HARRISON, N.J. – If Toronto FC didn’t already have their collective backs against the wall, then the defending MLS Cup champions sure do now.
On the wrong side of a 2-0 result against the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena on Saturday night, Toronto technically wasn’t knocked out of playoff contention. But they almost certainly have to win out the remainder of their schedule and hope for one or two breaks to go their way if they want to be above the playoff line and defend their MLS Cup title from a year ago.
This particular defeat stings twice, coming on the heels of Wednesday’s 3-1 loss in the inaugural Campeones Cup to Tigres UANL in which they were squarely outplayed in the second half by the Mexican juggernaut.
If Tigres hurt Toronto’s pride, the Red Bulls undoubtedly harmed their postseason chances.
“We need to win out. Yeah, I mean today getting something was going to be really important,” said Toronto coach Greg Vanney. “We're really, really heavily relying on other results at this point, but my expectation is that everybody's going to fight and compete and battle to the end. We have got a lot to prove and we got to get on the winning side of it on the tail end of this.”
The task Saturday came in far from ideal circumstances, with injuries to the back line as well as both halves of their star attacking duo. Playmaker Sebastian Giovinco didn't even make the trip with leg tightness, and Jozy Altidore departed with what appeared a foot or ankle ailment early in the second half.
Despite all that, there were some promising performances. TFC held an edge in possession, had more shots than the home side, more passes, more crosses and a higher passing completion percentage. And there were positives in their approach and gameplan too.
Toronto effectively neutralized the Red Bulls' hard-running, quick-touch style. There were half-chances in the first half and even an opportunity from second-half substitute Tosaint Ricketts in the 58th minute, the Canadian striker skying a shot from inside the box that could have given the visitors the lead.
Building moments perhaps as the reigning champions look to rebound from what was a tough week.
“I don’t wanna be the guy to make excuses about anything. We’re in a situation where pretty much every game is do or die, and we fought hard for a lot of this game,” said goalkeeper Alex Bono. “They scored a couple of goals and we weren’t able to get back level at 1-1 and when you’re pushing, those things are gonna happen on the break.”
Toronto faces a schedule against teams that all face a similar uphill task of making the playoffs. The next three opponents (New England Revolution, Vancouver Whitecaps and D.C. United) are all currently below the playoff line, making these very winnable matches for a team that still poses plenty of firepower and individual talent.
“We’re gonna need some help. It’s MLS, ya know? It’s MLS at the end of the season and anybody can beat anybody,” said captain Michael Bradley. “Teams can go on some crazy runs. Obviously, all we can do is try to take care of our business over this last stretch and then see if a few things can go our way to make it interesting.”