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Toronto FC draws 'line in the sand,' changes training in bid to end losing streak

After a woeful start to the MLS season, Toronto FC has drawn "a line in the sand" going into Saturday's game at D.C. United, according to fullback Kemar Lawrence.

After a woeful start to the MLS season, Toronto FC has drawn "a line in the sand" going into Saturday's game at D.C. United, according to fullback Kemar Lawrence.

"We took a hard look at ourselves this week and we addressed things that needed to be addressed," said the veteran Jamaican international.

Toronto (1-7-2) is mired in a five-game losing streak and is winless in six. TFC has not won since May 12 when it beat defending champion Columbus 2-0 in Orlando. It has been outscored 12-6 in the six matches since.

The only thing separating Toronto from the league basement is goal difference, with the Chicago Fire sporting the same record. It's the first time in the league's post-shootout era (since 2000) that two teams have had five or fewer points after 10 games of a season.

It's also Toronto's second-worst start, behind only 2012 when it lost nine straight to open the season. That year the club reached the five-point mark after 13 games (1-10-2) and finished last in the then-19-team league with a 5-21-8 record. Aron Winter, the club's head coach and technical director, stepped down with the club at 1-9-0.

Lawrence points the finger at "simple mistakes earlier in the games that we need to cut out."

"We basically drew a line in the sand, just saying 'This is it. We can't do it any more,'" he added. "We have a way that we started to train this week where it's going to eliminate those mistakes. That was one of the good things to see that some of the things that we've trained on have changed, so there's no way that the same mistakes can even be made.

"And that's (coach) Chris (Armas) drawing a line in the sand and saying 'No more. And this is how we're going to get that done.'"

Said Armas: "That's what I think this week was about for sure."

Going into weekend play, TFC had conceded a league-worst six goals in the first 15 minutes of matches. The club ranked bottom of the league on defence, conceding two goals a game.

Combine that with an 0-6-1 record when the opponent scores first and it's no wonder Toronto's season has gone south. 

Turnovers and other self-inflicted wounds have cost TFC, which finished runner-up in the Supporters' Shield race last season at 13-5-5 under then-coach Greg Vanney. Missing key players through injury and other reasons has not helped the club adapt to Armas' aggressive style of play.

Toronto is eight points out of a playoff berth and 18 points behind Eastern Conference-leading New England, whom it plays midweek.

"We can't keep saying 'It's early in the year,'" said Armas. "You've got to start amassing and accumulating points because (other) teams are. And we know the playoff line starts to get farther away. We understand that. So there's a sense of urgency in terms of training and focus. You can sense that. And I think that's a good thing."

After a 2-5-0 start to the season, D.C. United has lost just once in the last four games (2-1-1). 

"It's a team that's playing pretty well right now," said Armas. "They're hard to beat, they're hard to score on. They're a team that comes with energy. They're a team that high-presses. They foul a lot, No. 1 in the league in fouls committed (174)."

Toronto employed a back three in last Saturday's 2-0 loss at FC Cincinnati. Armas said that formation was under consideration for Saturday, although he said the team is also comfortable with returning to a back four.

D.C. United (4-6-1) is looking to put last weekend behind it. It lost 2-1 to New York City FC at Red Bull Arena, conceding goals in the 84th and 95th minutes after going ahead in the ninth minute. The winning goal came on a solo run the length of the field by Brazilian forward Thiago Andrade.

"It hurt because every defeat hurts," said D.C. coach Hernan Losada. "But at the end when you analyze the game with the adrenalin a little bit low(er) and you relax at home and you can rewatch the game, you still have to be proud the way the team is playing, on the road, against opponents that are much stronger than us.

"So facing and analyzing the game that way, it doesn't hurt. It's a lesson for the future."

The 39-year-old Argentine was gracious when asked about Toronto's troubles this season.

"A new coach trying to implement a new style of play in a new team, that takes time," he said.

He called Toronto "a team full of experience, a team with a lot of creativity and speed up front." And a team to respect.

"It won't be easy even though they are coming from five defeats in a row, they have something to prove, something to get right. Let's hope it doesn't happen against us next Saturday."

Toronto said it will be missing goalkeeper Quentin Westberg (finger), fullback Justin Morrow (back) and midfielder Nick DeLeon (thigh).

Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo (thigh) was listed as questionable. Striker Jozy Altidore, a designated player like Pozuelo, continues to train on his own while talks continue on his future with the club.

The good news is Toronto winger Yeferson Soteldo was back training this week after a brief stint with Venezuela at Copa America following a hamstring injury. Armas has said he will be cautious in how he uses the DP winger given his lack of playing time recently.

Fellow Venezuelan Junior Moreno is also back with D.C. United although Losada said the midfielder is tired after his Copa America duty. "We will see if we can use him or not," said Losada.

D.C. United doesn't play again until July 17 when it visits Philadelphia.

TORONTO FC (1-7-2) AT D.C. UNITED (4-6-1)

Saturday, 5:30 p.m. ET at Audi Field

HISTORY: Toronto has a 10-14-10 career record against D.C. United, including 4-6-6 on the road.

THANKS: D.C. United will honour recent (U.S.) National Soccer Hall of Fame Inductees Jaime Moreno and Kevin Payne at halftime Saturday. Payne was United’s first president and GM, helping the club win MLS Cups in 1996, '97 and '99. Payne had a brief stint as TFC president, hired in November 2012 and fired in September 2013. Moreno, a Bolivian striker, spent 14 years with D.C. United, accumulating 131 goals and 102 assists.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2021

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press