Toronto FC completes monumental collapse from best in MLS history to missing the playoffs

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Vaughn Ridley
A year after completing a season considered the best in MLS history, TFC crashed out of playoff contention to end a disappointing season

A year that began with dreams of Toronto FC building a dynasty better than any ever seen in Major League Soccer history effectively ended on Saturday at BMO Field. It ended under a shower of boos just 10 months after the stadium was filled with cheers, confetti and an MLS Cup title that feels so far away.

TFC's 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps was a microcosm of its 2018 campaign. A shorthanded attack showed glimpses, but not nearly enough, while a patchwork defense made costly mistakes to doom Greg Vanney's side to yet another disappointing defeat.

This wasn't how 2018 was supposed to go for TFC. Just six months ago, the MLS champions were within a penalty shootout of winning a CONCACAF Champions League, and even after falling to Chivas Guadalajara, there was a sense that TFC had been the best team in the tournament, only adding to the team's mystique as arguably the best MLS team ever assembled.

What was easy to overlook as TFC was pushing for that CCL title was the poor start in league play — four losses in its first five matches — which was due in large part because of the team's understandable emphasis on the Champions League. Back then it was easy to believe that TFC would make up those points. The team was too good and too deep not to climb back up the standings.

Injuries shattered that plan. TFC's roster was deep by MLS standards, but multiple injuries, particularly to the defense, left Toronto FC exposed. Captain Drew Moor was a vital part of TFC's title-winning 2017, but has managed just five starts in league play all season. Central defender Chris Mavinga and left back Justin Morrow also missed chunks of playing time, which contributed to plenty of lost points. The attack wasn't spared by the injury bug, with Jozy Altidore and Victor Vazquez missing chunks of the season.

The injury excuse carries weight, but you can't put all of Toronto's problems on injuries. Some of TFC's 2019 signings simply didn't pan out, such as Gregory Van Der Weil, who hasn't played up to expectations, and midfielder Ager Aketxe, who was supposed to provide needed midfield depth but simply didn't deliver.

TFC also had some other players who simply didn't step up to fill the void left by injuries. Eriq Zavaleta and Nick Hagglund were once seen as top-quality defensive depth, but they underperformed far too often when called upon.

TFC's stars didn't play to their 2017 levels either, at least not after the CCL was completed. Sebastian Giovinco didn't play up to the extremely high standard he set in previous MLS seasons, while Michael Bradley wasn't nearly as dominant as he was in 2017 — though that was due at least in some part to him having to spend half the season filling in as a central defender when it was often clear he was a much better distributor than defender.

Al that said, there was still enough talent to turn things around, even with the injuries and disappointing signings, but TFC's patchwork defense let the group down too many times, and those struggles also gave opponents confidence that they could go after the once-mighty champions and knock them off.

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Where will Toronto FC go from here? The team has its key players signed through 2019, but that doesn't mean all of them will be back. Both Giovinco and Altidore have bristled at the lack of contract extension talks, and TFC could consider moving one or both of them in order to bring in new stars.

Some changes are needed, but Toronto FC doesn't need a roster overhaul. TFC still has one of the best collections of talent in the league, and Vanney is still one of the best coaches in the league. A few defensive additions are needed to provide better depth, but there's no reason to believe that TFC can't regroup and challenge for another MLS Cup next season.

The 2018 season is simply a season to forget for TFC, a campaign where seemingly everything that could go wrong went wrong. If this season does anything for TFC, it should help re-instill some of the hunger the team may have lost after making things look so easy in 2017.

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