The end of this current season can not come quick enough for Toronto FC’s fans, management team and players alike. After a promising start, which saw them knock the star-studded LA Galaxy out of last season’s Champions League over two legs, their regular season has been anything but dazzling. Sitting bottom of the Eastern Conference with two games to go, Toronto have lost 20 games from a possible 32, drawing 7 and winning only 5. So what has gone wrong for the team this year?
As the season began, Dutch legend Aaron Winter was in charge and an air of optimism surrounded Toronto. Having led Toronto to their third consecutive Canadian championship with a thrilling 3-2 victory over Vancouver at the tail end of the 2011-2012 season, Winter had secured a place in the CONCACAF Champions League. A quarter-final draw against a tough LA Galaxy team featuring David Beckham, Landon Donovan and new signing Robbie Keane looked likely to be the end of the fairytale. However after a rousing 2-2 draw at home in Toronto, played at the iconic Skydome (sorry Rogers centre for all those non Torontonians), followed by a stunning 2-1 victory in LA, Toronto progressed to the semi finals making them the first Canadian team to ever do so. Everything looked rosy for Winter’s men as they travelled to Seattle for their opening game of the new MLS season three days later.
Somewhere between Los Angeles and Seattle, Toronto’s season unravelled before it had even begun. An opening day defeat to Seattle was quickly followed by home defeats to San Jose and Columbus and defeat in the Semi final of the Champions League by Santos Laguna (7-3 on aggregate) starting a chain reaction that would eventually lead to Winter’s departure. He was replaced by former England striker Paul Mariner (above), who up until that point had been Toronto’s Director of Player Development. In his first month in charge, Mariner turned the team around and recorded 1 win, 3 draws and only 1 defeat in his first 5 games. That was more points earned than in the last 10 games of Winter’s reign. He continued this form into July, recording 3 more wins against Vancouver, New England and Colorado. But that’s were the fairytale ended. A run of defeats and draws has seen Toronto struggle to pick up points both home and away and has led to a chain of 12 games without a win and a bitter end to what started as a promising season. Mariner has tried to accomplish what he can with the squad available but with a lack of depth and skill, added in with key injures to star players, and silly mistakes like the goalkeeping blunder in the last game against DC, Mariner has been unable to prevent Toronto’s season from going into a nose dive.
The Toronto squad is a mix of youth and experience but lacks quality. Torsten Frings, the former German midfielder and Toronto’s talisman, has been the standout player for most of the season, often playing out of position at centre back when experience was required. When he plays, he controls the team and runs the play, but when he is out injured, as he has been often this season, there is an obvious gap that can’t be filled. Up front Danny Koevermans and Ryan Johnson led the line from the start of the season and between them have scored 16 times in 32 games. After Koevermans was ruled out for the rest of the season with an injury, Toronto had to find a goalscorer and fast. They turned to Eric Hassli, who has managed to add 3 more goals (since his arrival from Vancouver) but goals in general have been a major problem for the team. Having scored only 35 goals this season, Toronto have not been hitting the target enough and have paid the penalty for it. But this is only half of the story.
Toronto’s main problem has been at the back. They have conceded 60 goals in 32 games (almost 2 a game) and have the worst defence in the league. The addition of Irish international Darren O’Dea was meant to tighten up the defense but he is only one man and has been unable to prevent the rot. In addition to this some calamitous goalkeeping, such as the error made by Kocic in the DC United game, has not helped the problem. Without key players like Frings controlling the play and keeping the player’s heads up, morale drops and mistakes happen.
Toronto’s season has gone from bad to worse but the fans are still hopeful. Maybe next season will be better and Toronto can start to establish themselves as a team to be feared in the league. But changes need to be made in the off-season for this to happen. Good, experienced players need to be signed to take the burden off of Frings and Koeverman and push the team forward. Strengthening of the back line is surely a top priority and a creative midfielder to help Dunfield a must. If Mariner can get the players he needs then potentially next season will be the year when Toronto rises again.