Toronto FC's season is ending as it started. Without a victory.
Toronto's winless streak stretched to 13 games Saturday with a drab 0-0 tie against the Montreal Impact in its home finale. The season from hell opened with a league-record nine-game losing streak.
"You look at the wins and losses and obviously it's depressing," said manager Paul Mariner. "There's nobody more depressed than me.
"But I can't wait for next season, I can't wait for Jan. 19 when we get together [for pre-season]. We're already working on the squad for next year. So it's an exciting time. The type of football we played this year with the players that we've got in is nowhere near what I want to play."
His roster ravaged by injuries and suspension, Mariner estimated that eight of his starters Saturday were essentially squad players.
Toronto (5-20-8) has not won in MLS play since July 18 when it defeated Colorado 2-1, a miserable run that has seen the team go 0-9-4 and earn just four of a possible 39 points. Combined with the abysmal opening, it makes for an 0-18-4 start-and-finish to the 34-game campaign for the league's worst team.
Mariner, who took over for Aron Winter in June, was asked after the game if he had any concerns about his future.
"Not one bit, my future's great," he said before leaving the news conference.
In respect for his father, who passed away during the recent international break, the former England international wore a suit and topcoat on the sidelines instead of his more usual training gear.
In the Montreal dressing room, there was mostly disappointment Saturday.
"A fairly even game but we felt at the end we really made a push, last five minutes … It's shame being one of our last games we can't quite get that win, especially against Toronto," said substitute Justin Mapp.
"We had great chances at the beginning of the game and great chances at the end of the game," lamented midfielder Patrice Bernier.
Italian striker Marco Di Vaio had two glorious chances to win it for Montreal in stoppage time but his close-range shot hit a defender before a volley bounced high over the Toronto goal.
"Because of his quality, I thought it was going to be curtains for us," Mariner said of Di Vaio's volley. "But we got a little bit of luck."
Di Vaio also showed his fire when he gave Mapp a piece of his mind in the second half for not delivering the ball when required.
Mapp, who said he probably had made the wrong passing option, didn't know what language the verbal volley was in.
"I really wasn't sure but it was loud and directed my way," said Mapp.
Di Vaio, speaking to reporters in French, confirmed with a smile that it was in Italian.
Montreal's winless run now stands at five after its third straight draw, having gone 0-2-3 since defeating D.C. United on Aug. 25. The Impact (12-15-6) controlled most of the play Saturday but could not convert that edge into goals.
Returning star striker got no support
On the Toronto side, Mariner had just 18 available players for the game. And Eric Hassli was coming back from a month absence due to an ankle injury.
The big Frenchman did his bit up front but had almost no support during his 80-minute shift.
"I thought our quality in the attacking third was not what it should be," said Mariner, who acknowledged Hassli probably would not have played if he had any healthy attacking options.
Hassli's's return may be short-lived. Mariner says his wife is due to give birth by Caesarean.
"We'll just take a deep breath and assess it, see how he's feeling, see what he thinks," Mariner said.
Toronto wraps up the season in Columbus next week after a midweek CONCACAF Champions League game in Mexico against Santos Laguna. Montreal finishes out against visiting New England.
Midfielder Terry Dunfield, who captained Toronto, said he expects plenty of personnel changes next season.
"Player-wise when you finish bottom of the league, there has to be change," he said. "Paul's had the opportunity to see now what he wants to keep for next season and what needs strengthening."
Hassli, for one, wants to return to Toronto.
"Everything is awesome here," said the tattooed Frenchman, looking like a grunge rocker in his plaid shirt, jeans and toque. "The facilities, the crowd, the fans, the training ground, technical staff, medical staff. Everybody around TFC works really hard. We just need to build a team that wants to win because our fans deserve way better."
It's been a tough week for Dunfield, who was on the bench in Honduras when Canada was thumped 8-1.
"I'm still in shock from what happened in Honduras, if I'm honest. I can't believe it," he said. "I'm lucky. Whereas some of the [Canadian] staff won't have the opportunity to put it right, I could go out there and kick a few Montreal players and try to get it out of my system.
"Its just too bad we couldn't have finished with a final [TFC] home win."
On Saturday, Mariner was missing defender Darren O'Dea (thigh), forward Quincy Amarikwa (hamstring) and midfielder Matt Stinson (quad). Goalkeeper Stefan Frei and designated players Danny Koevermans and Torsten Frings all have longterm injuries.
Defender Logan Emory aggravated a shoulder injury during Saturday's game and is slated for surgery, Mariner said.
Forward Ryan Johnson was suspended Saturday due to yellow card accumulation. Defender Ashtone Morgan played despite a chest cold,
"You can see we're bare bones," said Mariner.
On the plus side, goalkeeper Freddy Hall provided Toronto's first shutout since July 14.
The game came two days after Toronto FC, in a bid to retain disgruntled fans, announced it was reducing season ticket prices to match those of its 2007 expansion campaign, when the team went 6-17-7.
The news from Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment did not placate some fans. One sign in the supporters' section read "MLSE are crooks."
The game drew an announced crowd of 16,151, which thinned considerable after grey clouds gave way to rain as the first half wore on. A phalanx of travelling Montreal supporters stayed put, wedged into the top corner of the east stand at BMO Field.
Assistant coach Mike Sorber directed Montreal from the sidelines with head coach Jesse Marsch serving a suspension for being ejected last time out in Houston. Star defender Alessandro Nesta started on the bench but was not missed as stylish fellow Italian Matteo Ferrari anchored the backline.
The 1-1 Houston tie officially eliminated the Impact from the post-season. But their expansion season has been a success with 12 wins already. In contrast, Toronto has just 45 in its six seasons.
Montreal is bidding to surpass Vancouver (11-12-9 going in to Sunday's game against Portland) in the standings to earn first seed in next season's Amway Canadian Championship.