Toronto FC's recent rash of late game collapses is just another chapter in a five-year history of heartbreak for the struggling club
In short, a win is almost always a good thing.
So when that win is taken away from you in the final moments of the game, just as each player is ready to embrace the spoils of a hard-earned victory, the sting and pain of points dropped hurts that much more.
Toronto FC has not only experienced these pains – the team has soaked itself in it.
This past week, TFC took on both the Houston Dynamo in Texas and the New England Revolution at home at BMO Field. In both games, the Reds took the lead and kept it until the dying embers of the game. And in both games, Toronto had a two-goal cushion to seemingly keep the side comfortable enough to ride the game out.
However, both matches came crashing down on TFC when it conceded two goals, ending things not with the win they wanted, but rather with a draw the side had hoped desperately to avoid. A 3-3 result in Houston and a 2-2 draw against New England stole valuable points from the Reds, who could taste the full six points but only escaped with a paltry two.
In reality, Toronto FC has suffered the pains of a last-minute loss several times in its history. The current generation of players are not playing much differently from the generations before them; in every year in Major League Soccer, Toronto has dropped points late in at least two different games.
In 2007, the Reds' inaugural year, last-minute losses were seen as expected – an expansion franchise learning to defend in a tough league meant wins came at a premium. Yet, in all of 2007, TFC only dropped two games, one against Kansas City and the other against the Columbus Crew.
|Toronto FC late-game
draws/losses over the years
|Kansas City Wizards 1-0 Toronto FC
Eddie Johnson – 81’
|Columbus Crew 2-1 Toronto FC
Jacob Thomas – 83’
|Chicago Fire 2-1 Toronto FC
John Thorrington – 92’
|Real Salt Lake 2-1 Toronto FC
Robby Findley – 87’
|FC Dallas 2-0 Toronto FC
Kenny Cooper – 81’ and 90’+
|New York Red Bulls 2-0 Toronto FC
Juan Pablo Angel – 92’
|Chivas USA 2-1 Toronto FC
Atiba Harris – 95’
|FC Dallas 2-2 Toronto FC
Kenny Cooper – 94’
|Vancouver 2-2 Toronto FC
Eduardo Sebrango – 86’
|FC Dallas 1-1 Toronto FC
Pablo Ricchetti 87’
|FC Dallas 3-2 Toronto FC
Kenny Cooper – 84’
|DC United 3-3 Toronto FC
Jaime Moreno & Chris Pontius – 85’+ & 90’+
|Columbus Crew 3-2 Toronto FC
Jason Garey – 93’
|San Jose Earthquakes 1-1 Toronto FC
Cornell Glen – 93’
|Philadelphia Union 2-1 Toronto FC
Sebastian Le Toux – 94’
|Columbus Crew 2-2 Toronto FC
Will Hesmer – 94’
|Seattle Sounders 1-0 Toronto FC
Freddy Montero – 90’
|DC United 3-3 Toronto FC
Dwayne De Rosario – 88’
|San Jose Earthquakes 1-1 Toronto FC
Chris Wondolowski – 87’
|New York Red Bulls 1-1 Toronto FC
Thierry Henry – 88’
|Los Angeles Galaxy 2-2 Toronto FC
Landon Donovan – 90’+
|Real Salt Lake 3-2 Toronto FC
Jonny Steele – 93’
|Houston Dynamo 3-3 Toronto FC
Will Bruin – 93’
|New England Revolution 2-2 Toronto FC
Chris Tierney – 94’
That year, with those eight points, Toronto would have made the post-season. Furthermore, if any one of those goals were prevented, the Reds could have increased their chances even more. Convert a last minute loss into a hard-earned draw, and TFC picks up a crucial point. This, in a year when they missed playoffs by, you guessed it, one point.
Over the next three years, late-game heartbreaks have remained a constant. In 2010? Two games, with an embarrassing 2-2 draw to Columbus coming off the foot of Crew goalkeeper (!!!) Will Hesmer.
In 2011? Four games, including a painful, gut-wrenching extra-time goal by ex-captain Dwayne De Rosario. Just this year, Toronto FC have thrown away four games in the dying minutes, and we're not even at the halfway point of the season.
Each game tells a story and reveals a trend; Kenny Cooper absolutely punishes Toronto, the Columbus Crew repeatedly hurt the Reds late, and the tendency of gifting goals transcends through every year of existence.
In total, TFC has conceded over 30 goals after the 80-minute mark. The club has given away points 24 times between MLS, the CONCACAF Champions League, and the Canadian Championship.
Dallas holds the record for taking points late from TFC, having done so four times in total. Chivas USA holds the record for the latest goal, with Atiba Harris having scored in the 95th minute of one particular match. The Vancouver Whitecaps can add out-of-league heartbreakers to their résumé, when the then-USL side scored in the 86th minute during an '08 Nutrilite Canadian Championship match with their major league rivals.
The scorers of these goals are also, more often than not, the team’s best-performing forwards; between Juan Pablo Angel, Thierry Henry, Kenny Cooper, Sebastian Le Toux, Jaime Moreno, Chris Wondolowski, Freddy Montero and Landon Donovan, the majority of MLS teams’ star strikers have netted against the Reds.
So, with six years of poor defending at the least, what does Toronto have to do to finally stop the bleeding right before tasting victory?
Focus on finding a pair of competent, MLS-quality centerbacks, for starters. The fact that TFC has never employed two undisputed starters in the centre of their defence is a cause for concern. This means trading multiple non-starters, along with commodities like first round draft picks, in exchange for established MLS defenders.
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Secondly, the Reds need to change their tactical thinking in the final 15 minutes of the game. Instead of sitting back and letting their opponents play on top of them, TFC needs to push forward, control the midfield, and spread play out across the field. When pressed in your own half, anything can happen, and often does.
Finally, Toronto should invest more time defending set pieces, which have been conceded far too often throughout their six-year existence. New head coach Paul Mariner already addressed body shape and positioning as mistakes young players are making, and will obviously work towards correcting these issues quickly.
Otherwise, the Reds can kiss more than a handful of points goodbye when they hear the final whistle – they’ll kiss their reputation goodbye as well.
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