MLS Focus: MLS's struggling champions exposed in loss at New England

You wouldn't have gotten much money on defending MLS champion Toronto FC being 10 points below the red line -- and 10 points behind sixth-place New England at that -- in mid-May, but that's where the Reds are after a 3-2 loss to the Revs on Saturday in Foxboro.

Two goals in the first seven minutes from Cristian Penilla, then Teal Bunbury's goal in the 46th minute gave the Revs a 3-0 advantage TFC could not overcome.

"We gifted goals early in the first half," said Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney. "Getting down on the road, 2-0, is a horrendous start. Also, just the way we give up goals, it’s unacceptable."

That TFC has given up 18 goals in nine games is the result of a spate of injuries to the backline that has forced Vanney to go with fifth-choice centerback Jason Hernandez and midfielder Michael Bradley in the middle of the backline. On the left side, Vanney gave his third-choice, Canadian college product Ryan Telfer, the start.

"I think we're now minus-nine in the first 15 minutes of the first half and in the second half," said Vanney. "That’s something we took a lot of pride in last year, but for whatever reason – not for whatever reason – it’ll stop happening."

The TFC defense settled after Chris Mavinga, who started on the 2017 MLS Cup championship game, came on the second half at center back.

"I think we found a little bit of stability as in the latter part of the game, as we start to slide Chris back there and get a natural center back in," added Vanney. "Get Jason over to his natural side, get Michael sitting in front of the back line. All those things led to, I think, greater stability in our group and our shape started to be better."

But turnovers in midfield showed that the Revs' pressing style under new coach Brad Friedel can allow an opponent to trouble Toronto FC.

“When we play against teams who like to build out of the back -- and Toronto is one of those teams and they’re very, very good at it -- we like to high press and force them into mistakes," said Friedel. "They’ve had a lot of injuries across the backline, as you saw with Michael Bradley playing in the back four in the first half for them, and he’s naturally a midfielder. We felt that if we won the ball high up the field, we could expose the back four, which we did on numerous occasions.”

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