Members of Toronto FC's starting 11 pose for a group photo prior to an MLS match against the Los Angeles Galaxy at The Home Depot Center on September 22, 2012 in Carson, California. (AFP)
When reached, there are milestones in each North American league that leave a lasting legacy with those who labour alongside their lackluster teams through pear-shaped seasons.
Be it a 100-loss MLB campaign, the rare 0-for NFL season, or the slightly more frequent 70-loss NBA milestone, fans often recall the bad times more vividly than the mildly good.
With a loss against D.C. United tomorrow afternoon, Toronto FC (5-19-7) will become just the third non-expansion team in post-shootout MLS to drop 20 regular season games.
And with the Black and Red still in the hunt for one of the Eastern Conference's four remaining playoff spots, they won't be looking to offer a battered TFC any free passes following what can only be described as a season to forget -- one that further turned a formerly rabid fanbase into stoic zombies.
"It has been the worst season imaginable to be honest," Richard Eckersley said after TFC's latest collapse, a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of the New York Red Bulls last weekend.
"We want the season to end so we can regroup and start again next year … At the minute we're not good enough and we need to get to the end of the season."
But first, some reflection, depression and a rather bold suggestion that Toronto FC's current crop is among the worst in league history.
To be fair, an unending string of devastating injuries throughout 2012 turned what was already the league's worst starting lineup into a first 11 oozing with fringe MLSers and reserves, players who wouldn't get a sniff anywhere else in the league.
Of the 13 players head coach Paul Mariner trotted out at Red Bull Arena last Saturday, based on current form, you'd be hard-pressed to name three that would see the field for any other club across the league.
As for the rest of TFC's bench, four centre backs and an academy 'keeper illustrated the depth of the hole this club has been digging for years, one that actually can't get any deeper, one would think.
Currently sitting on the fifth lowest post-shootout point total (22 points) in league history, after beginning 2012 with a league-record nine consecutive losses, if the Reds fail to win at least one of their final three games they'll break the record for longest winless run (13 games, Columbus '06) by a non-expansion club.
Further, after conceding two or more times in 20 of 31 MLS matches this season, Toronto is dangerously close to becoming just the 10th club to complete a season with a goals-against average of above 2.0 -- something the club's front office has been promising to address since Day 1.
As supporters continue to point fingers at multiple front office suits -- or shorts in Mariner's case -- the honest truth is nobody's hands are completely clean.
For the last six seasons, from the front office to the sidelines, everyone who has touched Toronto FC has had a hand in bringing us to this day -- the day we can actually say Toronto's current run of form is among the worst in three decades of MLS action.
WORST MLS SEASONS (POST-SHOOTOUT ERA)
1. 2005, Real Salt Lake (5-22-5) / Chivas USA (4-22-6)
While expansion clubs normally get a pass, 22 losses can't be ignored. Made worse by the fact two of Chivas' wins came against Salt Lake in 2005, only one player from the combined rosters is still active in MLS. Salt Lake's starting 'keeper D.J. countess still holds the record for losses in a season (19) and RSL still holds the record for longest winless run (18). Things went wrong from Day 1 when RSL selected Nikolas Besagno, 16, at No. 1 in the draft. You can now find Besagno playing alongside college prospects in the PDL each summer.
2. 2001, Tampa Bay Mutiny (4-21-2)
Although the season was shortened by five games due to the Sept. 11 attacks, Tampa's final point total (14) remains the lowest in league history. Routinely playing in front of crowds of less than 10,000 at Raymond James Stadium, things went from bad to worse when Colombian legend Carlos Valderrama got into a punch-up with teammate Eric Quill mid-season. "You just want to get the year over and think about next season," Quill told the St. Petersberg Times during the abysmal campaign. "What's another loss now?" Tampa lost its franchise a few months later.
3. 2012, Toronto FC (Currently 5-19-7)
Objective viewers realize Toronto FC is a slightly better squad with Danny Koevermans, Torsten Frings, Eric Hassli and Stefan Frei healthy. That said, after suffering two of the longest winless runs in league history, should the Reds drop 22 games this year, it would be impossible to argue against TFC's current (healthy) group of players being among the most pitiful in league history. Need more proof? Re-watch the ease at which the L.A. Galaxy and New York Red Bulls put four past Toronto's embattled back four in recent weeks.
4. 2009, New York Red Bulls (5-19-6)
The Red Bulls didn't win a match for 105 days during the summer of 2009. Still, they managed to prevent TFC from bagging its first playoff spot on the final day of the MLS calendar, topping Toronto 5-0 in the rain. Despite having a few offensive weapons that year -- Dane Richards, Juan Pablo Angel, Mac Kandji – the Bulls scored less than a goal per game while conceding a modest 47 on the season. To add insult to injury, after qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League the season before, New York fell in embarrassing fashion to Trinidad's W Connection in the preliminary round.
5. 2010, DC United (6-20-4)
Head coach Curt Onalfo barely survived United's 1-8-0 start, but couldn't overcome a similar midseason string of losses. "It takes a long time to build something, and having had eight short months, it was a limited amount of time," Onalfo told the Washington Post following his removal. "I understand the profession." Which begs the question: How much time is enough time? United missed the playoffs by seven points a year later but is poised to qualify in 2012.
Which Reds have performed well enough down the stretch?
Quincy Amarikwa -- Thumbs up -- While he's far from clinical, MLS sides need speedy, blue collar attackers who can press opposing back lines off the bench, providing a handful of goals along the way.
Joao Plata -- Thumbs up -- Will he be back? Maybe. Team executives have said they are planning to visit the Ecuadoran, who is on loan in his native country. Looking at TFC's attacking options, they might have no choice but to bring him back.
Oscar Cordon -- Thumbs down -- After watching him in training for the better part of a year, it's safe to say it was a mistake to promote the 19-year-old former academy midfielder, who simply doesn't have the physical attributes to compete in a physical and fast league.
Eric Avila -- Thumbs up -- Avila tends to disappear for long stretches in matches and TFC's front office will have to decide is his rather generous salary matches his on-field production. It might be a mistake to get rid of yet another technical midfield player.
Logan Emory -- Thumbs down -- Emory is as average -- maybe even slightly below average -- as defenders come in MLS. When given the chance to show he's an adequate option on the left side of defence, the former Puerto Rico Islander routinely coughed up possession.
Adrian Cann -- Thumbs up – Cann's dedication to the club and his tireless work rate to recover from multiple setbacks makes him a reasonable piece to keep aboard – if only as an emergency replacement in the centre of defence.
Terry Dunfield -- Thumbs up -- Many are calling for the Canadian international to be the team's MVP -- and why shouldn't they be? Where would Toronto be without a number of late heroics from Dunfield, who wears his heart on his sleeve every time out. A starter? No. A contributor? Absolutely.
Jeremy Hall – Thumbs down -- Hall’s stock has plunged over the course of the season. While he looked a decent acquisition coming off sports hernia surgery, he hasn’t been good enough in place of Richard Eckersley on the right side of defence.
Freddy Hall – Thumbs down -- A smart acquisition in terms of not wanting to throw Quillan Roberts into the fire, but the Bermudian has been at fault on far too many goals. Surely there’s a better option somewhere in North America.
Ty Harden – Thumbs down -- Out of the seven centre backs on TFC's current roster, Harden is at the bottom of the list. Can anyone see TFC’s second-longest tenured player being kept on?
Eric Hassli – Thumbs down -- While injury prone, the Frenchman is a quality target who can play with the ball at his feet, a rarity the world over. That said, TFC can’t afford to employ a third Designated Player next season without first addressing the back four.
Milos Kocic – Thumbs up -- It comes down to cash. Kocic played admirably in place of an injured Stefan Frei but likely won’t be the starter next season. As a result, if his demands are too high TFC will have no choice but to let him go.
Keith Makubuyu – Thumbs down -- Out of Toronto’s seven homegrown players Makubuyu offers the least – which might be enough to see the Reds give up on the 19-year-old prospect. Let’s be honest, a quarter of TFC’s roster shouldn’t be homegrown signings moving forward.
Matt Stinson – Thumbs up – Hobbled by injuries throughout 2012, Stinson is a player the club shouldn’t give up on. Versatile and beginning to assert himself more in training, Stinson is one homegrown signing the Reds should continue to employ.
Andrew Wiedeman – Thumbs down -- One of the league’s lesser known Generation Adidas signings, Wiedeman likely won’t be around for much longer. There’s a reason Dallas wasn’t playing him early in the season. There's absolutely no reason why he should be playing now.
Dicoy Williams – Thumbs down – The last time we saw the towering Jamaican he was getting skinned by Liverpool's reserves, leading to England’s Reds registering the game-tying goal during a summer friendly. Williams never fully recovered this year from 2011’s injury and adds little in terms of depth.
Nicholas Lindsay -- Thumbs down -- Retaining the one-time promising winger would be out of nothing more than charity. It's a shame a serious injury saw Lindsay lose his chance.