There’s a measure of doom and gloom around Toronto FC fans right now that hasn’t been felt for a couple of years. As the Reds dropped their second straight match 1-0 to the New York Red Bulls on Sunday, falling to 3-4-2 at home in 2018 MLS play, a smattering of boos echoed round BMO Field at the final whistle.
This was hardly the worst of TFC’s recent performances, though. They won 58.2% of the duels, and made 423 passes. They took 13 shots, eight of which were on target. Multiple players came face-to-face with RBNY keeper Luis Robles, all alone, and couldn’t place the final ball over him. TFC held New York to just two shots on target, one of which was the goal — a long-range effort that never should’ve gone in.
“[New York] had two shots on goal, and the one that goes in the goal should never go in,” said Greg Vanney of his team’s afternoon. “We’re kind of in that time right now where we can’t give away a soft goal like that. As a group we need something to build on, and so that didn’t help.”
Alex Bono took full responsibility for Kemar Lawrence’s third-minute goal, taking the blame for himself right off the top of his postgame media scrum.
“It’s poor on my part,” he said. “It’s a mistake that I’d like to say I don’t usually make so I put my hand up for that one today, for that I have to take it on the chin. We don’t make excuses, I don’t make excuses. That one’s on me.”
Still, this match — like most lately — had a “three points or bust” feel to it coming in. It’s almost impossible to be positive about it, with the Reds so far out of the playoff picture, no matter how the actual performance was.
Greg Vanney shares the sentiment that Sunday wasn’t necessarily a disastrous performance for TFC. He’s lately tried to tell his players that, although the poor results continue to pile up against them, it’s only themselves that can dig the club out of this hole.
“The foundation for anything that’s going to turn in our favour is going to be hard work,” he said. “Through your hard work and your perseverance, you find belief that something’s going to fall.”
It seems that the TFC coach is urging his team to focus on the basics, and the components that often make up a successful performance. He praised them for limiting the Red Bulls’ chances, and for creating a good number of their own — Toronto’s expected goals from Sunday’s match must’ve been pretty good. It has to be said, this game was unequivocally a better showing than last weekend at Yankee Stadium.
Vanney implied that his squad is running low on confidence at the moment, with everything going against them. Surely it’s a blow to the team’s mentality every time yet another player succumbs to injury, as it did on Sunday — with Victor Vazquez, Auro, and Gregory van der Wiel all left out of the lineup, and Jason Hernandez needing to leave in the first half.
Every time something starts returning to normal for TFC, another goes wrong to take its place. Vanney stressed how frustrating it is that they haven’t really been able to keep anyone healthy for an extended period, beyond perhaps Sebastian Giovinco, Jonathan Osorio, and Alex Bono (*furiously knocks on wood*).
It’s easy to list all the problems with TFC, many of which were brought on by one another. Injuries, of course. Then there’s the odd defensive breakdown — which, truth be told, didn’t really happen against RBNY. There’s the lack of finishing in the final third, which did rear its head on Sunday. And, there are the smaller, specific issues: Giovinco’s penalty woes, or Marky Delgado’s apparent lack of confidence, for example.
“There’s mental fatigue that gets exacerbated through the frustrations of a season where you can’t find stable footing to move forward,” said Vanney, referencing the revolving door that’s been the starting 11 all year. “We got into this cycle because of the start of the season, and the intensity that our season began with.”
As many have said before me, it would be insane to utterly count out a team that achieved what this one did last season. Still, as the games progress it becomes harder and harder to recognize the 2017 version of Toronto FC in their 2018 matches. Mental fatigue seems an adequate descriptor, with the club’s season effectively peaking in April (regardless of what happens down the stretch).
Justin Morrow indicated that the squad is relishing their upcoming opportunity to play a dense schedule in July. He suggested that a heavy load of games, many of which are on the road, could be what the Reds need to fix their confidence and mental fitness.
“There’s a lot of talk going on and people want to bury us,” he said. “I don’t think we feel that way in this locker room. There’s a stretch of a lot of games coming up, and that just means more opportunities.”
TFC will have an absolutely crucial opportunity this Wednesday, when they travel to take on Minnesota United away for the first time ever. At this point, it really does feel like a must-win.