Welcome to Saturday here on Major League Soccer News. This is the day when I get the opportunity to present my opinion, however outlandish, for your perusal.
Today’s topic comes from a tweet, as it often does, by Elliot Holman, who is one of the hosts on the MLS UK Show podcast.
It got me thinking, how far off the pace are Toronto FC and has irregular is this?
Firstly, Greg Vanney’s men are bottom of the Eastern Conference in 11th place, just 3 points on the board and 14 behind Patrick Vieira’s New York City FC. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the former Arsenal captain is being linked with a return to North London.
Elliot claimed that was a ‘mountain’ to climb and it’s hard to deny, he has got a point. By prioritising the Champions League final stages, Vanney has sacrificed Toronto’s early-season momentum but this isn’t unusual.
Looking back, it’s in fact normal service for Toronto FC.
Back in 2015, Toronto FC came into the 2015 MLS campaign having seen Jermain Defoe depart for Sunderland in a swap deal with Jozy Altidore, alongside the arrivals of Benoît Cheyrou and Sebastian Giovinco on free transfers. Toronto began the season well, defeating Vancouver Whitecaps in the BC Place Stadium. They then went on a run of four straight defeats as they continued on the road due to ongoing renovations at BMO Field. They would get their next win in their sixth game of the season against expansion team Orlando City.
Points after first six games: Six.
With Giovinco now firing on all cylinders, Toronto would go on to finish 3rd and qualified for the playoffs for the second consecutive season. By defeating the Philadelphia Union 3 – 1 in the Eastern Conference Knockout Round, the club earned their first ever playoff victory. Unfortunately, their start was again poor, away from BMO Field initially, they again started the season with a bang in defeating New York Red Bulls before drawing with New York City and losing to Sporting Kansas City and Colorado Rapids. Their fifth game of the season saw Toronto earn a draw against New England Revolution before picking up that second win against D.C. United.
Points after first six games: Eight.
In 2017, Toronto broke records and earned a domestic treble of Supporters’ Shield, Canadian Championship and MLS Cup. To have done that and yet again started poorly is a testament to Vanney’s resilience. This time they began with two draws, before recording a win over Vancouver Whitecaps, then slumped back into a pattern of two more draws. Undefeated, yes, but uninspiring as a loss to Columbus Crew compounded matters. The fact they came back from this position to absolutely dominate says a lot, they ended up winning the Eastern Conference in 2017 by 12 points.
Points after first six games: Seven.
This season has seen Toronto slump further back in terms of starting out of the traps. Losses to Columbus Crew and Montreal Impact were concerning, but not yet alarming, especially as a win over Real Salt Lake with Altidore on song followed. Having invested in the CONCACAF Champions League effort, weakened sides saw first Colorado Rapids, then Houston Dynamo turn over the MLS Cup Champions.
Points after first five games: Three.
Toronto’s struggles are not a venture into unchartered water. Some teams are notoriously slow starters or come to life late on in seasons when pressure is off. Unfortunately for Toronto, their CONCACAF Champions League campaign ended in a runners up place to Chivas of Mexico.
Wednesday night saw Toronto earn a 1 – 1 draw in Mexico, adding to the first leg 2 – 2 scoreline. Their journey ended in the cruelty of a penalty shootout and the Mexicans were perfect, all four of Alanis, Godinez, Pulido and Zaldivar all converted while Toronto’s Osorio and Michael Bradley missed.
Now that the attempt to win the Champions League is over, Greg Vanney’s Toronto side can now resume hostilities in Major League Soccer and begin a surge up the table as they have done in the past starting with Chicago Fire at BMO Field this weekend.