TORONTO - Fittingly, the atmosphere at once noisy BMO Field was funeral.
After all, though it has been more than three months since Toronto FC realistically had even a fleeting chance at earning a playoff berth, it took until Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to the Chicago Fire for the club to finally be mathematically eliminated for the sixth time in its six-year existence.
Head coach Paul Mariner called it his low point.
The fact about 12,000 people decided to stay home rather than take in the proceedings certainly didn’t help matters.
The attendance was announced at 14,623, but 4,000 of those people must have been see-through.
Toronto’s defence looked lost too often, the offence rarely menacing and the result was a 17th loss in 28 games and eight MLS games since the last victory.
TFC had two defensive breakdowns early on and after a Pavel Pardo shot caromed off of the post, Pardo was allowed to retrieve the ball and find Alvaro Fernandez, who headed in the opener in the 13th minute.
Remarkably, it was the 21st time in 28 outings this season that TFC allowed the first goal of a match. It is difficult to win games if you are always behind.
Toronto upped the pressure from there, challenging ’keeper Sean Johnson and his defence, but Johnson would not budge.
From there, more lapses followed as the backfield looked utterly confused.
In the 41st minute, Logan Emory got deked badly and Darren O’Dea’s desperation slide did not work, but Milos Kocic came out to make a great save.
However, on the resulting corner kick, the team was unable to clear the ball and Chris Rolfe hit a low shot past Kocic.
Next, Richard Eckersley made a poor play, going to ground — one of Mariner’s pet peeves — and missing badly, sending Patrick Nyarko in clear on Kocic. Nyarko’s shot glanced wide but the sparse crowd had seen enough, booing the home side off of the field minutes later.
Mariner felt the same way as the fans, calling the first half “unacceptable” and terming changes to come as a result “a certainty.”
“We haven’t won in two months and that’s the type of performance that you give as a group? There is absolutely no excuse for that first half,” Mariner said.
“It’s all about where you want to be in the pecking order ... trying to be the best you possibly can be. I don’t see that from some players and the mentality will change.”
Missing a number of regulars, TFC did not get their replacements to step up, which puzzled Mariner, the former English international striker.
“You want to step in? Well, there’s your chance ... If I were playing in front of this city, in front of this crowd with this backdrop, I’d be ripping it up,” he said.
Besides a couple of decent Eric Hassli flick-ons, Toronto only threatened in the first half, when Mariner tried to take advantage of the speed of Quincy Amarikwa and Reggie Lambe up front.
But Hassli got one back in the 79th minute, beating Johnson following fine passes from Luis Silva and Lambe.
Many of the spectators had filed out long before the goal and a near equalizer not long after that Johnson knocked away.
“For a large part of that game we were poor. Where you start, I don’t know, but we certainly need to get together and figure it out. We’re so far off anyone’s standards,” acting captain O’Dea said.
TFC was all but eliminated from playoff contention after starting the regular season with a league-record nine consecutive losses and Mariner even said as late as June that the club would have to play at “almost a Supporter’s Shield level” in order to get back into the hunt.
Not surprisingly, the club didn’t come close.
Mercifully, the team has only six games remaining, three at home, plus a pair of away CONCACAF matches.
Expect considerable roster tinkering in the off-season.