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Toronto FC forward Ryan Johnson (L) and Columbus Crew forward Kirk Urso battle for the ball during the first half of their MLS soccer game in Toronto March 31, 2012.

Mike Cassese/REUTERS

Toronto FC is playing well but losing. At least, that's the official team line.

That may be better than playing poorly and losing but Aron Winter's squad is still in the MLS basement, looking up at a lot of other teams.

The latest one step forward, two steps back was a 1-0 loss to the Columbus Crew on Saturday afternoon that extended Toronto's winless start in the league to three straight games.

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"We deserved more. Much more," said Winter.

"I'm repeating the same thing. We played decent, very well," he added. "I can't change it. The only thing is that we played three games in the league and we've got zero points and all of the games we played well and that is the big difference. ... Nobody has to panic."

Striker Danny Koevermans agreed, saying the result did not reflect the play.

"I think everybody saw that we were the better team," he said. "We played better, we had more chances. And they had a penalty kick and the goal, which was a mistake by us."

Milos Kocic saved the penalty in the 41st minute, justice perhaps for a call by referee Geoff Gamble that wasn't warranted according to the Toronto camp.

Venezuelan midfielder Bernardo Anor broke the deadlock in the 56th minute after Toronto captain Julian de Guzman lost possession in midfield. Columbus drove at the goal and, after a nice give and go, a clearing attempt by defender Logan Emory bounced straight back to Anor, who banged it in from close range.

"We had the ball, lost the ball then recovered the ball and, at a certain moment, instead of making the clearance, they scored," was Winter's pithy assessment.

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Kocic also thought that Toronto deserved better given the balance of play. But he was frank about the consequences of the latest loss.

"We don't want to get into losing ways and if you lose three games in the league, it's just not the right position to be in," said the goalie. "Frustration is everywhere.

"I know how everybody's frustrated about the sports in Toronto. We don't want to be part of that. We want to be better than that."

The bottom line is the team has been outscored 7-1 in league losses to Seattle, San Jose and Columbus.

Defensive mistakes — and there have been a few in the absence of injured captain Torsten Frings — are costly when you can't score at the other end.

The home side had Columbus on its heels as the game ended but could not take advantage before 19,444 on a sunny, breezy day.

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Toronto had more possession than Columbus and outshot the Crew 14-10 but only managed three shots on target.

Winter said while Toronto lacked "sharpness" in front of goal, "It's coming."

Koevermans, still looking for his first goal of the season, didn't seem to buy the sharpness argument.

"Sharpness. It's a simple word," said the big Dutchman. "Like, now we don't score so we're not sharp. That's not the thing, everybody wants to score when you're in a position to score. I was there three times today, and of course I want to score.

"So what is the word sharpness? If it is a block that goes over the keeper, deflected, then maybe it's sharpness. It's just unlucky today, the worst case scenario."

One positive is that a big midweek stage awaits for Toronto with the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal against Santos Laguna in Torreon, Mexico.

A more tenacious Toronto FC faced up to the Mexicans in a 1-1 tie at BMO Field on Wednesday.

Kocic, for one, rued the lost opportunity against Columbus.

"It's just a tough result going to Mexico. I think we lost crucial points at home."

Columbus (2-1-0) has never lost at BMO Field, raising its record there to 2-0-5.

It was Toronto's third match in a week, with two more to come in the next seven days. In contrast, Columbus had played just once — a 2-0 home victory over Montreal last Saturday — since its season opener March 10.

As an uneventful first half neared a close, Toronto defender Ty Harden gave up a penalty as Crew forward Olman Vargas went down in the box near the byline as the ball headed out of play.

Harden vehemently disputed the call and the Toronto coaches were up in arms on the sidelines.

"It wasn't a penalty. That's one thing for sure," Winter said.

A diving Kocic saved the ensuing Milovan Mirosevic penalty, palming it away acrobatically to his right.

"I watched their penalties and I knew where he was going to go, so that helped," said Kocic. "I did my homework."

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