Toronto FC’s 2018 campaign has reached a new low as the team has been eliminated from playoff contention after suffering a 2-1 loss to Vancouver Whitecaps FC on the weekend. Following the 2017 Major League Soccer season which saw Toronto win their first MLS Cup and reach their second straight final, this year has been nothing but a disappointment for fans. With Toronto FC unable to defend their title in the upcoming MLS playoffs and sitting in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, here’s a look at three major factors that played into the team’s demise.
The Reds started their 2018 season in the month of February, just two months after competing in the 2017 MLS cup final. As the 2017 MLS champions, Toronto FC automatically qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League. With this being a North America-wide tournament the team had never qualified for, Toronto FC Coach Greg Vanney made this tournament the highest priority (and rightfully so); however, he began the season by resting their top players during MLS league matches to keep fit for the Champions league.
Key designated players like forwards Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco and midfielder Michael Bradley missed consecutive games early on in the season. This led to four losses out of their first five games in season play, and a gap in points that proved to be insurmountable for the Reds. Add in the fact that Toronto played in two straight seasons of soccer prior where the team went all the way to the final, we definitely think fatigue played a part in this disappointment.
A Tattered TFC
Toronto FC’s season was also highlighted by the fact that the squad dealt with several long-term injuries to key players on the team:
In a 34-game MLS season, Toronto FC has missed a significant amount of time from many of the players in their starting 11. If you look at Vazquez in-particular, who plays such a vital role in the Reds’ offense, in only 11 of his 21 appearances did he manage to surpass more than 75 minutes played in a 90 minute match. It begs the question that even when he was playing, was he truly 100% match-fit?
The Reds played this 2018 MLS season in a bind as they had a depleted lineup and started relatively young and inexperienced players. During this time it was difficult to produce positive results and Vanney struggled to create a squad of players that gelled and play consistently at a high level.
One of the biggest frustrations was seeing the best defense from a year ago turn into complete shambles. Toronto FC’s defense looked out of sorts for arguably the entire season and although the injury bug obviously plays a large part in this the Reds had no structure to their defensive play.
The team’s secondary central defenders like Jason Hernandez, Eriq Zavaleta and Nick Hagglund were drawn into several more starts this season due to injuries. Although they are all experienced and capable defenders, they lead the team’s defense which let in 60 goals. That is nearly twice the amount of the 2017 total of 37, and with three games to play 64 goals against could very well be met.
Coach Vanney also made the decision to experiment centre midfielder Michael Bradley as a defender for much of the season. Although he plays a very defensive-minded style of play, Bradley’s talents were mismanaged as he was best served pulling the strings in the mid-field alongside Vazquez.
While looking back at the season as a whole, this 2018 Toronto FC campaign is one that fans would love to put behind them. Although they won their third straight Canadian Championships, the Reds fell in the final to the CONCACAF Champions League to C.D. Guadalajara, sit ninth out of 11th in the East with a 9-16-6 (W-L-T) record and will miss out on the MLS playoffs for the first time since the 2014 season.