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Toronto FC 's captain and former World Cup winner Torsten Frings takes his place on the bench before his team's 1-0 defeat to Chivas USA MLS action in Toronto on Saturday April 14, 2012, as Frings nears his return to action after injury. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young (Chris Young)
Toronto FC 's captain and former World Cup winner Torsten Frings takes his place on the bench before his team's 1-0 defeat to Chivas USA MLS action in Toronto on Saturday April 14, 2012, as Frings nears his return to action after injury. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young (Chris Young)

An End to Winter?

Toronto FC ownership says it's time to 'get this straightened out' Add to ...

Out of luck and seemingly out of answers, Aron Winter may also be running out of time with Toronto FC.

The Dutch manager watched his team suffer its sixth straight MLS defeat Saturday, paying the price again for yet more defensive blunders in a 3-2 loss to the Chicago Fire (2-1-2).

After coming within one win of reaching the CONCACAF Champions League final, Toronto (0-6-0) is now one loss from tying the 1999 Kansas City Wizards for the worst start in MLS history.

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Ownership is watching.

“Obviously, after the strong end to last season and the strong start in Champions League this year, it's a huge disappointment,” Tom Anselmi, chief operating officer of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, said in an email Sunday to The Canadian Press.

“They have to get this straightened out. Our fans deserve better.”

Toronto FC is in the league basement and trails 18th-place Montreal Impact by five points. It is tied with Chivas and Philadelphia with a league-worst offence at four goals scored. Only expansion Montreal (15) has given up more goals than Toronto (13).

For a team that promised the playoffs this season, it's been a disastrous start.

Things won't get any easier next Saturday when Toronto plays at Real Salt Lake (5-3-0).

Winter's team gets a break in that Fabian Espindola, RSL's leading scorer, and top defender Jamison Olave were both ejected in Saturday's 3-1 loss in San Jose and will miss the game. And Real, which visits FC Dallas on Wednesday, will be playing its third contest in eight days.

Toronto did manage to register some season firsts against Chicago. It finally took a lead and scored at home. But it only held it for a minute, yielding the goal that made it 2-2 on yet another horror show of set-piece defending.

Goals No. 1 and 3 also showed cracks in the defence.

The opener came after just 25 seconds when the normally reliable Torsten Frings had his pocket picked in front of goal. And the game winner came as Chicago exploited the lack of pace in Toronto's central defence.

Winter may wonder who he offended in a past life to deserve such ill-fortune.

Captain Frings missed five weeks with a hamstring strain and when he returned, striker Danny Koevermans was sidelined with a minor groin issue. Backup goalie Stefan Frei, a friend and booster of starter Milos Kocic, suffered a serious leg injury in training.

Forward Nick Soolsma, arguably the team's best player this season, has missed the last two games with his own hamstring issue.

Adrian Cann is finally back from his long-term knee injury, but fellow defender Dicoy Williams is still rehabbing his knee.

Veteran midfielder Julian de Guzman, who has not figured in the starting 11 in half of the league games this season, finds himself in limbo. His distinction to date is he leads the team in yellow cards (3).

Ryan Johnson, a hard-working striker who deserves better, has one goal from his 17 shots but could easily have six. After showing a golden touch at the end of last season, Koevermans has just one goal from his 15 shots.

A distinguished player with Ajax, Lazio, Inter Milan, Sparta Rotterdam and the Dutch national team, the 45-year-old Winter acknowledges he is in uncharted territory during this dreadful run.

“It is not nice. Six games, zero points,” he said succinctly.

Toronto now has a combined 1-7-2 record in CONCACAF Champions League and MLS play this season, outscored 23-11. It has given up three or more goals in four of those games.

Whether he meant to or not, Winter threw gasoline on the fire at his post-match news conference Saturday when he talked of the need for “some better players.” He also referred to a “lack of quality.”

It should be said that Winter inherited a weak squad when he took over prior to last season and was forced to remake the roster in his first year at the helm. Central defence remains a problem, hence the need to play the excellent Frings out of position in the backline.

The bottom line is Winter's league record at the helm is 6-19-15 with just one win away from home.

And cracks are beginning to show between manager and team.

Kocic showed exasperation at hearing Winter's concern over player quality, pointing instead to problems in how the team plays in midfield.

“It's not about players, it's about organization,” said the Serbian goalie, his frustration plain to see.

Said a defiant de Guzman: “I stand behind my players in what they're capable of doing.”

“We are the ones that will get us out of the situation, no matter who's in charge, or who's in charge of managing,” he added.

A gentleman off the pitch — Winter routinely shakes reporters' hands before practice or scrums — it is unusual for the Dutchman to point fingers.

But his post-match meetings with the media have become more painful to behold. Winter's repeated expressions of confidence are wearing thin as he struggles to explain what is happening on the pitch.

On Saturday, he defied belief by suggesting TFC was headed in the right direction.

“I think if you compare to last season, we have made a very huge progression,” Winter said. “Of course it needs some time.

“And it always very important that in the time we need some points. And we are training hard and working hard to get those first points.”

Asked how an 0-6-0 team can represent any kind of progress, Winter replied: “We have lost six games. I'm not happy about it.

“But if you saw how the way how we started last year and how most of the players have made a huge progression, I think that we're on the right track.”

But questions are mounting whether Winter's 4-3-3/3-4-3 system is right for this team.

It's a demanding formation that is fuelled by ball possession and requires players to adapt and react. Lose the ball — which Toronto has done regularly — and there is space for the opposition to exploit, at least in the way TFC seems to play the system.

The midfield regularly seems missing in action and, when Toronto falls behind, the formation looks more like something from a schoolyard rather than a pro league.

At one end of the field, Toronto is not converting its chances. At the other end, the defence is unable to survive the team's turnovers.

“These mistakes are killing us and it's killing Toronto and our fans,” Johnson lamented.

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