God bless Toronto FC fans. Year after year, they turn out in great numbers (they supposedly have a season-ticket waiting list of 17,000) just to watch what has so far been one of the worst on-field products in MLS history.
After their first three seasons, only Real Salt Lake ranked below them in all-time Points Per Game. (And even then it must be noted that while RSL has an all-time PPG of 1.078 compared to TFC's 1.1, at least RSL has a MLS Championship to its name.)
In just those three seasons, TFC has managed to post a -42 goal differential which is worse than all but three teams, RSL (-44), the New York Red Bulls (-70) and the Colorado Rapids (-84). Obviously, all of those teams have had much longer to compile those numbers and the Red Bulls and Rapids are two of the league's founding members.
Even if you only look at how teams performed during the three years TFC has been around, they are still the worst club by both PPG and goal-differential.
I don't want to make too much of this statistic since TFC is only now in its fourth season, but the fact remains that they are the only MLS franchise to have never been to the playoffs. (To be fair, though, San Jose Earthquakes 2.0 have not been, either.)
I bring this all up only to illustrate how frustrating the start to this season must be.
After an offseason which saw the hiring of a new coach (Preki, last seen leading Chivas USA to the playoffs in all three years he was there) and a rather unbelievable amount of turnover (during last week's game against Colorado, the announcers said Toronto has only five players that broke camp with the team just a little more than a month ago), the Reds (1-3-0, 3 points) have looked worse than any team that doesn't "Win Trophies."
Unlike Dallas FC, which actually entered their game with the Sounders with fewer points than TFC, the Reds have looked every bit as bad as their record implies.
Just look at how TFC ranks in some major statistical categories: 16th in goal differential; 15th in assist differential; 16th in shot differential; 17th in shots on goal differential; and 16th in corner kick differential. You barely even need to watch them play to understand that this season has been a slog.
Of course, I still managed to watch a little, mainly in an attempt to contextualize their struggles.
Right off the bat you notice that this team is a real mess in the middle and back.
Julian de Guzman, an Ontario native, was brought over from Spain toward the end of last season on a Designated Player contract that was rumored to be in the $3 million range (although his salary is officially listed at less than $1 million) for the precise reason to stabilize the midfield. Granted, I'm no tactical expert and I'm sure he has plenty of skills, but watching him play against Colorado it was hard to imagine him playing at a world-class level.
I realize he's more in the Osvoldo Alonso defensive mold than in the playmaking Landon Donovan mode, but lacked the crispness you'd expect from a player of his caliber, he didn't seem to be able to control the ball at his feet and he even looked a step or two slow next to the likes of the nearly 34-year-old Pablo Mastroeni. His absolute lowlight in the game was his literally jumping out of the way of a Colorado free kick that went directly through the area he had just vacated and giving the Rapids the lead.
I know there are those out there who see it differently, but I thought the back four, in general, looked slow (granted playing against Omar Cummings can do that to a lot of teams). Ty Harden may not have committed a handball (that ended up being called a PK), but he got absolutely undressed on the play that led to it. The only defender that I thought stood out was Nana Attakora. (Coincidentally, TFC traded away Marvell Wynne in the offseason and now he looks like one of the fastest defenders in MLS.)
While Colorado didn't exactly dominate the game (a late penalty kick was the cause of the lopsided score), they were able to get behind TFC defenders and dominated possession.
Offensively, TFC seems to be pretty close to a one-man show. Dwayne De Rosario has all four of the team's goals (two them on PKs and another on a free kick). Still, I think he looks out of position at forward. Although it appears to have evolved into more of a withdrawn forward position, I always thought he was at his best as a playmaking midfielder. He's just not big enough to be a target forward and doesn't seem fast enough to be a true striker.
It appears that TFC is hoping that Chad Barrett or O'Brian White will evolve into quality strikers, but so far neither has gotten onto the scoresheet with so much as an assist.
Still, by far TFC's best game came in their only home contest, a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union. There is some obvious talent on the team and playing in front of a restless crowd would seem to be a potential plus if they can get on a roll early. If Seattle can come out strong, though, that restlessness could turn ugly as the prospect of a fourth straight disappointing season begins to look like a foregone conclusion just five games into the season.