Toronto FC players said all the right things but their body language told a different story.
Missed opportunities in front of goal and a defensive lapse extended Toronto’s league losing streak to four and winless stretch to nine after a 1-0 MLS defeat at the hands of the Columbus Crew on Saturday afternoon.
The patient may not be on life support but it is still sputtering. And for all the talk of changing the club culture, wins remain elusive despite a recent revolving door approach to player personnel.
“Of course, you’re frustrated, you’re angry, you’re everything,” said captain Darren O’Dea, who has won just one league game since signing with the team on Aug. 3, 2012.
At 1-6-4 with just seven points, Toronto is sinking in the standings. Only D.C. United (1-8-1 and four points, ahead of Sunday’s game with Sporting Kansas City) has fewer points in the league.
That’s just four points better than the same stage last season, when the team was 1-10-0 after a league-record nine-game losing streak to open the 2012 campaign.
“We’ve been in games, if not played better than other teams but never coming out on the right side of the scoreline,” said a frustrated O’Dea. “We just need to keep working and be more clinical in both ends ... If we can clear that up, we’re a match for any team in the league.”
Toronto needs to find its scoring touch first. The club has managed just two goals in its last five games in all competitions.
Goalie Joe Bendik, one of the team’s bright spots this season, was stone-faced after the game.
“We lost. Pretty plain and simple isn’t it,” he said. “You can’t win a game without scoring a goal.”
The good news for Toronto is that Dutch striker Danny Koevermans played 45 minutes in a reserve game — his first game action since tearing up his knee last July — later Saturday.
Toronto had eight shots but only three on target against Columbus. The Crew put three of 12 attempts on target.
Argentine playmaker Federico Higuain pulled the strings for the Crew, setting up Dominic Oduro’s 42nd-minute goal after hitting the Toronto woodwork twice himself in the first half. The Columbus captain/designated player was clearly the class of the afternoon.
Oduro broke the stalemate late in the first half, using his speed to beat Doneil Henry on a Higuain through ball and then flicking the ball with his right boot past Bendik. It was the fifth goal of the season for the Ghanaian.
At the other end, Toronto fired blanks at a makeshift Columbus backline that was missing two-time defender of the year Chad Marshall.
Speedy striker Robert Earnshaw has some early looks at goal but just couldn’t get a good shot on Andy Gruenebaum. Justin Braun had a glorious chance in the 38th minute after Luis Silva, heading an Earnshaw cross back across goal, found him alone in front of the Columbus ‘keeper. But the tall forward amazingly shot wide.
Braun was substituted after 45 minutes, due to an ankle knock.
Columbus (4-4-3) has never lost at BMO Field, posting a record of 2-0-5 here. Toronto has beaten the Crew just once in 17 career meetings, a 4-2 decision in September 2011 at Columbus Crew Stadium. TFC’s all-time record against the Crew is a miserable 1-9-7.
Toronto, meanwhile, remains a work in progress. Scottish defender Steven Caldwell, American midfielder Bobby Convey and New Zealand forward Jeremy Brockie all debuted for the club Saturday.
Caldwell started at centre back while Convey came on to open the second half and Brockie was introduced in the 64th minute.
“I’m please to have played my first game. Just bitterly disappointed that we lost,” said Caldwell, who looks like a useful defender.
Convey — who is still trying to figure out some of his teammates’ names — did offer some creativity from the flank and dead-ball situations, while young Argentine midfielder Matias Laba showed flashes of his skills for Toronto.
Laba may be able to paint a masterpiece one day. But the 21-year-old is currently surrounded by house-painters, for the most part.
The home side never really looked energized on the day.
Assistant coach Fran O’Leary subbed for Ryan Nelsen after the match, saying the manager had lost his voice. Nelsen, who was raspy after practice Friday, instead remained on the sidelines for the reserves’ match.
O’Leary called it a “decent performance, a very good performance” between the penalty boxes.
“We created opportunities and we lacked a little bit of quality in our finishing today,” he added in what can only be termed a massive understatement.
Earnshaw also saw the glass more than half-full, saying his team created chances and deserved the win.
O’Dea probably hit the nail on the head a little more accurately.
“I think neither team played particularly well,” he said.
Toronto’s only previous home win this season came at the Rogers Centre on March 9, a 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City. Its last victory at BMO Field was July 18, 2012, when it defeated Colorado 2-1.
Toronto has just two wins in 13 outings in all competitions this season and is 1-16-8 in its last 25 MLS matches dating back to July 28, 2012.
Columbus came into the game having lost its last two outings and had just one win in its last six matches. Plus, the Crew had been shut out in three of its last four matches, with just one goal scored in the other.
Saturday’s game, played under bright sunshine but a stiff breeze, was the lone home game for TFC in May. Toronto was coming off a 10-day break. But someone hit the mute button on the crowd — announced at 18,278 — for large portions of the game.
TFC was without injured defenders Richard Eckersley, Logan Emory, Gale Agbossoumonde and Darel Russell, and midfielders Hogan Ephraim and Terry Dunfield.
Still the Toronto starting 11 offered a trip round the world with players from Canada (Henry), Argentina, Bermuda, Ireland, Scotland, the U.S. and Wales.
Columbus was also missing injured defender-midfielder Danny O’Rourke and midfielder Agustin Viana as well as suspended forward Jairo Arrieta.
“We did OK,” said Oduro. “I don’t think it was one of our best games on the road, but at the end of the day we were able to grind it out and come out with the three points.”