Toronto FC coach Ryan Nelsen could probably provide a slew of reasons for his team's recent slide. But after TFC's 3-0 loss to D.C. United on Wednesday, he boiled it down to a simple explanation.
"We had the opportunities to score goals, we didn't take them," Nelsen said. "Then, when he had to defend our box, we didn't defend it very well."
Toronto outshot United 14-10 at RFK Stadium, but Nelsen's squad couldn't pull off the win. They dropped to 1-3-4 since the World Cup break.
Eddie Johnson found the net in his third straight match to open the scoring for United (11-5-4), which then got a Chris Rolfe tally and Nick Hagglund own goal after halftime to extend its winning streak to four games.
Toronto (7-7-5) played without starting defenders Steven Caldwell (quad tear), Mark Bloom (MCL strain) and Doneil Henry (suspension). Warren Creavalle, acquired in a trade with Houston last week, made his TFC debut filling in for Bloom at right back.
It was the visitors who carved the game's first chance, with Michael Bradley slipping in Dominic Oduro. In alone on goal, the winger buzzed his shot wide of the far post.
Toronto paid for the miss a minute later. As United midfielder Perry Kitchen lobbed in a cross from the right flank, Johnson got away from Creavalle, rose and buried his point-blank header.
"Goals change games," Nelsen said. "I think if he got that first one, with the chances we had, it would've been a whole different game."
Toronto nearly tied the match in the 42nd minute when Bradley again set up Oduro, but D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid charged out to stifle the shot. While United found the back of the net moments before halftime, Bobby Boswell saw the headed goal disallowed because of a foul.
Hamid again came up big moments into the second half, denying Luke Moore's chip after the striker connected with a clever through ball from Jermain Defoe.
United made it a two-goal lead in the 59th minute. Even though Creavalle took down Nick DeLeon for what would have been a penalty kick, referee Chris Penso let play continue as the ball fell to Rolfe.
One-on-one with the goalkeeper, Rolfe sent Joe Bendik leaning the wrong way and converted a simple finish.
"We created chances we weren't able to finish, and in our box we weren't able to stop them," Creavalle said. "At both ends, we just have to be a little bit tougher."
'We weren't ruthless enough'
Eight minutes later, a stunning individual effort by DeLeon made it 3-0. The winger deftly evaded challenges from Justin Morrow and Hagglund, then saw his shot deflected into the air by Bendik and inadvertently nodded in by Hagglund.
The goal iced Toronto's second straight loss, and fourth straight match without a victory.
"We weren't ruthless enough, we weren't hard enough," Nelsen said. "We didn't deserve to win any football game."
Toronto continues its four-game road trip Saturday against the Montreal Impact (3-12-5). As Nelsen said post-game, it's "definitely" beneficial for his side to quickly put the result in the past and turn its attention to that next match.
Added Bradley: "It's important that we now find a way to mentally stay strong, find the right way to challenge ourselves and to look hard at ourselves, but still know there are a lot of games left and the big stuff is still to come."