TORONTO, ONTARIO, - Toronto FC went out with a whimper Wednesday night, officially eliminated from MLS post-season contention in a 2-1 loss to the visiting Chicago Fire.
Toronto (5-17-6), which has six league games remaining this season, has never made it to the playoffs in its six-year existence.
In truth, another early exit seemed a foregone conclusion as far back as May when the club lost its ninth straight to open the 2012 campaign. Wednesday's loss extended Toronto's current winless streak to eight (0-6-2) and Paul Mariner's team has not won since July 18, a 2-1 decision over Colorado.
Toronto has now given up 50 goals this season. And the struggling club is 5-73-21 all-time when conceding the first goal.
The only good news is not many fans were on hand to see the latest defeat, which was not as close as the score suggested. There were plenty of empty seats in the 7 p.m. local start with an announced crowd of just 14,623 — the smallest attendance for a league game at BMO Field this season.
Uruguayan midfielder Alvaro Fernandez and veteran Chris Rolfe scored for Chicago (14-8-5), which moved into second place in the East. The Fire have won five of six.
French striker Eric Hassli replied for Toronto in the 79th minute as the home side finally showed some signs of life late in the contest.
Toronto was missing two starters due to international duty: midfielder Terry Dunfield (Canada) and forward Ryan Johnson (Jamaica). Fullback Ashtone Morgan, who did not play Tuesday night in Panama, was on the six-man Toronto bench.
Milos Kocic returned to the Toronto goal after giving way to Freddy Hall the last four games. Kocic's wife Evelyn gave birth to triplets on Sunday night. Hassli started after being sidelined with a rib injury.
After a dreary opening, Chicago went ahead in the 13th minute on a header by Fernandez. Pavel Pardo sent over the cross after hitting the goalpost on a three-on-one attack in what was not the Toronto defence's finest minute.
The goal, triggered by an Aaron Maund miscue, seem to wake the home side from its stupor, however, and Toronto launched several attacks.
Toronto changed formation in the first half, pushing fullback Jeremy Hall into the midfield with Reggie Lambe dropping back. Still, the home side had problems with the precise Chicago passing.
In the 37th minute, former German international Arne Friedrich gave Toronto forward Quincy Amarikwa a tongue-lashing for going down too easily — in his opinion — in the box.
Dutch striker Sherjill McDonald had a chance to increase the Chicago lead late in the half when he was put in alone by Patrick Nyarko. But his touch was heavy and Kocic stopped the ball.
On the ensuing corner, two Toronto clearances only sent the ball to Rolfe whose shot went through a forest of legs in make it 2-0 after 42 minutes.
It could have been 3-0 soon after but Nyarko shot wide on another two-on-one.
Mariner made more changes at halftime, bringing in Morgan for Andrew Wiedeman and rejigging the backline. Eric Avila soon followed, replacing Logan Emory. Matt Stinson was also sent on in the 75th as Mariner looked to turn things around.
Still the Fire attacked, with McDonald failing to chip Kocic after being sent in alone in the 63rd minute.
There was some bad blood with 15 minutes remaining when Chicago took exception to a Luis Silva challenge on goalie Sean Johnson. But the burly Hassli stepped in like a big brother, shielding the rookie from an irate Fire defender.
Hassli finally gave the Toronto fans something to cheer about when he sidefooted the ball in after being sent in alone by Silva.
Avila then shot wide and a Darren O'Dea header went straight to Johnson.
Chicago won the two previous meetings this season: 3-2 at Toronto and 2-1 in Chicago.
NOTES — High praise from Chicago's Dan Gargan, a former Toronto player, on TFC's new practice facility in Downsview. "The new training facility is hands down the class of the league. Once again, set the bar for others to follow," he tweeted. ... The win was No. 199 all-time in the league for Chicago, which can reach 200 against the visiting Montreal Impact on Saturday.