With the 2018 MLS regular season schedule set, here are five must-see matches as Toronto FC look to defend their Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup titles.
March 3 – Toronto FC vs. Columbus Crew SC
TFC's 12th MLS season gets underway with a new twist, as for the first time in their history the club will start the campaign at BMO Field. The home opener, always a special occasion, takes on the added dimension of pitting Toronto against Eastern Conference Championship opponents and Trillium Cup rivals, Columbus Crew SC.
TFC defeated Crew SC by a 1-0 aggregate score line last November in a tense series on the strength of Jozy Altidore's 60th minute strike following a 0-0 draw in the away leg. Though hobbled by an ankle knock, Altidore powered through the Columbus defense to pounce on a Victor Vazquez through-ball to seal Toronto's return to the MLS Cup Final.
Toronto has won the last two editions of the Trillium Cup, awarded to the winner of the head-to-head series over the course of the season. Expect Columbus to come into town with a point to prove in the first of two meetings between the sides in 2018.
May 9 – Toronto FC vs. Seattle Sounders FC
Though separated by a conference and three time zones, there is no doubt a rivalry of sorts is burgeoning between Toronto and Seattle. Such tends to happen when teams meet in consecutive MLS Cup Finals.
Sounders FC took the first meeting in 2016 via a shootout, infamously without a shot on goal through 120 minutes, but TFC got redemption in 2017 with an emphatic 2-0 win.
The match, the sole meeting between the two, will fall a little more than a year after their 2017 regular season encounter, where Toronto won 1-0 at Seattle on short rest with a limited squad. That result signalled intent, and though no simple win could make amends for the year before, it was a modicum of revenge. Seattle will be looking to garner the same this time around.
July 1 – Toronto FC vs. New York Red Bulls
As if a Canada Day match at home were not special enough, Toronto will welcome the New York Red Bulls back to BMO Field, the scene of that fractious 2017 Eastern Conference Semifinal last November, for their only visit of the season.
New York won that match 1-0 on a long-range deflected effort, but TFC took the series 2-2 on aggregate, courtesy the two away goals scored in the opening leg. The villain of the piece, Sacha Kljestan will not be there, as he was dealt to Orlando City SC this offseason, but Altidore will.
Post-match, New York coach Jesse Marsch quipped, despite the titanic contest, Toronto wouldn't even make it into their top five list of rivals. After how that day went down, Greg Vanney and Michael Bradley may beg to differ. Memories can be long in sport. This one is particularly fresh.
There will be fireworks.
September 1 – Toronto FC vs. LAFC
As with last season, where the successes and struggles of the then-expansion sides – Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United FC – were a storyline all year long, so will it be this, as MLS welcomes a 23rd club to the league: LAFC.
The only meeting between the newcomers and the champs falls at a particularly wonderful time of year: the Labour Day long weekend, under the midway lights of the Canadian National Exhibition at BMO Field.
Amidst the sights, sounds, and smells of The Ex will be one of the more fascinating tales of the year, as Father and Son meet in the first edition of the Bradley Bowl. Michael has said that for the other 33 matches of their inaugural campaign, he'll be the number one fan of Bob's LAFC. On this day, however, he will do all he can to inflict defeat on his father's side.
The new side is shaping up nicely, but how will they fare against the reigning treble holders on their home turf?
October 28 – Toronto FC vs. Atlanta United
And for a second-straight season, Toronto will close the regular season campaign with a high-profile Decision Day clash against Atlanta, this time at BMO Field.
To date, both previous encounters have ended in entertaining, back-and-forth 2-2 draws, with neither able to get the better of the other. Last October's final day draw featured tons of drama: the VAR handball decision, Jozy Altidore's tenacious touch (and Sebastian Giovinco's refreshing sip).
Josef Martinez would put the home side back ahead late, setting the stage for Giovinco's moment of magic, ushering another stunning free-kick past a helpless Brad Guzan in the Atlanta net, while Alex Bono came up with a huge save late to ensure Toronto the point that set a new MLS record for most in a season.
Should the trend continue, it is hard to imagine a better way to close the year and kick-start the drama that is the playoffs.