1. Toronto FC is awful, and also not in bad shape at all
On Monday, there was a brief ripple in the MLS Twittersphere:
Been told that a loss in next match will bring a coaching change at Toronto FC, and next manager is expected to be Italian (more to come)— David Amoyal (@DavidAmoyal) April 20, 2015
Followed by a counter-ripple:
Absolutely no truth to any rumour about Vanney getting sacked should Reds lose in Orlando. Not happening as of now.— Kurtis Larson (@KurtLarSUN) April 20, 2015
Who to believe? It doesn't much matter, because TFC is currently engaged in a sort of soccer thought experiment: Schrodinger's Soccer Team - simultaneously dead and alive.
On the one hand, Toronto FC is dreadful. Generally speaking, when your front office cans your coaching staff with the team in a playoff position (as was the case when Nelsen was fired) and then watches your team slide down the table and fail to secure itself a post-season berth, you can confidently say your front office screwed up.
One of the issues when Nelsen was sacked was the teams form: just three games won in the 13 prior to his dismissal, and just one of most recent six played before TFC lost patience.
Since then, Toronto has played 15 league games under head coach Greg Vanney. It has lost 10. It is has won only three. And between the last five matches of 2014 and the first five of this season, the revived, Nelsen-less TFC has won one of its last 10 games.
The Reds closed out 2014 with eight points from their final 10 games of the regular season (the 10 games played under Vanney): that is fewer points than Montreal Impact mustered in the same stretch (11). And Chivas USA (the Goats won three of their last four matches before being atomized by MLS). And Chicago Fire (10). And Houston Dynamo (14).
Six teams finished with fewer points than TFC in 2014, and four of them closed the season in better form than the Reds. The other two teams - San Jose Earthquakes and Colorado Rapids - were comically awful down the stretch last season (zero wins between them; four and two points respectively in their last 10 matches of 2014). But both have started this year in better form than Toronto. Colorado didn't manage to score a goal in MLS 2015 until its fifth game of the season, but it still collected more points through five matches (six) than TFC (three).
After Week 7, the only team below Toronto in the MLS standings is Montreal Impact, and L'Impact has the consolation of a CONCACAF Champions League final.
Of course there is talk of change at TFC. And the chatter has continued throughout the week.
At Toronto FC Bez is safe to teach the ropes to new president (prominent Italian name) while Vanney has a very short leash per source— David Amoyal (@DavidAmoyal) April 24, 2015
The team declared itself a bloody big deal last year, and imploded just as it seemed it was going to drag itself into its first ever post-season. Then it retooled in the off-season, made itself an even bloody bigger deal, and has just lost its fourth straight game in 2015. Worse, the latest loss was to FC Dallas, the team that was blown out at home by the Rapids in Week 6, allowing Colorado to score not just its first goal of the new season but its second, third and fourth goals as well.
This week, TFC was three goals down in less than 30 minutes. It could very easily have been four goals down before half-time, and arguably only added a measure of respectability to the score because a three-and-a-half-hour rain delay stalled FCD's momentum and let Toronto recover its composure.
This team is dreadful. And it surely cannot be allowed to let another season slip away. The roster is, on paper, the envy of many, if not most, teams in the league. So maybe it is time to let another set of coaches or front office staff figure out how to make the experienced and expensive Reds add up to the sum of their parts.
Similarly to what happened with Giovinco's transfer, different info coming from North America and Italy on coaching situation at Toronto— David Amoyal (@DavidAmoyal) April 24, 2015
And yet, one should also point out that things aren't really so bad in Toronto. Last year was last year: it's over, the mistakes of the past cannot be reversed, but need not be repeated. This year, the league schedule requires the Reds to play seven consecutive games on the road, since their home field is being refurbished and expanded.
MLS teams generally struggle on the road. In 2011, Sporting Kansas City played 10 straight away from home while waiting for a new stadium to be ready. KC won just one of those 10 games (the first one, much like TFC in 2015), and finished the road trip with just six points. That is disastrous form. Nor did it turn around immediately: the long-awaited home opener finished 0-0.
All told, KC played a full 10 games in 2011 between its first win of the season and its second. But, having won just one of its first 11 matches, it proceeded to win 12 of the remaining 23 - and Sporting Kansas City won the Eastern Conference in 2011.
Toronto, by contrast, has lost four out of five. Its road trip will conclude after just two more games. And it already has three points: so it has the same points-per-game average KC managed over its first 10 matches of 2011.
The formula for inevitable MLS regular season success is to win at home and draw on the road. By that measure, TFC should be pleased if it can get out of the current seven-game stretch with seven points: the equivalent of tying every one of those away matches. Its current form is unquestionably poor, but if it can get one more win from the next two games, it will be only one point off that seven-from-seven target. And it is a rare team that stays on course for a 68-point season in MLS: a dropped point or two, especially on the road, is to be expected.
If it doesn't get any more points from the road trip, Toronto can still look at the example set by Sporting Kansas City in 2011. The opening seven games of 2015 do not need to define TFC's season: they are, if anything, the time when what can reasonably be expected to be a pretty good team will look its worst.
It is no surprise to hear whispers of change at the top in Toronto given the atrocious start. But it's also a predictably atrocious start, which means it is equally unsurprising to hear those whispers flatly countered. TFC is not in trouble, unless it decides that it is.
2. If Toronto is not in crisis, no team is in crisis...yet
If it is fair to suggest that being the second-worst team in MLS after Week 7 is not a reason to panic - and it is - then no team in MLS is yet in a position to panic. Not yet.
Montreal's two-points-from-four-games is transparently a consequence of the club putting everything it has into CONCACAF Champions League. And if it wins that tournament (and it is heading into the second leg of the final with an advantage), then it could tank the rest of the season and still justifiably regard this year as a success.
It is still very early in the season. Current form and off-field events have produced candidates for the "team in crisis" tag, teams that cannot point to CCL or a seven-game road trip: looking at you Philadelphia, Rapids, and NYC FC. But the worst-placed of those three teams, Colorado, is 10 points behind the first-placed club in its Conference (Vancouver) with two games in hand.
Things can still turn around quickly: 10 points can be picked up in one good month. And at least one of the current crop of stragglers can be expected to figure out what ails them and pick up positive momentum as the season progresses.
3. LA is stirring
After five games of MLS 2015, the reigning champion was looking little sluggish: just one win, and two consecutive losses.
After seven games, things look a little better for LA: the team has posted back-to-back wins. The latest, 2-1 over Sporting KC, achieved without either Robbie Keane or Omar Gonzalez in the starting lineup (though Gonzalez did come off the bench to score the winner).
The Galaxy is back in the upper reaches of the Western Conference, responding well to an early test of squad depth, and hoping the momentum of the last two games will help carry it through the next five games, of which four will be on the road.