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Monday MLS Breakdown: Familiar problems send Toronto FC sliding once again

Dysfunction within the organization and instability at the back undermine Aron Winter's TFC project, plus a look at all of the Week 7 action.

If only the problems in Toronto were restricted to the players on the field.

Those players showed once again in Saturday afternoon's 3-2 home defeat to Chicago that they aren't suited for the duties handed to them. More than a few of them aren't good enough or aren't playing well enough, period.

But this awful stretch of six defeats in six matches stems from a root cause far greater than a group of committed professionals falling short of the required standard. The problems start at the top for a club with no cohesive or discernible foundation on or off the field.

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment chief operating officer Tom Anselmi communicated the usual finger-waving platitudes in an email to the Canadian Press on Sunday, but rebukes in difficult times hardly constitute the type of leadership required to build a successful club.

Not that MLSE has shown much of that particular quality during its stewardship of TFC (or the Maple Leafs or the Raptors, for that matter). For much of TFC's time in the league, MLSE has offered little more than money to the cause and has permitted a series of power struggles to develop within a club without firm direction from the executive level. Anselmi all but abdicated his primary responsibility to the club – choosing the men to run the technical side – during the last in a long series of coaching changes and ignored the inherent problems created by tabbing Aron Winter as the next man in charge.

Winter's arrival promised a new, progressive and unified era and instead yielded another series of clashing fiefdoms within the club. Idealism and pragmatism conflict at every turn with a coach cultivated in the Dutch ways (Winter) and a director of player development steeped in the realities and the vagaries of MLS (Paul Mariner) sharing responsibilities. A glance at the roster shows that the diverging approaches extend to player selection: a few players suitable to Winter's 4-3-3 here, a handful of players tailored to a 4-4-2 there and a paucity of competent central defensive options everywhere.

Instead of cobbling together the power required to collect the players he wanted or displaying the flexibility required to work within his current constraints, Winter has stubbornly charted an ultimately implausible path. Not even fleeting signs of promise – improbable CONCACAF Champions League success, for example – obscured the underlying problems with his expansive approach. In short, Winter lacks the central defensive options and the midfield pieces to implement his vision and refuses to change course to a more resolute approach until he acquires them.

(Note: The defeat to Chicago provided a telling illustration of Winter's rigidity. It isn't particularly difficult to discern what Fire coach Frank Klopas wants to do on the road: he'll send out his 4-4-2 formation, soak up some pressure when required and try to play Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro into space and over the top on the counter. What did Winter do? He fielded a 3-4-3 setup at the start that facilitated the Fire's game plan by ceding far too much ground in troublesome areas. No surprise, then, that disaster naturally followed when Oduro and Nyarko ran at the TFC rearguard. By the time Winter switched tactics in the second half, it seemed a bit belated, to say the least.)

The results of this catastrophic combination are there for all to see. TFC offers some neat and tidy buildup play only to see those efforts often undone by shocking defensive work. Time and again, MLS sides break TFC down on the counter because they understand the Reds lose the ball in poor spots far too often and struggle to pick up the right positions when they transition from attack to defense. Even when the Reds possess the time to cope with potential problems at the back, they muster a muddled defensive shape better suited to a pub team and stumble when asked to perform their duties without making untimely errors.

Truth be told, those concerns aren't much different than the issues encountered by John Carver, Chris Cummins, Nick Dasovic, Mo Johnston and Preki in years past. The goals are usually easier to find now with Danny Koevermans filling the number nine role, but the proper results will remain elusive as ever with a nebulous operating structure in the front office and a pliable defensive corps on the field.

Those fundamental problems won't dissipate even if changes sweep through BMO Field over the next few weeks. Another loss – and a trip to Real Salt Lake next Saturday makes it far, far more likely than not – will see TFC match the 1999 Kansas City Wizards as the only teams to suffer seven straight defeats to start a season. If history provides any indication, that unseemly accomplishment might prompt MLSE to make yet another series of changes designed to mollify the increasingly restless faithful before they start making those deserted swaths of seats from Saturday afternoon a common or permanent occurrence.

As Groundhog Day approaches, the executives at MLSE would do well to finally take heed of the all too simple lessons they have brushed aside since the club started. Only a clear and coherent operating structure on and off the field will set the Reds on the path to consistent success. Until those underpinnings are finally acquired or the current technical staff is arranged in a manner to create that cohesive working environment, the Reds will merely just chop and change their way through players who simply do not have the infrastructure in place to produce the desired progress.

Five Points – Week 7

1. Another week, another result for Houston: If TFC would like a glance into a committed and sensible structure that works on the field, then it could do far worse than to take a glimpse toward Houston these days. The circumstances don't seem to matter for a Dynamo side in the middle of a seven-game road trip to start the season. Dominic Kinnear's side picked up a second consecutive draw in Saturday night's 2-2 draw at Columbus despite the continued absence of Colin Clark (suspension) and Brad Davis (calf). Eight points from five road matches represents a fine haul for Kinnear's side as it waits to christen BBVA Compass Stadium next month.

2. Justice done as Saunders saves the points in Colorado: One can only imagine the amount of vitriol heaped upon referee Ramon Hernandez after he lamentably decided to point to the spot in second-half stoppage time in Los Angeles' 2-1 victory at Colorado. Andre Akpan's lunge between Todd Dunivant and David Júnior Lopes certainly didn't merit a penalty award, but Saunders spared Hernandez's ear drums from further excoriation with a stellar save to his left to knock Omar Cummings' effort around the post and preserve the Galaxy's victory.

3. Spencer refutes recent criticism of Sporting Kansas City's style of play after much-needed victory: Portland coach John Spencer offered a few words of encouragement for Peter Vermes' side in the wake of the Timbers' critical 1-0 win at JELD-WEN Field on Saturday night.

“I think they have actually gotten a raw deal when it comes to reputation – it's a physical game,” Spencer told reporters after the match after Chance Myers' well-taken own goal gave his side all three points. “They play the game the way the game should be played. They play high-tempo, they pressure you all over the field, they have some tremendous athletes, they don't give you time on the ball, so if that's being over-physical then I'll take that every day. I wouldn't mind playing that team, because I'll tell you what, we got a lot of good players.”

4. Pair of nine-man sides register different results on the West Coast: Philadelphia somehow managed to prolong Chivas USA's home misery by making Freddy Adu's back heel stand up in a 1-0 victory at the Home Depot Center, while RSL succumbed to two second-half stoppage time goals to fall to new Western Conference leaders San Jose 3-1 at Buck Shaw Stadium.

The common bond between the four red cards in the two games: ill-advised, two-footed tackles in the middle third. Fabián Espindola procured his dismissal for a rash challenge on Sam Cronin in the first half in Santa Clara, while Gabriel Farfan sparked a fracas on the sideline after his tackle on James Riley in the second half in Carson.

5. Qualified praise for Chris Pontius after his hat trick exposes the Red Bulls' defensive failings: Pontius' significant contribution to D.C. United's 4-1 romp over New York on Sunday night prompted United boss Ben Olsen to back his player for greater things as he adjusts to his new role up front.

“I thought he had a good night,” Olsen told MLSsoccer.com after United's unbeaten run reached six. “He still doesn’t know how to play forward though. And that’s a scary thing. He’s still new at the position, and some of his movements can get a lot better. But three goals aren’t too bad.”

Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at kyle.mccarthy@goal.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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