In a Major League Soccer season when little has gone right for the 1-5-3 Union, coach Jim Curtin pulled no punches this week when discussing the team's deficiencies.
First and foremost, this is a team that does not challenge defenses enough and also makes too many errant passes.
"Possession-wise we've been a disaster this year," Curtin said. "Confidence goes the longest way."
This is not a confident team.
"When you have confident players, they want the ball in tight spots, and right now we would rather shy away from moving an extra yard or two to keep possession," Curtin said.
That is a strong indictment. Now the Union are faced with a new challenge - bouncing back from their worst performance of the season when they host Toronto FC (2-4-0) Saturday at PPL Park.
The Union are coming off a 4-1 loss last Saturday at Columbus.
"We gave up four shots on goal and we gave up four goals, so that tells you we're giving up shots from very, very dangerous areas," Curtin said.
It won't get any easier against a Toronto team that does not lack firepower. U.S. national team standout Michael Bradley is a master distributor from midfield and Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco are dangerous finishers.
The Union back line and goaltending have been inconsistent, and they also haven't received much push recently from their midfield.
Curtin said there would be changes this week. One of them could be midfielder Zach Pfeffer. He missed the Columbus game while competing in the U-20 camp in Austria, where, Curtin said, the reports on his play were positive.
"He's comfortable on the ball in tight spaces and hopefully can improve our possession," Curtin said.
Pfeffer said he was up at 1:30 a.m. in Austria last week, watching the Union's first half against Columbus, one in which they trailed by 3-0 after the first 45 minutes.
Pfeffer said the key will be playing with a sense of urgency but not panic. This is the Union's 10th of 34 games. "It's still early, but it's not," he said. "We know we need to get results soon."
What hurts the Union is that no team in the Eastern Conference has played as many games as they have. Toronto, for instance, has three games in hand on the Union. So the Union understand that they need to significantly pick up their play.
It will start with showing better ball possession, something that was a major emphasis all week in practice.
Saturday at 4 p.m., PPL Park.
Records: Toronto FC 2-4-0; Union 1-5-3.
Union at home: 1-2-1.
Toronto on the road: 2-4-0.
Goals for: Toronto 10, Union 10.
Goals against: Toronto 11, Union 17.
Most recent games: Toronto won, 2-0, Sunday at Orlando FC. The Union lost, 4-1, Saturday at Columbus.
Outlook: Toronto has several injuries on its back line. Defender Steven Caldwell (Achilles) will miss his fourth game and defender Clement Simonin is out while recovering from minor right knee surgery. Defender Mark Bloom is questionable with a quadriceps strain. . . . Toronto has the potential for an explosive attack, led by U.S. national team midfielder Michael Bradley, who has not picked up a point in five games. He could be due. . . . Forward Jozy Altidore has a team-high four goals for Toronto, while forward-midfielder Sebastian Giovinco has three goals and three assists. . . . Union midfielder Vincent Nogueira, who missed the last two games with a right ankle sprain, is not likely to play. Forward Fernando Aristeguieta (quadriceps) is probable after sitting out the Columbus game. . . . Coach Jim Curtin said that goalkeeper Andre Blake is not 100 percent recovered from February knee surgery and that John McCarthy is likely to make his fifth straight start in goal. - Marc Narducci