The chances were there for Toronto FC. But the goals were not.
As a result, their final meaningful game of the season on Wednesday was a 1-0 loss at Santos Laguna.
“It was a terrific effort,” head coach Paul Mariner told MLSsoccer.com by phone from Torreón, Mexico, after the game. “I thought we should have been four up after 16 minutes. Four clear chances and we just couldn’t take them. Against good teams, you’ve got to take your chances, it’s as simple as that.”
The loss eliminated Toronto from the CONCACAF Champions League, which was the only thing left for them this season. Santos won the group with a 4-0-0 record while TFC were 2-2-0.
The Reds needed to have something special to happen in Torreón. As much as they tried, that something special never happened, despite a bright start that was the result of some changes made by Mariner for the game.
TFC’s head coach deployed Reggie Lambe as a deep-lying striker underneath Ryan Johnson, then a diamond midfield with Aaron Maund protecting the back four, Terry Dunfield at the top and Eric Avila and Luis Silva on the flanks.
“It emphasized everybody’s strengths,” Mariner explained. “We tried to get Jeremy [Hall] and Ashtone [Morgan] going forward. And it was paying dividends, certainly in the first half. I thought we were excellent in the first half. I just thought we got a little tired in the second half.
“I’m talking about a 1-0 loss against a very good team with multimillionaires playing on the Santos team and I felt we did very, very well. If we can play like that every week, we won’t be too bad.”
Entering Wednesday’s match, Toronto FC were in a tricky situation. They needed to win by more than two goals but they could not leave themselves vulnerable to counters by going for goal too aggressively.
“That’s why I didn’t want the back four going too far,” Mariner said. “I wanted balance in the back four so that if Ashtone or Jeremy went, then we had some strength [at the back]. That’s why I brought Maund into the holding role in midfield, just to give somebody protection. It worked because we limited them in the first half to long-range shooting.”
But it wasn’t enough for Toronto FC, who can now only look to next year. Again.