Greg Vanney - Toronto FC - clapping, yelling

After Sunday’s 1-0 home loss to the New York Red Bulls, defending MLS Cup champions Toronto FC sit second to last in the Eastern Conference after 16 games played.

They are in deep trouble.

It’s common knowledge that TFC had their sights set high on the Concacaf Champions League at the start of the season. In their pursuit of CCL history and the Club World Cup berth that comes with it, they were willing to sacrifice their early regular-season games, figuring they’d be able to make up for it later on down the road.

Three months later, their assumption that the points would come easily has been proven wrong. Points don’t come easy in this league, no matter how deep your roster is. Sure, they had a tiring preseason with almost no offseason break, lost a gut-wrenching CCL final to Chivas and have been unlucky with injuries, but their current issues go far beyond that.

It starts with their defense. TFC have been leaking goals, and a three-man back line is not the answer. Their center backs have made poor decisions on the ball, and shaky touches and bad passes that have cost them.

With three in the back, they’re easily exposed on the wings. When their wingbacks push high, teams play into the channels behind them, causing them to be pulled out of position. And it doesn’t help that their goalkeeper, Alex Bono, who recently received a call up to the US men's national team, puts his defenders in tough situations with his spotty judgment by playing risky passes in tough high-pressure situations that they’re not equipped to handle.

The fill in for injured 34-year-old center back Drew Moor is Jason Hernandez, also 34, who’s unsure on the ball and doesn’t have the athleticism he once did.

Showcase offseason signing Gregory van der Wiel has played only 12 league games, and has been underwhelming. And the Michael Bradley experiment at center back proved ill-fated.

There has been no chemistry or consistency in the defense and they have conceded 30 goals on the season. Their main focus should be to shore up the back.

Yes, the many injuries – especially to Moor, Chris Mavinga, Justin Morrow, Victor Vasquez and Jozy Altidore – have hurt this team. But what’s hurt the Reds more is head coach Greg Vanney’s handling of the circumstances. They have been playing in a 3-5-2 system, but given the players that have gone down, this formation needs to be tweaked.

For example, the Sebastian Giovinco-Altidore partnership has been fruitful. However, when one is missing – most recently with Jozy being injured; he isn’t expected to return for at least a few more weeks – coupled with Vazquez, their No. 10 provider, also being out, the two-forward system must change.

With the urgent need to shore up the backline, the most logical solution is to add a defender and take off a forward, resulting in a 4-5-1 formation. With his individual brilliance, Giovinco will get his chances; he just needs to capitalize on them.

TFC have been wasteful with their opportunities. They haven’t had problems generating these scoring chances: As Sunday’s stats indicate, they directed eight shots on goal to RBNY’s two, but they failed to hit the back of the net.

Giovinco shanked a left-footed shot from eight yards out in the 17th minute and failed to convert a penalty kick – for the third time this season and the fifth time in his MLS career – by Luis Robles. Midfielder Marky Delgado missed a one-on-one vs. Robles and Jordan Hamilton, played in by Bradley, had a breakaway which he failed to convert.

It’s time to hit the panic button. With a strong Eastern Conference this season, Toronto need to find ways to get points now. They don’t have the luxury to wait for everyone to get healthy.

It’s too early to say that they won’t make the MLS Cup Playoffs, but with 18 games left (10 away and eight at home) it’s looking like an uphill battle.