For all intents and purposes, Toronto FC's 2014 campaign ended Saturday night at Red Bull Arena with 3-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls. Coupled with Columbus' 3-2 win over Philadelphia, Toronto is now six points out of the last Eastern Conference playoff spot — held by the Crew.
Both Toronto (11-14-7) and Columbus have two games remaining this season. Toronto hosts Montreal Saturday afternoon, before ending the regular season at the New England Revolution on Oct. 25.
Columbus visits New York next Sunday, and ends the home portion of their season Oct. 26 against Philadelphia.
"Our playoff drive is over," Greg Vanney said, an acknowledgment that his team was essentially eliminated from the playoffs after their third loss in a row. "They're frustrated. They're coming to grips."
When Toronto FC players, coaches and executives begin the post-mortem on their lost season, there will an interrelated issue that comes to the forefront. Vanney believes the team still needs to mature, and pointed toward a "pessimistic" attitude he believes crept in during the middle of games, including a 19-minute stretch in the first half in where New York (12-9-11) scored three times.
Bradley Wright-Phillips opened the scoring in the 26th minute by tapping Kosuke Kimura's centring feed past Joe Bendik (two saves). Wright-Phillips' goal was his MLS-leading 25th of the season.
Nine minutes later, Ruben Bover Izquierdo increased the lead to 2-0 with his first MLS goal after Bendik punched a Thierry Henry shot into a maze of players in front of the net which landed in front of the midfielder. The deficit grew to 3-0 when Dax McCarthy redirected Wright-Phillips' diagonal feed in the 45th minute.
"It's a mentality kind of thing," Vanney said. "I think it's psychology.
"When you get passive against good teams and good players...We get away from the things we do well. You can't get yourself down 3-0."
While New York was taking full advantage of every opportunity presented in the first half, Toronto's best chance was Nick Hagglund's header off a corner in the 22nd minute, which Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles snuffed out with a leaping grab to keep the game scoreless. Robles finished with two saves— with his shutout bid spoiled by Jonathan Osorio's goal in the 55th minute.
But by that point the game had long since been decided.
With the win, New York continued their dominance of Toronto at Red Bull Arena. Toronto has never won a game at the Red Bulls' soccer-only stadium, having been outscored 17-4. New York has now won 10 straight at Red Bull Arena, and needs one point to clinch a playoff berth.
"It was an important win," Wright-Phillips said. "We've got a job to do as a team. Our work ethic all through the game showed what a team we can be. We're tough to beat when we work that hard."
Along with the game, Toronto lost two players, one to injury and one to ejection. After banging heads with New York defender Jamison Olave in the 42nd minute, midfielder Jackson laid on the pitch for several minutes, and was examined by trainers.
Hagglund was assessed a red in the 85th minute for an elbow to the back of a New York player as both jumped for a ball. The game grew chippy in the minutes following the ejection, marked by shoving matches and on-field conversations between the Eastern Conference rivals.
The teams finished the regular season series with identical 1-1-1 marks.