Home MLS Toronto FC TFC striker Ryan Johnson can’t hide frustration after Reds set dubious MLS record

TFC striker Ryan Johnson can’t hide frustration after Reds set dubious MLS record

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Toronto FC’s early-season futility has officially hit a record low.  TFC’s 2-0 loss to D.C. United on Saturday dropped the Reds to 0-8 in Major League Soccer play, setting a new MLS mark for consecutive losses to begin a season.

Whereas the Reds have played hard or been unlucky in some of their losses, Saturday’s performance was that of a team that simply looked it gave up the ghost after Chris Pontius’ 55th-minute goal that put the visitors ahead.  After Hamdi Salihi scored in the 75th minute, the Reds attempted a last-minute flurry in search of a face-saving goal but to no avail, as TFC was shut out for the fourth time in five home matches.

“It’s just unbearable,” said striker Ryan Johnson.  “Something’s not right.  Something has to change.  I can’t go on like this, it’s eating me up inside.”

TFC held tight against the high-scoring United side in the first half, often playing with five men back and keeping ex-Red Dwayne De Rosario tightly marked by Julian de Guzman, who played arguably his best game of the season.  The downside to the conservative game plan, however, was that it led to very little attacking, especially with strikers Danny Koevermans and Nick Soolsma both still out with injuries.

Both sides had combined for just 11 shots by the time Pontius broke through.  The D.C. forward found space on the edge of the box to blast a left-footed shot into the left corner of the net for his fifth goal of the season.  It was a quality strike from Pontius but the fact that he was given the room to take the shot at all was evidence of yet another costly error from the Reds defence.

“It’s depressing to fight so hard for almost an hour, keep the score at zero and then suddenly they score,” said de Guzman.  “It’s like we’re walking on eggshells and when we crack, everything falls apart.”

To make matters even worse for Toronto, Torsten Frings left the game in the 67th minute with an apparent shoulder injury following a collision with teammate Doneil Henry while the two were challenging for the ball in United’s end.  Frings abruptly left the pitch before TFC had a substitute ready, perhaps indicating both the severity of the injury and Frings’ frustration, as he threw his captain’s armband to the ground.  Frings already missed four games earlier this year with a strained hamstring, and though the Reds haven’t won since his return, Frings’ absence was the catalyst for TFC’s streak.

United put the game away in the 75th minute when Salihi delivered a jumping right-footed kick past goalkeeper Milos Kocic.  It was the second goal in as many games for Designated Player Salihi, but it was a goal that should not have counted, as De Rosario appeared to be offside on the play.

Still, even one goal would have been enough to top the Reds, who managed just four on-target shots out of their 15 shots in the game.  Johnson had one solid chance in the 34th minute and Jeremy Hall (making his TFC debut after several weeks battling a sports hernia injury) made a good shot to finish a tic-tac-toe pass play in United’s end, but that was essentially it for Toronto’s attacking efforts.

The lack of offensive tactics frustrated both de Guzman and Johnson, particularly the latter.

“I felt we were giving them too much respect.  We’re the home team. It’s embarrassing that the fans come to watch us and we’re just playing so defensive,” Johnson said.  “I like to go forward, score goals, set things up.  I want us to be on the offensive.  You saw the frustration with me since I felt we were on our heels the whole time, just waiting for them to play the ball.  We did that last game against Montreal and it was just the worst feeling, I didn’t even want to play anymore.”

This tense feeling was not publicly shared by Toronto head coach Aron Winter, who continued to state his confidence in his team, its current roster and its ability despite the 0-8 record.  Winter was also confident about his own future employment as TFC’s coach, believing it was too early in his tenure for the Reds to switch direction.

“I’m not worried [about being fired],” Winter said.  “I’m not thinking about the future, I’m thinking about this moment and what you can do more, what can be changed to get those points….If you start last year with a vision you have to stand behind your vision.  At this moment we have to be consistent and not always changing those [core] things.

“It’s very difficult but you have to be positive.  It’s not nice to always say the same things because every press conference you’re discussing the same things… It’s hard, most of the times you’re making the same mistakes and you’re losing the game.”

Toronto hosts the Montreal Impact on Wednesday in the second leg of the first-round tie of the Amway Canadian Championship, with a 0-0 aggregate score after last Wednesday’s first leg.  This game could very well be Winter’s last stand — should the Reds be ignominiously eliminated from a competition they’ve won the last three years running, one would have to think that would be the last straw for TFC upper management.

Perhaps with Saturday’s game plan weighing on their minds, de Guzman and Johnson made guarded comments in regards to their coach.

“That’s not my decision whether he’s the coach or not,” said de Guzman in response to a question about Winter’s job security.  “My decision is to continue as a professional and play for this club regardless of who the coach is.”

As for Johnson, while he was openly emotional about the game and the losing streak, he still remained mum about the overall feeling within the locker rom.

“I don’t agree with a lot of things and I’m just upset about it.  I don’t want to say the wrong thing and cause any more problems,” Johnson said.  “I can only speak for myself.”

After the Voyageurs Cup date, TFC doesn’t play again until May 19, a break that could be sorely needed for the Reds or (should they lose to the Impact) just more time to stew about their issues.  Toronto’s next league game, also against D.C. United, will be the Reds’ next chance to break their streak, which is now approaching yet another record.  The 1999 MetroStars lost 12 consecutive games, though that was in the era when MLS decided ties via shootout; under the current rules, the 2005 Real Salt Lake side hold the dubious distinction of longest losing streak, at 10 straight defeats.

While it’s up for debate which is the “real” longest losing streak, both MetroStars and RSL could be off the hook in a few more weeks if Toronto FC can’t find a solution.

 

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