TORONTO – With Saturday’s win over the Montreal Impact, Toronto FC climbed into the playoff positions with seven games left in the MLS regular season.
The Eastern Conference is still a jumble with four points separating fourth place and home-field in the first round from seventh, where TFC currently sit. Another four points space them and the three teams hot on their heels as the action reaches crescendo.
The weeks remaining in the season will no doubt hold plenty of drama, starting this Saturday when Toronto travels to face the New England Revolution, the team directly above them by a single point.
When the derby dust settled, Michael Bradley summed up the season to date.
“It’s been a grind in every sense of the word,” said the captain. “We’ve had good moments, moments that haven’t been good enough. We’ve had moments where we’ve missed guys and we’ve had to put out different types of teams on the field, but when you get to this point in the season so much rides on every game and every play.”
Saturday was just such a case with TFC having to respond to going down a goal when the Impact took the lead early in the second half. They did so, in style, and will be aiming to carry that energy forward into New England and beyond.
“Momentum is a big thing in this league. Once you get it, bounces will go your way, everyone gets confidence,” said Marky Delgado, who scored the equalizing goal. “We all feel good. We’ve got to build off this win, fix the little things and continue pushing forward.”
Getting into the MLS Cup Playoffs is the crucial, but how one gets there is just as important, regardless of how the table stands come Decision Day in October. A tweak in the format has seen the two-legged series abandoned, replaced by one-off win-or-go-home affairs at the home of the higher seed, emphasizing both regular season achievement and the drama.
“The end of the year, the last ten games, how you do there is a good predictor of teams doing well in the playoffs,” reminded Justin Morrow after his game-winning goal. “We’re ready to kick on from here.”
There is no other option
“The reality is that we are getting to that point of the season where you have no choice,” levelled Bradley. “If you don’t find a way to turn things around, if you don’t keep going, if you don’t find a way to take a point at the end of a game like we did in Columbus or turn around a game like this at home to take all three, if you can’t do that then your season is going to be done real quick.”
“There is no sugar coating it: at this point, every game, every play, every point can be the difference between in or out, between home playoff game or away playoff game,” he continued. “Things are tight; there is a lot riding on every single game.”
After New England lies a pair of away games against FC Cincinnati and New York City FC before the side returns home to face Robin Fraser’s Colorado Rapids at BMO Field.
Then come the two legs of the Canadian Championship final against the Impact, book-ending a trip to face league-leaders LAFC.
Toronto will then close the season with an away match against the Chicago Fire and a home one against Columbus Crew SC.
There is a lot of football to still be played. And besides, just getting in isn’t the aim.
“The playoffs aren’t the goal around here. You have to get into the playoffs to do what we want to do, but just getting in isn’t what anybody is playing for. It’s the first step along the way,” said Bradley. “We understand that to play the biggest games at the end of the year you have to get yourself in. Given how things have gone this year, we don’t have the luxury of looking past any of that yet.”
“There is no celebration just because now we’re into a playoff spot. We want to keep pushing. We’ve got big games now against teams right around us,” he added. “There’s excitement as we head into this last part of the season. We’ve got a lot to play for, we believe in ourselves, and feel like we have a group that is going to respond in a good way.”