With three games remaining in the MLS regular season, Toronto FC is closer than they have ever been to clinching their first ever playoff berth. A result; a single point from any of the three remaining games against the New York Red Bulls, the Columbus Crew or the Montreal Impact, would do the job.
Toronto FC Can Clinch Playoff Spot
The only team capable of displacing Toronto FC from a playoff position is the expansion Orlando City SC and they need to get maximum points from their remaining two games. For most writers and fans who follow closely, a Toronto FC playoff appearance seems to be a foregone conclusion. The reality, as any prudent athlete or coach would admit, is that nothing has been won or clinched yet.
Any Toronto FC fan who has been around for any amount of time remembers the last time the team was close to a playoff spot. Needing only a point from the New York Red Bulls on the night of October 24th in the 2009 season, fate was not kind on that brutal, rainy night at Giants Stadium. A 5 – 0 collapse buried the one chance.
At the time, little was made of it really. A young team, in its infancy – there would be other chances. Who knew? The four seasons that followed were absolute despair and failure, with a steady flow of players and management. The landscape was unsettled and a “losing” culture prevailed.
That game against the Red Bulls was not televised like most other Toronto FC games that season, and given its importance to the team’s season, it really puts the general attitude toward the team in perspective. A little research reveals that in that game, the soccer gods were less than kind. A respectable Toronto FC squad with Dwayne DeRosario, Chad Barrett, Amado Guevara and Sam Cronin actually had some good chances, at least in the first half. Until the second half, things were much closer than the final score would lead one to believe. The real collapse did not happen until fairly late. But it did, and that’s that.
Strangely enough, it will be the Red Bulls visiting BMO Field on Wednesday that will provide the next opportunity for a clinch and some historic redemption. Toronto FC has been much better at home this season and will put up a fight. While they have been able to get some marginal results against the Red Bulls over the past couple of seasons, of late, the Red Bulls have owned them, with a dominant 3 – 0 win in their last meeting on August 15th.
Both teams are coming in with a 3 – 2 – 0 record, but Toronto FC has had their best results against teams below them. They have struggled against tougher opposition and the Red Bulls will be just that. Missing Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore who are away on international duty, the remaining squad will be led by Jonathan Osorio, Marky Delgado, Herculez Gomez and Robbie Findley, a mix of relatively inexperienced youth and underachieving veterans who are all wanting for a chance to shine. Michael Bradley has been returned to the club following the recent Confederation Cup qualifier on the weekend. He will likely play.
It is the loss of Giovinco and Altidore that will need the most attention. Together, they account for 33 of Toronto FC’s 55 goals scored this season. With the usual offensive punch missing, the best approach may be a tighter battle, with a hope to at least “steal” a goal and weather the potent offensive storm the Red Bulls are sure to deliver. Of course, Osorio and company may be able to provide some offensive power of their own. Marky Delgado has played well and proven to be a worthy addition this year. Gomez has a lot to offer, but has yet to start. Along with Luke Moore and Robbie Findley, he will be itching to prove his worth. Though recent victories against lesser opposition (and especially Gilberto’s two goal burst) might not seem convincing, the defense has shown some promise, with a more settled Josh Williams and a somewhat adapted Damien Perquis. With Morrow and Jackson on the flanks, and the support of Cheyrou and Warner, there may be hope.
The critical piece is that basically, the time is now. A clinching result, a demonstration of depth against a formidable opponent is critical to building some confidence going forward. Waiting for a lesser foe or an Orlando lapse is just not enough. Greg Vanney might get some mileage and motivation out of featuring the night of October 24th, 2010 in his pregame talk.
Main Photo: Brian Bettencourt, Getty Images