As MLS season winds down, Toronto FC still trying to solve defensive woes
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 Thursday, September 20, 2018 3:38PM EDT
TORONTO -- Injuries have hurt Toronto FC all season long. But so has a porous defence.
It has made for an unsettling campaign for the MLS champions who are on pace to concede a franchise-worst 66 goals -- surpassing the 62 given up in 2012 when the team went 5-21-8.
While the offence has revived recently, striker Jozy Altidore is hardly resting easy.
"No, because even if we score six, we might give up seven," said Altidore. "So, no."
Toronto (8-14-6) has scored 19 goals in its last eight matches in all competitions (3-4-1). It has also conceded 19.
Toronto gave up just 37 goals in its 2017 championship season. It is currently at 55 and counting.
The early-season demands of the CONCACAF Champions League took a terrible toll on the backline, especially on the team's centre backs. Influential defenders Drew Moor and Chris Mavinga have yet to start a league game together.
The team has not defended well as a whole, however. It has given up the ball in bad situations. And at the back, goalkeeper Alex Bono has made mistakes.
The opening goal in Toronto's 3-1 loss to Mexico's Tigres UANL in the Campeones Cup on Wednesday was all too familiar. Tigres defender Juninho, facing no pressure, floated a ball over the Toronto defence to fullback Jesus Duenas.
Wingback Gregory van der Wiel and centre back Eriq Zavaleta were caught out. Captain Michael Bradley, playing centre back, tried to funnel Duenas to the side but the Mexican was able to beat Bono at the near post.
"It's staying engaged, being aware of your surroundings and then not getting caught by surprise and being a little naive, I think, in the situation," said Toronto coach Greg Vanney.
"But yes, we've seen that a couple of times."
Toronto, which has scored 50 goals this season, returns its attention to the league as it visits the New York Red Bulls on Saturday. Ninth-place TFC sits nine points out of the playoff picture with six games remaining.
The Red Bulls (17-7-5) have lost just once in their last eight outings (4-1-3) and are a comfortable second in the East, four points behind Atlanta.
The Red Bulls are also a league-best 11-2-1 at home while Toronto is 2-8-4 on the road (good for a tie for 14th in the league).
Essentially, Toronto is one of three teams chasing Montreal (12-14-3, 39 points) for the sixth and last playoff spot in the East. TFC has home games remaining against New England, Vancouver and Atlanta and trips to Montreal and D.C. United to make up the gap.
Fifth-place Philadelphia, which ended Seattle's nine-game win streak Wednesday night, is likely out of reach of Toronto with a 13-point cushion.
TFC will have to catch and then pass the New England Revolution (8-10-10, 34 points) and D.C. United (9-11-8, 35 points) to get to Montreal.
"Every game's a playoff game, every game's a final, so to speak," said Vanney
Toronto will have to change gears dramatically to make the playoffs and hope other teams co-operate.
It has won just two of its last seven league games (2-3-2), collecting just eight of a possible 21 points on offer. TFC is on pace for a 36-point season, its worst since a 29-point effort in 2013 when the team went 6-17-11.
Striker Sebastian Giovinco, who came off in the 40th minute with calf cramps Wednesday, was said to be feeling better Thursday but was listed as day-to-day.
Spanish playmaker Victor Vazquez, kept out of Wednesday's game, should be ready for the Red Bulls. Moor is still feeling the effects of a minor calf strain that kept him out of the Los Angeles Galaxy game Sept. 15.
Vanney said Mavinga could see some action Saturday.