Toronto FC looked tired in a lacklustre 1-0 loss to D.C. United on Saturday, the victims of a hectic schedule according to head coach Predrag (Preki) Radosavljevic.
Former Toronto FC player Julius James scored in the 81st minute to give last-place D.C. United a win over his former team, dealing a blow to Toronto's dwindling playoff hopes.
"We really didn't have any legs in us," Preki said afterward. "I thought we looked tired."
The game at BMO Field was Toronto's third in a week, after losing 1-0 at FC Dallas on Sept. 4 and playing a 0-0 draw at Chicago on Wednesday.
"I really don't like to make excuses, [but] it was the third game of the week and playing a four o'clock start," Preki said. "And the other team is waiting for you all week. I think the scheduling of these games we've got to look at it real hard. I'm really disappointed."
Toronto FC, winless in its past six MLS matches, is running out of chances to thrust itself back into the Major League Soccer playoff hunt and playing D.C. United, a team that has been shut out 14 times this season, appeared to be a good opportunity.
But it wasn't to be as TFC dropped to 7-10-7.
"They actually left everything on the field that they had," Preki said. "I felt we looked very, very tired all over the place," Preki said. "You can't say one guy had a really good game.
"I knew this was going to be the toughest game of the week. We had a lot of energy in Dallas, we had good energy in Chicago."
The result prompted many of the 20,395 fans to boo the team off the pitch.
"Our fans were really disappointed and they showed it," defender Nana Attakora said. "And they have all the right to."
D.C. United (5-16-3) had the better chances but could not finish. None was better than one at the opening of the second half when D.C.'s Santino Quaranta made an improbable miss of an open goal on a close-in chance.
Finally, James, who played 13 games for Toronto in 2008 before he was sent to Houston Dynamo for Dwayne De Rosario that off-season, took possession of a loose ball in the penalty area after a free kick and turned to put a shot past goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
D.C. United acquired James from Houston in August, 2009.
It was the first goal of the season for James who was drafted by Toronto from the University of Connecticut where he was a teammate of TFC forward O'Brian White.
"We're frustrated as a team from not having a good season," James said. "We finally won a game and we're just elated."
James said there was no special satisfaction in winning against TFC.
"It's always huge to win on the road and in a tough atmosphere like this," James said. "I was traded like two years ago and it's not a big deal. I love the organization, a really top organization. The players are really good guys, the guys that I know."
Toronto remains four points behind San Jose and Seattle for the final playoff spot with six games left, four on the road.
"It's a huge disappointment, we needed three points," midfielder Nick LaBrocca said. "It's a game you look forward to and you mark on the calendar that we need to get three points and we didn't."
Toronto did show some late life but couldn't score and has been without a goal in MLS play in 400 minutes.
"It's very disappointing," Frei said. "Everybody has a tough schedule, you just have to go through it.
De Rosario came close to starting the game off right for Toronto. But his low shot from the edge of the penalty area in the sixth minute hit the post to the left of goalkeeper Troy Perkins.
Much of the first 30 minutes was pretty ragged before things livened up for Toronto.
Attakora saved a rare flub by Frei off a D.C. quick corner. De Rosario found Maicon Santos with a long pass and the forward made a good effort before putting his shot just high. The play brought an ovation from the crowd.
Then it was D.C.'s turn to come close, taking advantage of some sloppy TFC defending.
This time Frei made himself big and stopped Danny Allsopp's point-blank shot. That was the only save credited to either 'keeper in a first half in which D.C. United had a 6-4 advantage in shots at goal. D.C. had a 10-9 edge in shots in the game and had three shots on goal to TFC's one.
Toronto has 28 points — four points out of the top eight and a playoff spot and has two wins in its past 14 MLS matches.
D.C. United is close to post-season elimination, sitting last in the league with 18 points.