Ryan Nelsen likes his chances heading into final stretch

Toronto FC has one mission this season: make the MLS playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Eight years of waiting has built up to a season that offers Toronto FC fans some optimism heading into the month of September. It’s an unfamiliar position, since the club’s playoff hopes are often dashed by the time July rolls in. “It’s a situation that Toronto has only been in once in its short life,” Nelsen told reporters at training on Friday, referring to the club’s 2009 season. In that year, Toronto FC took the playoff hunt all the way to the final game of the season but lost to last-place New York Red Bulls 5-1 on a rainy night away from home. With 12 games to go, phase one and two of the plan have gone relatively smoothly – Toronto FC sit third in the Eastern Conference and survived the World Cup and Canadian Championship bump while swatting off some of the harder teams in the league with relative success. “This is a situation we wanted to be in,” Nelsen said. “Our destiny is in our own hands.”
 In the tightly contested Eastern Conference just seven points separate most of the teams in the hunt. Toronto FC sit in third with 32 points in 22 games and have been chasing second-place D.C. United – 40 points in 23 games – and front-running Sporting KC – 42 points in 24 games – for the better part of the last few months. “I think every team is saying, ‘If we could only win two in a row it would change the whole make-up of the conference,’” Nelsen said. “Every team, every game now is going to be very important. Unfortunately, in the previous seasons, two or three teams had been left behind where it’s not now.” Toronto FC hit a road bump on the road in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Sporting, one that Nelsen said might just have spelled the end of their first-place ambitions. “But in saying that, in any league, if you win two, three in a row, it changes very rapidly in front of your eyes,” he said. “If we take care of our business, then you never know.” But as high as Toronto FC can dream of climbing, Nelsen and his side will also have one eye on the rear view mirror, too, with six chasing teams ranging from two to seven points back. And nine of TFC’s 12 remaining games in are against conference teams. That final push kicks off on Saturday as Toronto FC plays host to the struggling Chicago Fire at BMO Field (7 pm ET; Sportsnet). Jermain Defoe, Mark Bloom and Steven Caldwell are all available for selection, Nelsen said. It’s a game Nelsen considers one of many six-point affairs coming down the stretch. “If you look at our run in, it’s pretty favorable,” Nelsen said. “But just because it’s favorable doesn't mean you’re going to be given points. We know that this game on Saturday and the games beyond that are going to be extremely important to where this team finishes.”