Halfway through the 2018 season, Toronto FC find themselves in a position unfamiliar over the last few seasons.
Wednesday night's loss against Minnesota United was Toronto's 17th match of the campaign. With as many remaining, eight points lie between them and the all-important red line.
A thorough diagnosis of what has led to this point is for another time: there are matches to be played, starting with Saturday's trip to Sporting KC.
Focus has already shifted after the latest defeat, informed by the latest observations.
“We'll talk about all the things that need to be cleaned up: our roles and responsibilities, recalibrating,” said Greg Vanney post-match. “We need to get more on the same page; help each other, be connected with each other.”
Early goals against, in either half, have been an uncomfortable constant this season. The fight back has been admirable, but it cannot be relied upon every night.
“Nobody has packed it in; nobody is looking around saying, 'Let’s just get out of here today.' We've tried to keep going, tried to keep playing, tried to find ways to get goals. And on a lot of nights we've done that,” said Michael Bradley. “The issue is when you put yourself behind so many times, your ability to come back... you can’t do it all the time.”
“It’s frustrating; very frustrating,” conceded Bradley. “The positive is that we’re only half way done. For as poor as we have been for the last 17 games, we have 17 more to go after things and put it right. That's all there is to it.”
With a third game in less than a week on the docket, heavy legs could be an issue. Necessity, however, can provide unexpected energy.
Jordan Hamilton, who was already playing his third match in a week, having played for Toronto FC II against FC Cincinnati last Wednesday in USL – scoring goals both then and against Minnesota, for one, cannot wait for when Saturday comes.
“I'm raring to go,” said the 22-year-old forward. “Whether I played 90 yesterday, I'm going to be ready to play 90 in two days.”
The rest of the team needs to find similar untapped reserves for what lies ahead.
“There's no other option,” said Hamilton. “We've got to turn this around real quick. I still have confidence in the team; everyone else does. We're not down and out yet.”
Vanney's message to Ayo Akinola, who made his MLS debut off the bench, says it all.
“Work hard; leave it out on the field,” relayed Akinola. “Be relentless; be ruthless.”
From the mouths of babes.
The past is the past. What matters now is what comes next.
“Nobody is talking about Champions League anymore. Nobody is talking about last year anymore. Nobody is talking about anything except for what is right in front of us,” said Bradley. “The reality is we've played 17 games, we have 15 points.”
“We have another 17 games, we're going to need 30 points, 35 points. You can't take 35 points in one game,” continued Bradley. “The only chance you have is to regroup after each and every game, look ahead, focus on what is coming next, and see if we can find a way to put a run of games together where we pick up some points and start to gather momentum.”
“There is no way to sugarcoat anything. It's just been bad, plain and simple,” added Bradley. “But, this is also a league where every year there is a team or two that start poorly and, just when everybody thinks that they're done, [they] find a way to regroup, put some results together, and before you know it they've turned the tables. That's what we're going to try to do.”
So you're saying that there's a chance?
Said Bradley: “Absolutely.”