With five games left in the season Saturday’s contest in Los Angeles is the lottery ticket.
Toronto FC sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the fifth place Red Bulls.
This is TFC’s game in hand. The Reds have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
“For us it’s a great test,” said Michael Bradley. “Games in LA in that stadium are always good games. There’s really nothing to lose.”
Greg Vanney has said the same all week, pointing to TFC’s four remaining matches against Eastern Conference opponents as the games his side needs to take points from.
The Galaxy boast an attacking trident that is the envy of the league. Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes have been fantastic this season, but it’s their supporting cast that allows LA’s most talented players to get forward at will.
“It’s a team that’s been together for a few years now,” said Vanney. “It’s a solid core group of players. They are a difficult team to defend against because they have very good movement off the ball.”
Donovan, Keane and Zardes have combined for 43 goals this season, and Donovan leads the league in assists, but that core Vanney spoke about forms the bedrock of the foundation Bruce Arena has built in LA.
“Whether it’s Baggio Husidic or Stefan Ishizaki, these are good players,” said Bradley. “Technically talented guys who can punish you.”
“For me the real key to their team is the work of Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas.”
The addition of Alan Gordon has only bolstered Arena’s lineup.
Clearly LA is not short on talent, but TFC is expected to receive a big boost up front with the return of Jermain Defoe.
The 31-year-old striker was a full participant in training this week and travelled with the team to California.
Defoe’s presence will give the the Reds confidence they can get a result in what shakes out to be their toughest road game this season.
“When he steps on the field other teams are worried about him,” said Bradley. “He’s had a good week.”
TFC is feeling good following a three game stretch where they have taken seven out of a possible nine points. That controversial draw in Chicago served as the jump off point for Vanney and his charges. The belief, a word so often used without hesitation in the sporting world, is there.
“Confidence is high for sure,” Bradley continued. “If you look back at the game in Chicago, where on another day we come away with three points. Even to come away with one point the way we did was very important. We’ve strung together a good few games. It’s important when you’re in the midst of a positive run that the focus is on continuing that.”
This isn’t a must-win game for TFC. Their games in the coming weeks will decide their fate, but a result in Los Angeles would increase the margin for error.
For many years this league has proven no game is a certainty. Dominic Oduro said it earlier this week, but it bears repeating. On any given Saturday anything can happen.