Just 10 months after coming within a penalty kick shootout of becoming the first Major League Soccer team to lift the Concacaf Champions League title, Toronto FC hit rock bottom.
Missing out on the MLS playoffs last fall less than a year after being crowned MLS Cup champions may have felt like the worst it could get for TFC, but a new low was reached on Tuesday night after a 4-0 loss to Panamanian side Independiente, a team making its CCL debut. Now, instead of taking a step towards another deep CCL run, Toronto FC returns to Canada faced with the harsh reality that the wheels have come off a team that was being called the best in MLS history just a year ago.
It feels more like 10 years ago these days. The label of MLS Cup champions is gone. Sebastian Giovinco is gone. A capable defense? Still nowhere to be found. Instead of looking like a powerhouse, TFC looked very much like the same disjointed and lost team that stumbled through the 2018 season, only now this TFC is even worse after the departures of Giovinco and Victor Vazquez.
It would be one thing if Tuesday’s CCL thrashing came at the hands of some Mexican powerhouse. After all, Liga MX teams have thrashed MLS clubs enough times over the years for it not to carry the same shock value. Seeing an MLS team be run off the pitch by a Panamanian outfit playing in its first Concacaf Champions League match was stunning, even with the caveat that TFC is still in its preseason. The Houston Dynamo didn’t seem bothered by that in their 1-0 road win against Guatemalan side Guastatoya.
It’s no secret TFC is a team in a state of transition, still searching for Giovinco’s replacement, still waiting for Jozy Altidore to return from injury, and also still paying the price for a 2018 that saw the club fail to really fortify its roster with useful reinforcements.
All that said, TFC still fielded a squad with Michael Bradley, Laurent Ciman, Jonathan Osorio, Marky Delgado, Justin Morrow and Alex Bono, a collection of talent that should have been able to go to Panama and earn a result, let alone avoid an embarrassing defeat.
There was plenty of blame to go around, but it starts with the center back tandem of Ciman and Chris Mavinga. They were thoroughly embarrassed by Independiente’s speedy attackers, who had no trouble racing in behind on the counter. You could chalk up one or two mistakes to Ciman still getting familiar with his new teammates, but there is no excuse for the number of times he and Mavinga were beaten badly.
It was a forgettable match for Bradley, who looked a step slow and never could get a hold of the game on a night when Independiente had too easy a time moving the ball through the midfield in transition. It’s been clear for some time that Bradley has lost a step, but Tuesday’s performance leaves you wondering if having him operating as a lone defensive midfielder in front of the TFC defense is a recipe for disaster in 2019. It certainly was on Tuesday.
The good news for TFC is that help is presumably on the way. The team is pursuing some attacking options, and Altidore will be back soon. Drew Moor is another veteran who is currently injured, but he isn’t exactly going to help address the team’s lack of defensive pace.
There will be reinforcements brought in, but Tuesday’s debacle exposed the harsh reality that not only is this TFC side nowhere near the great team we saw win an MLS Cup and nearly capture a CCL crown, but it’s more than one or two players away from being that team. Tuesday’s loss was a brutal reminder that TFC’s window of greatness has slammed shut, and while we still may see the club regroup and be a playoff team in 2019, the days of talking about TFC as the best MLS team in history are long gone and unlikely to return any time soon.