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Wileman: TFC has gone backwards over last few matches

Luke Wileman
5/20/2013 1:13:43 PM
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This time there were no late goals conceded. There were no leads blown. But the outcome was still the same for Toronto FC on Saturday as the club's long suffering supporters headed home with the familiar feeling frustration and disappointment.

It's now four straight defeats for Ryan Nelsen's team, and just seven points from 11 matches. The one win came in the club's home opener over two months ago, at a time when there seemed to be hope and enthusiasm for the new regime at the club, with players showing a fighting spirit and cohesion. Unfortunately, it seems the team has gone backwards over the last few matches.

On Saturday, there were a few signs of an attacking spark in the first half. In fact had Justin Braun not wasted one of the best chances he will get all year, Toronto would have been ahead against Columbus. That squandered opportunity summed up an afternoon which was largely lifeless and devoid of ideas in front of goal for the home team.

In the end, the Reds were punished by a team that took full advantage of a chance that came its way. Dominic Oduro scored the only goal of the game just before half time for a Crew side that had arrived at BMO Field having lost three out of its previous four matches and had failed to score in those three games. Despite being a goal down, Toronto struggled to find any rhythm or urgency as they searched for a game-tying goal in the second half.

In the lead up to the match, Toronto FC President Kevin Payne made no secret of his upset at the way the players have been responding of late: "We need more guys that are going to do whatever it takes to get a result," he said. "We've only got one or two guys on our team right now in my opinion." However, Saturday's loss wasn't because of a lack of desire. It was just a lack of quality.

There have been a number of injury problems to deal with, but despite the fact the club is well underway with its makeover (15 of the current 29-man squad are new to the team this season), there are still major weaknesses.

Toronto FC badly needs more creativity and they have attempted to address that recently with the arrivals of experienced winger Bobby Convey from Sporting Kansas City and on loan New Zealand international forward Jeremy Brockie. Both of those players made debuts off the bench against the Crew, but I still believe the centre of midfield is an area where an attacking addition is vital.

There is goal-scoring help on the way with the return of Danny Koevermans, who saw his first action since last July when he made his comeback from injury in Saturday's reserve team match against the Crew. Service to the attacking players has to be better though. For much of this season, Robert Earnshaw has been offered little support, with two of his five goals coming from penalties, and the other three from his own quick thinking.

The defence remains an issue. The signing of Scottish international Steven Caldwell will hopefully go a long way to solving the issues, but again on Saturday, Toronto were made to pay for a defensive lapse when Oduro was able to run in behind the backline and score one-on-one with the goalkeeper. Darren O'Dea had a decent game at left back, but there's little doubt the team's best current central defensive pairing would be Caldwell and O'Dea, and with the current slump showing no signs of ending, the club desperately needs solidity and stability in the central defence.

If Toronto FC had been challenging for the playoffs this year, it would have been an overachievement following the dismal season in 2012. However a reasonable expectation was that they could stay in touch with the pack, and at least give supporters hope to cling onto into early fall. After positive signs early on, the improvement hasn't continued. Payne and Nelsen have talked of plans to bring in more players as they attempt to solve the problems, but sitting 11 points outside the playoffs a third of the way through the season, it's getting to the stage where this year will once again be solely about trying to lay a foundation for the future.

Luke Wileman

Luke Wileman

Luke Wileman is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca.

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