A week ago I sat at Qwest Field in Seattle eulogizing about an energetic, committed performance from Toronto FC. The team that took the field in Colorado was almost identical but the performance was unrecognizable. This was not a game the better team won – it was a game the poorer team lost.
It was another bad day at the office during a year in which bad days at the office have become all too depressingly familiar. Uncertainty at the back, possession conceded too cheaply in the middle and an almost total absence of creativity and punch up front.
What makes this more exasperating is that Toronto FC was made to look second best by a team of moderate ability even by MLS standards. Colorado is no more than a collection of honest journeymen – Conor Casey has had a year to remember it's true, but he'll never be a world-class striker nor probably a regular on the U.S. national team. However if you give him yards of space inside the penalty area and a free header to boot, he'll probably punish you.
The only TFC player smiling on Saturday night was two thousand miles away. Amado Guevara has had his share of criticism lately, the common belief being he's more interested in getting to the World Cup with his country than he is getting to the MLS playoffs with his club.
While Guevara was scoring in Honduras' thumping win over Trinidad & Tobago, his replacement managed TFC's only shot on goal against the Rapids. It was nothing to be proud of - Pablo Vitti's effort was so feeble even I would have saved it. The Argentine is technically gifted but his overall contribution has been somewhere south of stellar and, in my opinion, he's certainly no Guevara.
It would be unfair to single out Vitti. The rest were just as bad, some worse. At least Vitti managed to stay on the field for 70 minutes before coach Chris Cummins decided to let Danny Dichio stretch his legs. The whole team is equally culpable. Neither Cummins, nor the much-maligned GM Mo Johnston ever gets to kick a ball these days.
Ultimately it is the players on the field who either show up in San Jose and Seattle, or do not in places like Colorado, Chivas and Houston to name a few. The inconsistency has been a poison from day one of the franchise and an antidote has yet to be discovered. It now seems almost certain to cost Toronto a playoff place for the third straight year despite what my head may tell me about the arithmetic.
To add insult to injury, a word about indiscipline; it is unacceptable. Amadou Sanyang is a kid who will hopefully learn from his mistakes – the second yellow card was coming long before the referee reached for his pocket a second time. Adrian Serioux is a veteran who knows better.
Earlier in the year he told me he was probably a "marked man" with referees due to his previous disciplinary record. Any time, as the last man, you elect to play the attacker rather than the football you're forcing the official to make a decision. In those circumstances, the referee has only one choice.
You may have agreed or disagreed with Terry Vaughn's choice of cards but, for the record, he is one of the most experienced referees in Major League Soccer, and the TFC players should have known how far they could push him. As recently as early August, Mr. Vaughn also booked Serioux and banished Chad Barrett during the drawn game in New England.
The hole into which TFC has dug itself is getting deeper by the game and very soon the pit will be too deep for any escape to be possible. Only a resounding reversal of fortune when Colorado visits BMO Field on Saturday, followed by solid displays in LA and Chicago, will continue to allow my heart to rule my head.
In closing, I offer one telling quote from the weekend:
"There's no time for feeling sorry for yourself, though. You have to keep looking forward." It could have been Chris Cummins. Instead it was uttered by Diego Maradona following Argentina's costly World Cup qualifying defeat at home by Brazil. Same meat, different gravy.
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