Over the last several years, Toronto FC have been subject to some morale-crushing defeats, most notably on the road in MLS. Yet, the 4-2 defeat to the Philadelphia Union on Matchday 9 of the 2023 season has left quite the sour taste given the expectations this TFC squad had coming into the campaign.

Fresh faces, Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi’s first full seasons, and a win-now mentality allowed all those involved at the club, from the front office to the fans, to look forward to the new year following a 13th-place finish in 2022.

However, after nine games in 2023, the Reds have tallied just one victory. Although the loss to Philadelphia was only their second of the season and the club’s first since opening day against D.C. United, Matchday 9 at Subaru Park, especially the first half, will arguably sting more than some other poor results the TFC faithful have had to bear in previous seasons.

Two calamitous defensive errors from the Reds gave Philadelphia a two-goal lead after just 20 minutes. From there, the hosts remained in total control, with Toronto’s first significant scoring opportunity coming in added time before the half-time whistle.

There is no denying that after TFC’s starting XI was announced, fans had high hopes, especially since Bernardeschi and Insigne started up front together for the first time since Matchday 1. While Subaru Park has hardly been a happy hunting ground for the Reds in recent history, the TFC faithful were left disappointed and defeated well before the half-hour mark in the game.

Body language is always a key indicator of where a team’s mentality lies during a game, and as seen by visibly frustrated figures and languid defensive efforts, the Union were able to take full advantage of TFC’s ongoing on-field struggles.

For the Reds’ young core to see the likes of Bernardeschi, Insigne, Johnson, and co. look dissatisfied on several occasions, team spirit instantly takes a hit, as well as the side’s intensity and ability to swing momentum the other way. 

TFC has not recorded an away win in MLS since August 2022. Whether it’s due to daunting atmospheres or a lack of any rhythm early on, if Bob Bradley’s men are to re-establish themselves as a powerhouse in the league, their away form must drastically improve.

Currently 12th in the Eastern Conference after just over a quarter of the season, the wins need to come sooner rather than later, and that starts with a two-game homestand in MLS where the Reds welcome New York City FC and the New England Revolution to BMO Field in the next two weeks.

Moreover, the players on this current Toronto FC roster are too talented to be a side that narrowly makes the playoffs. Bernardeschi and Insigne have won a handful of titles in Europe, Sean Johnson is a recent MLS Cup champion, Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio, and Víctor Vázquez have all tasted victory with the club. With so much experience and football expertise, why is the club and its fans circling back to conversations and debates that have been taking place since 2021?

The TFC faithful will hope that the thumping defeat in Philadelphia will serve as an overdue wake-up call ahead of four home games in five in all competitions. 

A quarter of the 2023 MLS season has flown by, and if there is little improvement at the halfway mark, questions will continue to be asked regarding the club’s vision and identity.