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The Globe and Mail

Sixth straight loss gives TFC second-worst start in MLS history

Toronto FC's Torsten Frings knocks down a ball during the first half of their MLS soccer match against the Chicago Fire in Toronto April 21, 2012. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese


One loss away from tying the worst start in MLS history, Toronto FC's problems on the pitch are plain to see.

But in the wake of Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Chicago Fire, cracks are beginning to show off the field. Fingers are beginning to point.

And with Toronto FC languishing in the league basement at 0-6-0, some might say something has to give.

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The afternoon started poorly when Toronto gave up a goal on a defensive error by captain Torsten Frings just 25 seconds into his return from a five-week injury layoff. The home side rallied to go ahead 2-1 on a pair of Reggie Lambe goals, only to give up the tying goal a minute later on a botched set piece.

With the game tied 2-2 at the half, Patrick Nyarko scored the winner for Chicago in the 58th minute after the Fire carved open the Toronto defence again.

Dominic Oduro and Gonzalo Segares also scored for Chicago (2-1-2) before an announced crowd of 19,255 on an overcast day at BMO Field.

Oduro's goal, after just 25 seconds, was the fastest in Chicago Fire history and tied for fifth-fastest goal in MLS history.

Toronto manager Aron Winter, acknowledging his team had given the game away defensively, threw gasoline on the fire at his post-match news conference when he talked of the need for "some better players." He also referred to "lack of quality."

"It is not nice. Six games, zero points," the Dutch manager said succinctly.

The loss ties Toronto with the 2001 D.C. United team for the second-worst start in MLS history. The record belongs to the Kansas City Wizards, who started the 1999 season at 0-7-0.

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To avoid joining the Wizards, Toronto will have to win on the road at Real Salt Lake, which is second in the Western Conference with a 5-3 record.

Toronto now has a combined 1-7-2 record in CONCACAF Champions League and MLS play this season, outscored 23-11.

Winter seemed out of answers when asked about his reaction to Toronto's repeated defensive gaffes.

"What I'm thinking when we're making the mistakes, I think how is it possible every time?" said Winter. "And then when we're at practice, I think maybe it could be lack of quality when you're making those mistakes, it could be lack of focus. It could be lack of sharpness.

"Every time actually (I think) how is it possible? Also when you sit down and analyze those things and you watch them in practice and you speak about it, how is it possible? I don't know, I don't know the explanation why," he added. "But it's not nice."

Round the corner, emotions were running high in the dressing room with key players arguing that the problem lay in the team's organization not personnel.

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Milos Kocic looked liked he had jammed a finger in a light socket when advised of Winter's comment about the need for better players.

The Serbian goalie pointed to a TFC midfield that bypasses the middle for the wings, yielding the centre of the park to the opposition.

How can you prevent goals when your opponent has time on the ball to craft the perfect final pass, he asked.

"It's so hard to defend. I'm going to save a breakaway, but I can't save it all the time. ... It's not about players, it's about organization."

Said veteran midfielder Julian de Guzman: "I stand behind my players in what they're capable of doing."

De Guzman, who has been a millionaire substitute for three of the six games this season, said it will be the players rather than the manager who turns things around.

He talked proudly of the solidarity and "positive vibe" in the locker-room.

"This is where we live, this is what we breathe and eat," he said. "You want to make sure that it stays positive, it stays upbeat, spirits are high no matter what the situation is."

"I think this is one thing that will get us out of the situation. And it's us players, ourselves," he added. "We are the ones that will get us out of the situation, no matter who's in charge, or who's in charge of managing."

De Guzman says while the players are learning Winter's 4-3-3- or 3-4-3 system, it's unforgiving when you lose the ball. On attack, the players are spread out. When there is a turnover, they have to react quickly or else the opposition can take advantage of that space.

"It's a system where you can't afford to make certain type of errors," de Guzman said.

And, as one reporter noted, every mistake seems to land in the back of the Toronto goal.

While some players bristled at Winter's comments, there was also some agreement.

Ryan Johnson, who was cursed once again in front of goal with a string of close misses, lamented the tying goal that immediately followed Lambe's go-ahead goal.

The Toronto defence fell asleep on a free kick from inside the halfway line. Sebastian Grazzini's long ball found Segares alone in front of goal and he deflected it in. Lambe was a yard behind Segares.

"That's on the players. We've got to be more accountable of our markers," Johnson said. "These mistakes are killing us and it's killing Toronto and our fans.

"It's hard to keep letting down our fans every weekend. It's really starting to get to me."

Winter tried to remain positive but at times he seemed half-hearted. And he startled reporters when he tried to argue that a team one loss away from the worst start in league history was headed in the right direction.

"I think if you compare to last season, we have made a very huge progression," Winter said. "Of course it needs some time.

"And it always very important that in the time we need some points. And we are training hard and working hard to get those first points."

Asked how an 0-6-0 team can represent any kind of progression, Winter replied: "We have lost six games. I'm not happy about it.

"But if you saw how the way how we started last year and how most of the players have made a huge progression, I think that we're on the right track."

Toronto was 1-2-3 at this stage last year, Winter's first at the helm.

Like his manager, de Guzman had questions — wondering what he has to do to get on the pitch and display his skills as one of the team's designated marquee players.

"Believe me I go home asking myself these questions too. It's a strange game."

"At the end of the day the coach is the one, he makes the decision. Some of that you have to respect and the rest of it you just have to I guess swallow and continue to move forward," he added.

Winter said not playing de Guzman "was a choice".

Kocic, meanwhile, admitted it's getting late to mount a turnaround this season.

"We can still change it but it's kind of like the last train to catch."

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