Toronto FC’s what-ifs no longer hold weight.
The Reds, cruelly at times, have dropped eight points from winning positions since the end of March.
Finally, though, it appears the cellar dwellers have finally run out of excuses.
“The table doesn’t lie,” Darren O’Dea said when asked if the Reds are better than their record. “We are what we are and that’s it.
“We just need to cut out stupid errors and we’ll be higher up in the table. But, no, the table doesn’t lie.”
In truth, the distance between top and bottom in the MLS Eastern Conference is growing.
Ahead of Saturday’s game against the Columbus Crew, the Reds trail first-place New York by 14 points 10 games into the season.
With a win, the Crew will move eight points clear of Toronto FC and into the final playoff spot in the East.
While head coach Ryan Nelsen remains adamant the Reds are still well within striking distance of mid-table teams, the aforementioned gap will soon become insurmountable, leading to TFC being nowhere close to where it wanted to be before the season.
“We’d be hitting the panic button if we were getting beat 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, and we were never in a game,” Nelsen said. “As I’ve said, we’d be second in the conference if the game went for 80 minutes.”
But as his captain admitted, the Reds are where they deserve to be — no higher, no lower in the standings.
Logan Emory’s late-game slip in Colorado threw out an otherwise solid defensive performance two Saturdays ago. Toronto followed that up with arguably its worst performance of the season in San Jose, one that saw the ‘Quakes rattle off a pair of second-half goals to further demoralize the Reds.
“Coming back from that trip we were low, as low as it’s been since I’ve been here,” O’Dea said. “There are four massive games coming up, all in conference. It starts tomorrow. We just need to keep playing and playing well, stop stupid errors.”
Charged with the task, first and foremost, of not beating themselves, the Reds must take advantage of a depleted Columbus Crew side.
Centre back Chad Marshal will miss Saturday with a injured hamstring and the Crew’s main threat up top, Costa Rican Jairo Arrieta, is suspended. Marshal’s understudy, Danny O’Rourke, is also in doubt.
“You look through their squad and they’re a very good team,” Nelsen said. “They’re a very good squad, a hard MLS team. It will be a very difficult game, but one we’re looking forward to it.”
The Reds will still be tasked with dealing with the Crew’s quality wing play, the most dangerous of which could come from Dominic Oduro on the right side of the Crew’s attack.
There were rumblings Friday that the insertion of Stevie Caldwell into the centre of TFC’s defence could see O’Dea shift to left back, a spot that’s been Toronto’s Achilles heel early in the season.
Although not confirmed, O’Dea said he’d welcome any needed lineup alterations.
“I’ll play wherever I’m needed,” O’Dea said. “If it helps the team win games I’ll play wherever I have to.”
Also on supporters’ minds is the lack of production from Robert Earnshaw. Following a fast and furious start to the season, Earnshaw’s production has steadily declined. Even more alarming is the fact the Welshman’s chances in general have all but dried up.
“There are two guys in the world who are at a computer-game level,” Earnshaw said, referring to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to make his point.
“As a striker, you’re not going to score in every game. But it’s about putting in the effort and having the chances.”
The Reds have a chance Saturday to make an impression on fans who are close to writing off yet another TFC campaign.
NOTE: Nelsen confirmed Friday that TFC is looking to sign major targets this summer, players he referred to as “name players that people will know of.”