After winning it all, Toronto FC reduced to role of spoiler as season wraps up
UANL Tigres midfielder Lucas Zelarrayan (8) and Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley (4) slide to the ball during second half Campeones Cup soccer action in Toronto on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, October 16, 2018 12:14PM EDT
Eliminated from playoff contention, Toronto FC has been reduced to the rank of spoiler for the final three games of the MLS regular season.
And as luck would have it, Toronto (9-16-6) faces two teams jockeying for the final post-season berth in the Eastern Conference, starting Wednesday with a game against Wayne Rooney and D.C. United (12-11-8).
The contest marks Toronto's first visit to Audi Field, which opened mid-July at a cost between US$400 million and $500 million. TFC then travels to Montreal to face the Impact (13-15-4) on Sunday before wrapping up play at home to league-leading Atlanta United (20-6-6) on Oct. 28.
"Good three games to finish the season with," said Toronto coach Greg Vanney. "Unfortunately the positioning for us is irrelevant at this point."
Toronto is only the fourth reigning MLS champion to miss out on the playoffs the following season, eliminated from post-season contention Oct. 6 in a 2-1 home loss to Vancouver.
The post-mortem has already begun on a campaign where Toronto defended its Canadian Championship and made the finals of the CONCACAF Champions League but was mediocre in league play.
"I've thought abut it a lot recently, kind of what went wrong, what could have been better," said veteran defender Drew Moor, who could see some action after a nagging calf injury.
"First of all, I think the club could benefit from a bit of a hard reset and everybody kind of (taking) a deep look at themselves and make sure they're coming up here (to the training ground) on a daily basis and putting everything they've got into helping this team and helping this club ... I've said it many times, I feel like over the past couple of months it just hasn't been good enough."
"We learned a lot this season. But in my mind we have to rededicate ourselves and make sure we don't have another season like this again next year," he added.
Toronto faces a hot team in D.C. United, which has won three straight and is unbeaten in seven -- its longest unbeaten run since the 2015 season. Plus D.C. United is undefeated in its six games at Audi Field where its record is 10-2-1.
Ben Olsen's team is 10-4-3 since Rooney debuted July 15. The former England captain has nine goals and seven assists in his 17 MLS games.
For Vanney, the 32-year-old Rooney has made everyone around him better.
"He's given them leadership on the field, probably a little more purpose and belief with what he's capable of doing," he said.
With Wednesday's game coming right after an international break, both teams will be reviewing their rosters.
Jonathan Osorio, Tosaint Ricketts, Ashtone Morgan and Jay Chapman were with the Canadian team for Tuesday's game against Dominica at BMO Field. Captain Michael Bradley and Marky Delgado were with the U.S. team for Tuesday's game against Peru in East Hartford, Conn.
Sebastian Giovinco, who was away with Italy, is meeting the team in Washington. Vanney said the role the others will play will likely depend on their playing minutes Tuesday.
"Some guys, for sure, will get opportunities," he said of his squad. "We'll try to look at different partnerships or different things down the stretch."
D.C. United has been without midfielders Junior Moreno (Venezuela) and Ulises Segura (Costa Rica), and forwards Darren Mattocks and Dane Kelly (Jamaica). Paul Arriola missed Saturday's win over Dallas due to the death of his father.
Toronto, which stands ninth in the East, has lost two of its last three (1-2-0) and four of its last six (2-4-0).
While the season is all but over, Vanney says his players are still training and competing hard.
"I would be lying if I said that there's an excitement in the group," he added. "But there's a professionalism in the group where they understand that these results are still important, these performances are important, that our role has changed and now we're the spoilers instead of the team trying to win the Supporters' Shield or anything else.
"That has to be taken with a different type of professionalism -- go out and compete and battle and scrap and play for some real pride. And in some ways opportunities."
With just 33 points, Toronto is enduring its worst season since 2013 when it went 6-17-11 with 29 points. TFC finished with a league-record 69 points in its 2017 championship season (20-5-9).
And with 60 goals conceded this year, Toronto is just two away from matching a franchise-worst 62, set in 2012.