Toronto FC has one last chance to make sure this season won't go down as the overall worst in franchise history.
That won't be easy as TFC tries to prevent its league winless stretch from reaching a club-record 14 matches Sunday against the Columbus Crew, who also will miss the playoffs but can run their home unbeaten streak to nine.
Toronto (5-20-8) has failed to reach the playoffs in each of its six MLS seasons, but 2012 has the potential to be the worst. TFC already has set the franchise mark for single-season losses, and its 23 points are two shy of the club low set during the inaugural 2007 campaign.
Hoping to avoid setting a team record for fewest victories in a season, Toronto has been outscored 24-11 during an 0-9-4 stretch which has followed a three-match win streak July 11-18. Toronto's current winless streak equals the 0-10-3 skid that covered the final four matches of last season and first nine of this one.
"You look at the wins and losses and obviously it's depressing," said coach Paul Mariner, who took over after Aron Winter stepped down June 7. "There's nobody more depressed than me."
While the present might seem bleak for Toronto, Mariner is excited about the team's future, even though his own status with the club going forward is uncertain.
"I can't wait for next season, I can't wait for Jan. 19 when we get together (for preseason)," he said. "We're already working on the squad for next year. So it's an exciting time.
"The type of football we played this year with the players that we've got in is nowhere near what I want to play."
Toronto's last MLS match was a scoreless tie against rival Montreal last Saturday, and it fell 1-0 to Santos Laguna on Wednesday in a CONCACAF Champions League match.
TFC is 0-5-1 in its last six league road games, giving up four goals in each of the past two, and has been outscored 3-1 while losing both matches against the Crew this season. Luis Silva scored its lone goal in the season series in a 2-1 loss at Columbus on Aug. 22.
The Crew (14-12-7) are 10-3-3 at home, but a 4-9-4 road mark is a big reason why they'll miss the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. They were officially eliminated from postseason contention last Saturday when it fell 3-2 at D.C. while Houston defeated Philadelphia.
Columbus, though, is 6-0-2 at home since a 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City on July 14.
"You always want to finish the season on a positive note," veteran midfielder Eddie Gaven told the Crew's official website. "Of course, we didn't make the playoffs this year, but we want to go into the offseason feeling good about ourselves. To get a win against Toronto would definitely help."
Tied for the team lead with a career-high nine goals, Gaven scored in each of Columbus' last two matches and at home against Toronto in August.