After being eliminated from playoff contention in midweek, Toronto FC has nowhere to go but up.
With players’ jobs and holding onto season ticket-holders on the line, the 5-17-6 MLS team knows it needs to make a point in the final six games of the season – starting Saturday with the visit of the almost equally woeful Philadelphia Union (7-13-5).
Toronto manager Paul Mariner ripped his team for its lack of fight after Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to the visiting Chicago Fire, wondering about everything from its fitness to mental resolve.
He called it the low point of his time in charge of the struggling franchise.
“Still is,” he said after a rainy practice Friday at the team’s training facility in north Toronto. “I’m glad we have a game [Saturday], because we hopefully can put things right.
“Sleep’s not been top of my priority,” added the former England international. “It eats me inside, I hate it. I don’t go outside of my house when I go home. I just come to work and go home and plan for the next game.
“It’s something that I’m not used to, to be honest. I’m not used to getting beat.”
Asked if his players are feeling the same way, Mariner replied: “Well if they’re not, they’re obviously deaf.
“Because they’ve been told in no uncertain terms that this is totally unacceptable from a playing viewpoint, league table, fans, everybody. Everybody feels it. ... I hope the players are going to respond [Saturday].”
Mariner said he made his feelings known to the team. It seems clear his patience is limited.
“You can only reason with people for a certain period of time. And then you’ve got to bring the hammer down. That’s what I did.”
Defender Richard Eckersley says the team has got the message.
“It wasn’t good enough against Chicago, especially the first 60 minutes. It was awful,” he said. “We’ve got a point to prove ... Everyone’s playing for their career, really.”
It will hardly be a clash of titans Saturday.
Toronto is winless in eight, 0-6-2 in league play since defeating Colorado 2-1 on July 18. Philadelphia is winless in six, 0-3-3 since beating New England 2-1 on July 29.
The good news for Mariner is that forward Ryan Johnson and midfielder Terry Dunfield are back from international duty. Fullback Ashtone Morgan is also back in the fold but is suspended because of accumulation of yellow cards.
Captain-defender Darren O’Dea is a question-mark after injuring his shin late in the Chicago debacle. Johnson or Dunfield could take over the captain’s armband if needed.
Wednesday’s game drew just 14,623 to BMO Field, the smallest crowd for a league game this season in Toronto.
At 18,681 fans a game, Toronto FC now stands ninth out of 19 teams in league attendance. With season-ticket renewals going out soon, a two-month winless streak makes for very poor timing.
Injuries to designated players Danny Koevermans and Torsten Frings have taken their toll on Mariner’s team.
The midfield remains a mess, although with Morgan, O’Dea and Eckersley, the future for the defence seems to be a bit brighter if another centre back can be found. In the meantime, the team has yielded 50 goals this season – or a league worst 1.79 goals a game.
Toronto ranks 15th in goal-scoring, averaging 1.11 goals a game.