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Goal.com's John Zielonka takes a closer look at Canada's Major League Soccer team and the season they had in 2008.

By John Zielonka

Toronto FC led a schizophrenic existence in their second MLS season.  Their home unbeaten streak lasted until mid-August, while away points proved difficult to garner.  The squad had difficulty in maintaining consistency when away from BMO Field and lacked depth when losing too many players to international and Olympic duties.

Despite these problems, Toronto remained in the hunt for a playoff spot until the last two weeks of the season.  Four points separated them and New York for the final spot in the playoffs.  Two away wins would have secured TFC’s first appearance in the post season.

An impressive early season six-game unbeaten streak, where TFC played five of those games at home, solidified Greg Sutton’s hold as the starting goalkeeper.  In those five home games, he shutout the opposition in four of the matches. 

Statistics bear out TFC’s Jekyll and Hyde existence once the team left the confines of BMO Field.  At home, they allowed 12 goals in 15 games; the league’s second lowest total.  In away games, the leaky defense let in 31 goals, tying TFC for the league’s second highest total.

Offensively, several notable players moved to greener pastures.  Maurice Edu left a hole in the midfield after his transfer to the Glasgow Rangers.  Brian McBride, the experienced English Premier League scorer, never played a game for Toronto, as he was instead dealt to his hometown Chicago Fire.  

During the 2008 season, the Reds often needed to make emergency signings or use a makeshift lineup that included too many reserves.  World Cup qualifiers and the 2008 Olympics left out quality players at a crucial point in the middle part of the season.  The likes of Brennan, Edu, Guevara, James, Marshall, Carl Robinson, Ruiz, Smith, Sutton and Wynne all left to play for their respective countries. 

The urgent situation became dire when TFC needed to sign a 39-year-old semipro and team scout to fill out the game time roster. To address the issues in 2008 and build on the playoff near-miss, TFC must add depth to its squad in 2009. 

The team’s greatest success occurred in stretches when the roster was full and stable.  The team's passionate fans can then look forward to their first playoff appearance.

Goal.com provides a monthly synopsis of highlights, lowlights and other tidbits during the 2008 season:

January: Defenders Marvell Wynne and Todd Dunivant, as well as midfielder Maurice Edu, are selected for the U.S. National Team’s training camp roster.   

February: Toronto sends midfielder Ronnie O’Brien to San Jose for a first round pick in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft.  

March: Forward Jarrod Smith, defender Marco Velez and midfielder Tyler Rosenlund are signed to developmental contracts.  In the away game season opener, Columbus Crew beats Toronto 2-0.  Record: 0 wins, 0 ties, 1 loss

April: The team signs midfielders Amado Guevara from Chivas USA and Rohan Ricketts  from Barnsley in the English Championship, and free agent defender Olivier Tebily.  Toronto loses to DC United after letting in two early goals and playing a man down after a red card is issued to Kevin Harmse.  They beat LA Galaxy 3-2 at the Home Depot Center for first win of the season.  Record: 3 wins, 0 ties, 1 loss

May: Six game unbeaten streak ends with 3-2 away loss to DC United.  Despite having six players out due to injuries, suspensions and international responsibilities, reserves step up to shutout LA Galaxy 2-0.  Toronto remains unbeaten at home.  Record: 2 wins, 2 ties, 1 loss

June: Trade defender Pat Phelan to New England Revolution and sign Abdus Ibrahim from FC Dallas.  Toronto is unable to overcome multi-goal deficits in away game defeats to Houston and New England.  Home unbeaten streak reaches eight games. Record: 1 win, 1 tie, 2 losses

July: Forward Daren Huckerby is traded to San Jose Earthquakes.  Newly acquired forward Abdus Ibrahim scores goal in his first game debut against Chicago Fire.  Captain Jim Brennan is named to the MLS All-Star Game.  Marvell Wynne and Maurice Edu are selected to play in Beijing for US Men’s Olympic Team.  Road woes continue with only one win and one tie since the start of the season.   Record: 0 wins, 1 tie, 1 loss

August: Forward Carlos Ruiz acquired from LA Galaxy for first and second round picks in 2009 MLS Supplemental Draft.  Maurice Edu transfers to Scottish League side Glasgow Rangers.  Short-handed Toronto loses 2-0 to FC Dallas and ends home unbeaten streak.   Record: 1 win, 1 tie, 3 losses

September: Defender Hunter Freeman obtained from New York Red Bulls.  Winless streak reaches seven games putting the playoffs in jeopardy.  Record: 0 wins, 2 ties, 2 losses

October: Toronto eliminated from playoffs after 3-2 loss to Chicago Fire.  Season ends with 2-0 loss against San Jose.  Still, team has achieved ten point improvement from 2007 season.   Midfielder Carl Robinson named as the team’s Most Valuable Player.  Record: 2 wins, 1 tie, 1 loss

November:
Striker Jarrod Smith selected by Seattle Sounders FC in the 2008 Expansion Draft. 

December: Season tickets, capped at 16,000, are sold out for the 2009 MLS season.

John Zielonka is the Seattle correspondent for Goal.com

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