Outplayed for long stretches by the lowly Montreal Impact, the worst road team in MLS, Toronto was officially eliminated from post-season contention for the eighth straight year after a 1-1 tie Saturday.
Toronto (11-14-8) exited in a fit of pique.
Brazilian midfielder Jackson bodychecked an Impact player and substitute Dwayne de Rosario should have been sent off for flicking out a leg at defender Hassoun Camara, who was ejected after receiving a second yellow for his initial challenge. Both Toronto players only saw yellow.
Referee Baldomero Toledo showed Toronto midfielder Jonathan Osorio a straight red for what looked like a malevolent stamp on pesky Brazilian Felipe. Montreal defender Heath Pearce started the exodus when he was ejected in the 82nd minute for a less-than-dangerous scissors tackle.
"As we grow as a team, we need to not get dragged into those things," Toronto head coach Greg Vanney said of the late-game "nonsense."
"We need to keep our focus on the task at hand, which is trying to get the points and not get into all the other things that just kill seconds off the clock.
Lack of cool was just one of Toronto's issues this season which wraps up Saturday in New England.
Here are some suggestions to fix a broken franchise.
Find a coach and stick with him
Toronto was 9-9-6 when Ryan Nelsen was fired. It has gone 2-5-2 since. So much for change.
Nelsen got 58 games at the helm. Mo Johnston had 30, John Carver 36, Chris Cummins 24, Preki 24, Nick Dasovic six, Aron Winter 44 and Paul Mariner 24.
Add in Vanney's nine games to date and Toronto's overall league record is a woeful 62-119-74. Which is perhaps no surprise given the constant turnover in coaches, personnel and schemes.
The revolving managerial door has also hurt players. Young Canadian fullback Ashtone Morgan, for example, went from a starter to the side of a milk carton.
This is a franchise that only knows the quick fix. And in a sport with essentially unlimited worldwide player free agency, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment has been only to happy to pull the trigger. Years of losing have added to its urgency to find instant solutions.
Major League Soccer is a unique league, from its demanding travel to its confusing regulations and unpredictable refereeing. TFC needs a coach that knows the league and is given time to do his job.
Fix the Defence
When he was hired in September 2013, GM Tim Bezbatchenko identified Toronto's lack of scoring as a major problem.
MLSE's chequebook helped take care of that. After scoring 30 goals in 2013, Toronto has registered a franchise-high 44 goals this season with one game remaining. Jermain Defoe (11), Giberto (7) and Luke Moore (6) have led the way.
But the step forward on offence has been accompanied by a step back on defence. Toronto has conceded 53 goals to date, compared to 47 last season (Toronto gave up 62 in 2012).
Injuries to defensive lynchpin Steven Caldwell hurt. But Toronto suffered from a lack of depth in defence as well as a midfield that too often seemed only capable of moving forward rather than back.
There are good defensive pieces apart from Caldwell.
Joe Bendik is a quality goalkeeper. Fullback Justin Morrow has arguably been Toronto's most consistent player this season. Fellow fullback Mark Bloom is also steady, although there was a drop in form after an injury layoff. Rookie centre back Nick Hagglund has a bright future. Canadian defender Doneil Henry remains a raw talent who probably took a step back this season as he wavered between flavour of the month and forgotten man. Warren Creavalle is a versatile squad player who can drop in at fullback.
But the backline needs help. Another reliable centre back would help. But more importantly, TFC needs a midfield that helps defend. Right now, there is too much space, too much selfish offensive play and not enough grit and commitment among some midfielders.
The Michael Bradley Factor. Part 1
Make Michel Bradley the permanent captain. No disrespect to Caldwell, the currnet skipper who is a fine leader and a good man.
But the Scottish defender is 34 and missed 12 games through injury and suspension this season. Caldwell's run is nearing a close while Toronto will be the 27-year-old Bradley's team for some time to come.
Bradley's work ethic is immense. He is also intense, focused and relentless. Talk to Bradley and his eyes lock on you like an Exocet missile. Cross him at your peril.
Toronto has lacked a cutthroat edge. Bradley has that.
The American star has served as captain in Caldwell's absence and team brass already seems to look to him for leadership. It seemed strange to some that Bradley rather than Caldwell was the one that made a late-season plea, complete with video, urging fans to rally behind the team at BMO Field.
Let Caldwell marshall the Toronto defence and serve on TFC's inner circle of senior players. But make it Bradley's team.
The Michael Bradley Factor. Part 2.
Find a midfield role that works for Bradley. And then surround him with midfielders with the vision and discipline to enhance his skills.
Bradley likes to get the ball deep, allowing him to survey the field in front of him and using his passing skills to initiate an attack. He then motors upfield, looking for a late run or the chance to unlock the defence with another deft pass.
He is like three players in one, which is good and bad. Playing him with a conventional holding midfielder can lead to confusion as to who does what at the back.
He needs a central midfield partner who can defer to him, moving where Bradley isn't to keep the proper shape. Toronto also needs midfield playmakers who can deliver the ball to Defoe and Glberto.
Great teams move in unison, like a marionette. Someone has to pull the strings but other parts also have to move, finding space and offering up opportunities to keep the attack moving.
Talented playmakers are hard to find, admittedly. Toronto has finishers. But it needs providers.
What to Do With Defoe?
It's time to fish or cut bait with the English star striker. Does he want to be here or doesn't he?
If he doesn't, get him healthy and sell him.
If he does, get him healthy and do whatever it takes to make him comfortable. When he is at 100 per cent, Defoe has shown he can score in this league.
Find him a playmaker or two who has the vision to see Defoe's runs and can deliver the ball.
Off the field, understand that he is never going to be a David Beckham-like ambassador for the club and league. Tell him he can skip media duties and that all the team wants from him is goals, goals, goals.
And While We're on the Subject
Give slogans a rest next season ... Have the CEO button his/her lip ... Find a way to give something back to season ticket-holders, even if it's just a free beer and snack at eight games next season ... Do something to include fans. How about an update after each game with a statistical/analytic review that details what worked and what didn't? It doesn't have to include state secrets but it might offer fans an inside view ... Do something at halftime that is worth watching ... Take a couple of post-game fan questions and have the coach answer them at the post-match news conference ... Give fans a proper tailgating experience before the game ... Hold a weekly season ticket-holders' lottery with prizes, from one fan sitting on the home bench to prize giveaways ... Make the playoffs.
Neil Davidson covers Toronto FC for The Canadian Press and is a season ticket-holder.
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