TORONTO — A second defeat of the week, this time at home, while results elsewhere saw others collect points, has Toronto FC's playoff hopes fading. And captain Michael Bradley believes the Reds underestimated how difficult sustaining success in 2018 would be after winning the domestic treble a season ago.
“For me, it’s very simple," he said. "We had an incredible year last year, but, Champions League aside, this year we have not had enough people in this club, from the top all the way down to the bottom – everybody is included – who understood how hard it was going to be, what it was going to take to navigate through another season where we had to play every week like our lives depended on it.
“Last year that was the mentality; that was what we were able to do. But when you win everything like we did then you have to understand that to come back and do it again, it’s going to be even harder,” said Bradley. “And through 27 league games this year it’s not even been close. Not even close.”
The Reds followed their treble with a spring run to the 2018 Concacaf Champions League final, where they succumbed to CD Guadalajara on penalties. They also won a third consecutive Canadian Championship this summer to ensure a CCL return next spring. But in the league, they now sit nine points beneath the playoff line after their 4-2 home loss to LAFC and the Montreal Impact's 3-0 home win over the New York Red Bulls.
"Our margin for error is probably zero. We may need to win seven games, if not, six. It’s still there for us, but the margin is gone,” Bradley said. “We’ve got two weeks now to see if we can regroup for the hundredth time this year and try to go after seven more games; see if we can really tilt the bar in our favor. See if in a moment where everything seems lost and everybody thinks we’re dead, to win a game, win another game, create a little bit of momentum and see if we can drag ourselves out of this and go into the last few games still with a real chance.
Saturday night's defeat was exemplary of the season Toronto has had.
The Reds entered the game with the trio of Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Victor Vazquez making a rare start together after featuring on the same pitch for only 225 minutes this season. In the end, they boosted that mark only to 252 minutes before Vazquez had to be withdrawn with a back issue.
The hosts bossed those open passages, but it was Diego Rossi's twice-deflected shot that opened the scoring in the 22nd minute, and five minutes later Vazquez departed. TFC surely spent their halftime talk discussing how to regroup, only to concede twice more in the opening four minutes of the second half.
Altidore hit a late brace in the final 15 minutes of play, and for a moment there was a glimpse of fight in the defending champions, only to seen Carlos Vela's stunning strike provide a fatal blow.
“We've got to keep going, that's all we can do,” said Altidore. “We owe it to ourselves, the fans. Four more games at home. We've got to go for it.”
With 21 points left to be contested, Altidore maintained, “There is still everything to play for. Nothing is going to be given to us. We got to go in now, seven games left, and do something special.”
Toronto coach Greg Vanney said even if Toronto had already been mathematically eliminated, he wouldn't let the mentality change.
“We have a 34-game season. My expectation – of myself and of everybody – is that the season isn't over until that last whistle blows, whenever that is,” Vanney said. “In terms of the playoffs, mathematically we have a chance, we're going to keep fighting for it. We'll see. We're going to play until the last second.”