Have mercy: TFC's season ends Sunday
By KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency
|Toronto FC's Joao Plata breaks past FC Dallas defender Daniel Cruz (right) during first half CONCACAF Champions League action in Toronto this summer. The season couldn't end soon enough for TFC. (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)
Danny Koevermans was awfully close when he made a wild claim earlier this season.
“We’re setting a record for worst team in the world,” the Dutchman said of Toronto FC back in May when the Reds were in the midst of an unthinkable 0-9-0 start to the 2012 season.
Hyperbole or not, the worst team in MLS wraps up its sixth season this afternoon in Columbus looking to avoid matching the third-longest winless run in league history. After a goalless finish with Montreal pushed Toronto’s winless streak to 13 games last week, failing to collect three points at Crew Stadium will see TFC’s league winless run stretch through the winter, an embarrassing streak that has some admittedly resorting to hermit-like measures away from BMO Field.
“I’m quite a sociable person,” head coach Paul Mariner said, “but I just go back to my apartment downtown (at night).
“I don’t really go out much because as I’ve said before I want to walk around town with my head held high. I don’t feel as though I can do that.”
It’s a tactic some at the club have been using for most of the season, especially after embarking on a 110-day league winless run that reaches back to mid-July.
“To be honest, you try and hide your head (in public),” Richard Eckersley said before the Mariner era began.
The 23-year-old’s tone changed from embarrassment to surrender a month ago.
“We want the season to end so we can regroup and start again next year,” he said following one of Toronto’s most recent losses. “We’re not good enough and we need to get to the end of the season.”
For months, pre-game questions and post-match discussions have had almost nothing to do with matches or upcoming games. Post-game news conferences are basically repeats from prior defeats and, as Eckersley put it following a 4-1 loss in New York, questions about the offseason began popping up when the team was officially eliminated from the playoffs a full three months before season’s end, a remarkable feat that has Toronto poised to become — statistically speaking — the fourth worst club in MLS history today.
If the Crew, themselves eliminated from 2012 playoff contention last week at DC United, issue TFC its 21st loss this afternoon, Toronto will wrap 2012 with the fourth worst points-per-game average in league history.
The Reds have collected just 23% of available points this season, slightly better than Real Salt Lake and Chivas (expansion teams) in 2005 and six percentage points better than Tampa Bay in 2001 — a league-worst record that likely won’t be disturbed.
“We’ve asked too much of our young players,” Mariner said on finally bringing 2012 to a close. “We’re learning on the job and then when we started getting hit by so many key injuries to key players it (was) very hard to continue.”
While 10 teams, including the Vancouver Whitecaps, are preparing for next week’s playoffs, Toronto FC’s official website is preparing for the club’s first offseason pub crawl on Tuesday.
The only question is whether the team’s hermit-like precautions downtown will ease enough to greet fans following a sixth-consecutive playoff-less season.
CREW HOBBLED, TOO
The Crew’s Chad Marshall and his stand-in centre back, Danny O’Rourke, are expected to miss today’s match, leaving Columbus coach Robert Warzycha grasping at straws at the back.
After missing his club’s playoff decider, a 3-2 loss at DC United last week, former TFC defender Julius James is expected back for the yellows, who haven’t lost at Crew Stadium in eight tries.
James’ inclusion will do a little to bandage up the Crew’s poor back four, but don’t be surprised if today turns into a bit of a shootout between a pair of sides that are largely on the treatment table.
On 49 points through 33 matches, Columbus is the first club to reach 49 points and not make the MLS playoffs.
KICKOFF -- TORONTO FC @ COLUMBUS -- 4ET ON TSN
Richard Eckersley (TFC) vs. Jairo Arrieta (CLB)
Two very different mentalities from different parts of the world will be on display when Toronto’s Englishman runs into the Crew’s Costa Rican. Eckersley’s hard-as-nails, rough-em-up defending could unsettle one of the Crew’s top attackers, who prefers quick combinations in the attacking third over contact. Look for Eckersley to get stuck in early and often to unsettle the home side’s attacking flare – one that has been shutout just once in its last 13 games.
Take your chances: Like TFC, Columbus is bare bones at the back. Guys like Ryan Johnson and Eric Avila can’t squander the chances they did against Santos Laguna midweek.
Keep things in front: While the Crew’s back third is a mess, its attacking prowess remains intact. Frederico Higuain and Jairo Arrieta are going to combine so keeping the pair in front of TFC’s entire back four will limit the quality of chances.
THIS AND THAT
Eric Hassli will miss yet another match with a reoccurring back injury. After sitting out Wednesday’s Champions League loss due the birth of his son, the Frenchman isn’t doing much to win over support before an option year. Hassli missed significant time with an ankle injury after arriving from Vancouver this summer, making today the third time in as many months he has sat our for one reason or another … Head coach Paul Mariner announced Logan Emory will be available after suffering what was originally thought to be a season-ending shoulder injury … Emory could come back in for Darren O’Dea, who is expected to miss a third straight match after suffering a quad strain during Ireland’s last World Cup qualifier.