'Mentally weak' TFC blows it again

KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:14 PM ET

TORONTO - Half-empty with heads hung, TFC’s dressing room was as silent as a library following Saturday’s 1-1 finish.

After conceding an equalizer minutes before full-time against the visiting Philadelphia Union, Toronto’s captain verbalized what we’ve known for most of the season.

“The team’s mentally weak,” Darren O’Dea said. “Tough times in games we don’t hold out … We’re not mentally strong enough.”

The 15th time the Reds have conceded in the final 10 minutes this season, Eric Hassli’s opener just before the hour mark was cancelled in the 85th minute when Philadelphia’s Sheanon Williams tapped in from metres out to prevent TFC from registering its first league win since mid-July.

“I’ve never been involved with anything like this,” O’Dea said of TFC’s winless run. “You can see we’re nearly there, nearly there. We’re the nearly team. You don’t get sometimes what you deserve in life. You need to take it and we roll over when we need to stand up most.”

For what it’s worth, it was a better performance than the one three days before — a 2-1 loss to the Chicago Fire that saw Toronto officially eliminated from MLS playoff contention.

Toronto created more throughout the match and should have been comfortably in front after watching Milos Kocic make just one save through the opening half.

“We did enough to win,” head coach Paul Mariner said. “We could have been three up at halftime.”

Looking dangerous most of the afternoon beneath Eric Hassli in a 4-4-1-1 system, Luis Silva did everything but score on each of the chances Mariner eluded to.

After intercepting a Philly miscue in the 24th minute, Silva pushed forward with Hassli beside him on a two-on-two counter. Instead of laying off, Silva cut a Philadelphia defender at the top of the circle before pushing his curler wide of the near post.

Toronto’s 2012 draft pick had another look in the 41st minute, entering into a quality passing sequence that saw Reggie Lambe in behind the Union defence. Lambe’s cross was headed across goal by Ryan Johnson to Silva, who skied his full-volley effort over the north stand — a glorious opportunity that if converted would have changed the entire complexion.

“One hundred percent – he knows it,” said Mariner, when asked if Silva’s multiple misses would have changed the outcome. “You’d normally put your mortgage on him … It was just unfortunate.”

Silva had a final chance before the break when Johnson whipped in a cross, but the TFC rookie failed to re-direct his diving header on frame, keeping things level at the half.

Not good enough

Continuing to pressure after the break, a clever diagonal from O’Dea provided the game’s opener just before the hour mark when Silva latched on to the Irish international’s ball in behind Philly’s back four. Silva sent his next touch across goal to Hassli, who took a touch before burying low and into the far corner.

Well in control and continuing to offer nothing in terms of opportunities, the Reds were minutes away from moving into position to catch the visitors in the race to avoid the Wooden Spoon, the award given to the MLS club with the least regular-season points.

“I really thought we were going to pull through,” Mariner admitted.

But in a tale as old as time, in the 85th minute the Reds watched a low cross from Philly’s Antoine Hoppenot skip through a number of bodies inside the goal box before Williams knotted the score from close range.

“I think the players need to take a long and hard look at themselves,” Richard Eckersley said of the disappointing draw. “Coming off Chicago it was an improvement but it’s still not a win and it’s still not good enough.”

The low point at a club that has seen more than its fair share of disappointment over the past six years, the Reds find themselves on their second winless run of nine league games this season — winless runs that has come as a result of repeated late daggers.

“Enough to not make the playoffs,” said Kocic, when asked how many times he’s conceded late on. “It’s a problem that we have to deal with and you have to be stronger mentally to finish the game.”

To add insult to injury, supporters watched Hassli limp off 10 minutes from time after receiving a hard challenge that his head coach hammered the officials for following the match.

“I’ve got to be careful with what I say,” Mariner said. “It’s getting embarrassing to be honest. Our Designated Player gets kicked from pillar to post … and the referee doesn’t even give a foul … Maybe I’m speaking out of turn but I thought the league was supposed to protect DPs.”

After losing both Danny Koevermans and Torsten Frings to injury this season, watching another high-priced commodity sustain a serious injury would complete what has been an exhausting spring and summer.

A fitting conclusion to a season that simply needs to end.

 


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