October 01, 2016 - 8:12 PM
TORONTO - At the beginning of the MLS season as Toronto FC played eight consecutive games on the road during stadium renovations, the team kept reminding itself that the home dates would come during the all-important stretch run.
Well they're here and they're not working out too well.
Toronto FC was beaten 2-1 by D.C. United on Saturday night, extending its home winless streak to five (0-2-3). Put it another way, Greg Vanney's team has dropped 12-of-15 points at BMO Field during that run.
First in the East midweek, Toronto (13-9-10, 49 points) comes out of the weekend third behind the two New York teams. Imagine where it would be if it had been able to dispatch opponents at home.
The New York Red Bulls (14-9-9, 51 points) defeated the Philadelphia Union 3-2 earlier Saturday to regain top spot in the Eastern Conference on goal difference. New York City FC (14-9-9, 51 points) had blanked Houston 2-0 Friday night to knock Toronto into second place.
Lamar Neagle scored twice to lift D.C. United past Toronto despite being outshot 15-5 (6-2 in shots on target).
"They get a couple of chances, they score two goals," said Vanney, his patience clearly tested. "We get a lot of chances, we score one goal. That's not good enough in the decisive zones."
A dour captain Michael Bradley marvelled at the outcome given his team's dominance. "It's a game that is almost impossible to lose. And we did.
"That leaves an incredibly bad taste in your mouth."
Jozy Altidore opened the scoring for Toronto before a crowd of 22,212. The home side pressed hard as the game wore on but was unable to break down the D.C. defence.
Toronto has scored just twice in its last three games since clawing its way back in a 3-3 tie with the Red Bulls. While Altidore has been sharp, the team has lacked killer instinct elsewhere and star striker Sebastian Giovinco cannot come back from injury quick enough.
The good news is Giovinco, who has missed the last five matches (Toronto went 1-1-3 without him), is expected back for the next game, Oct. 16 at Montreal.
Toronto has already clinched a playoff spot and looks set to open the post-season at home. But Vanney is not smiling after a stretch he termed "a little bit humbling."
There is no panic, just frustration in a locker-room where the bar has been raised high this season. At a time where the team should be battening down the hatches, things are a little loose on the good ship TFC.
Asked if his blood was beginning to boil on the sidelines Saturday, the normally calm Toronto coach paused and said "yes."
"It boiled in the locker-room too, but that's between me and them," he said. "I get disappointed and angry, the same as they are ... It's a disappointment because they in some ways deserve more. But you have to (go) get it, you have to execute."
The loss was just the second in 14 games for Toronto — a 7-2-5 run that started with a 4-1 victory over D.C. United at BMO Field on July 23. Toronto came into Saturday's game unbeaten in four games (1-0-3).
Saturday marked the first time Toronto has lost this season after scoring first. It had been 13-0-1 with the first goal.
D.C. United (10-9-13), which extended its unbeaten streak to five (4-0-1), has lost just once in its last 12 games (5-1-6) since that July defeat in Toronto. Still Saturday's win marked only the second road victory of the season for Ben Olsen's team which is 2-5-9 away from home. The first away win came May 27 in Kansas City.
Olsen said he was "thrilled" at the result, which capped a nine-point week.
"I don't know how long it's been since we won three in a row," he said. "It's been a long time."
D.C. United came into the game holding the sixth and last playoff spot in the East. It left in fourth.
The south stand of BMO Field was back to its raucous self with the decision of supporters groups, led by the Inebriatti members, to end their silent treatment. Inebriatti has been at odds with the club over recent sanctions but said Saturday work was under way to find a "fair and equitable solution."
Toronto players applauded the south stands fans as they left the field after their pre-game warmup.
And 36 minutes into the game, Altidore launched himself into the southside fans to celebrate a beauty of a goal. Defender Drew Moor set up the play, dispossessing D.C. United forward Patrick Mullins. The ball went to midfielder Armando Cooper whose deft pass found Altidore one-on-one with defender Steve Birnbaum. Altidore turned Birnbaum inside out, then went past goalkeeper Bill Hamid before rolling the ball in for his ninth goal in his last 12 games.
The celebrations were short-lived. Three minutes later, after Toronto was unable to clear a corner, the ball was sent back and the Toronto defence found itself in disarray. Clint Irwin made a fine diving save to deny Birnbaum's shot but the rebound went straight to Neagle, who headed it in from close range.
Neagle did it again in the 58th minute, firing a right-footed shot past Irwin after Lloyd Sam unlocked the Toronto defence with a through ball. Neagle has nine goals on the season with six goals coming in his last eight games.
Vanney lamented a backheel that led to the turnover that led to the corner on the first goal. And he said he saw the second goal coming from his vantage point on the sideline, as his defence failed to drop back.
After Montreal, Toronto wraps up the regular season on Oct. 23 at home against the Chicago Fire.
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News from © The Canadian Press, 2016