are difficult.”
The crowd certainly perked up in the last 20-30 minutes of the match, though.
Most of TFC’s players will be relieved to see this breathing room in the schedule. Morrow agreed that it’s a very good time for a break, particularly one that every team in the league will get. This is the chance they’ve needed to focus on rest and recuperation. By the time the MLS season resumes, it’s possible that the only players still missing from the lineup are Jozy Altidore and Drew Moor.
At that point, TFC will have a ton of work to do, with pretty much no excuses left.
“We need to come back ready to look at ourselves in a real honest way, and make sure that we rediscover a little bit of life and energy and enthusiasm,” said Bradley. ”It’s been a long season so far, we’ve played a lot of games, we’ve travelled a lot. We’ve won some big games, we’ve lost some big games, and everything in between. It doesn’t seem like June. Those aren’t excuses, we can’t allow them to be excuses. Those are just realities.”
Bradley admitted that the enthusiasm he mentioned has been missing from this team “in moments” as the struggles have taken their toll on TFC. With all that’s happened this season, he said that it’s definitely had a wearying effect on the dressing room.
“We have to find a way now,” he asserted.
That they do.