When the season began way back at the start of March, some eight months ago, it was difficult to foresee just how it all would end.
And though this may be the final weekend of the regular season, the journey is far from done, as after Week 34 comes the playoffs. An aim that has long been in Toronto's cross-hairs.
Regardless of where it goes from here, it has been a fun year.
The Wait comes to an end... at last, Sebastian Giovinco has put on a show all season long, and though far from perfect, it has been a team worth supporting.
As a reward, an appetizing morsel before the main course, Toronto fans can look forward to what should be an epic final Sunday.
The Toronto-Montreal derby, the Battle of the Two Canadas, is a treat; one under-appreciated around the league While the preexisting animosity between the two cities is long and well-known, the soccer manifestation has flown under the radar for many in the general populace.
There have been plenty of fierce occasions, and the Voyageurs Cup matters (at least to those who care), but without a higher-profile encounter, the rivalry has been mainly for connoisseurs.
This time, however, there is the potential for more.
For this is a match with playoff stakes, those understood easily from the outside, and perhaps even a prologue for an MLS Cup playoff encounter in the coming week.
It is of these matches that history is made. Enjoy it.
The two sides will be well-familiar, having met four times already this season – twice in the league and twice in the cup – but, for the final time this (regular) season, a closer look at this weekend's enemy, the Montreal Impact, is in order.
Montreal enter Sunday's match is solid form, having put together a strong two months since the last encounter at the end of August, one that saw Frank Klopas relieved of his duties as head coach.
Mauro Biello has since stood in at the breach, leading the Impact, a club he has a long history with, to a second-ever MLS playoff berth, collecting 20 points in the last 10 matches. Two points per match is a phenomenal feat in MLS, where Supporter's Shield contenders are well below that mark – both Dallas and New York sit on 1.73/per at the moment.
Following the last meeting in Toronto, and having lost out to Vancouver in the Voyageurs Cup Final just days before, Montreal returned home to nurse their wounds, rebounding with a 4-3 win over Chicago the next weekend, starting off September with a necessary victory.
A pair of road matches followed, where they relied heavily on strong defensive play to achieve successive draws in California: a 0-0 in Los Angeles was followed by a 1-1 in San Jose.
Upon returning home, Montreal would extend that unbeaten run to six with a series of three home wins in quick succession. With so many matches to be made up after their CONCACAF Champions League campaign, the Impact would be busy through these final two months.
They first beat New England, handing a Revolution side that had handily defeated Toronto a 3-0 loss – Johan Venegas scored his first in MLS after just five minutes, while Didier Drogba and Dilly Duka (that is a lot of D's) added two more after the hour-mark. They would have to survive the final eighteen minutes down a man with Marco Donadel booked twice in three minutes.
Then they dispatched lowly Chicago once more, beating the Fire 2-1 – Drogba added another in the first half, only for David Accam to draw the visitors level. Andres Romero would find the winner in the 76th minute.
And their stretch of six matches in 22 days would come to an end, closing the month, with a 2-0 win over struggling DC United – two more Drogba goals inside the opening eleven minutes was enough to finish the match before it had truly begun.
October would begin with a pair of defeats in their travels, falling by 2-1 scorelines on four days rest to both Orlando City and Red Bull New York to start the final month. Cyle Larin and Dominic Oduro exchanged goals in the first half in Orlando with Seb Hines finding a dramatic late winner, while in New York a pair of early Red Bull strikes – Sacha Kljestan from the penalty spot and Lloyd Sam – after Ambroise Oyongo was sent off in the 15th minute could not be overcome by a Drogba penalty kick. New York missed another spot kick that would have made for a less-nervy ending.
Those matches marked the beginning of a four-game road trip that ended with a pair of 0-1 results, collecting full points in Colorado and New England to earn a spot in the post-season. Drogba grabbed the winner against the Rapids, while Ignacio Piatti returned from mourning in Argentina to be the hero against the Revs.
As such, the Impact enter Sunday having won their last two, both by clean-sheets and away from home – they have not allowed a goal in 231 minutes of MLS play.
Of further concern is that at home they have won their last four, stretching back to a defeat against Philadelphia on August 22nd.
But, Toronto has had Montreal's number of late, in league play at least.
August 29th Toronto FC 2: Montreal Impact 1
Following a nervous start that saw Oduro waste a glorious chance to open the scoring inside of ten minutes against his former team, Toronto settled down, taking the lead after 35 minutes through captain Michael Bradley.
Giovinco found Jonathan Osorio in space on the left, he in turn squared for Bradley at the near-post, who touched on to the far-side of goal past Eric Kronberg.
Toronto was anything but certain, requiring a goal-line intervention from Chris Konopka, clawing another Oduro chance off the line, in order to protect their lead to the half.
Jozy Altidore would make it two in the 55th minute, perfectly positioned to turn the rebound from an Osorio shot that struck the bar into the waiting net.
And it was a necessary insurance, as Oduro would finally get his goal in the 74th minute, stabbing in a pull-back from Romero after Oyongo found him down the left.
Laurent Ciman would see a second yellow card three minutes later, leaving Montreal a mountain to climb, allowing Toronto to see out the result.
The win was TFC's second-straight (both played at home) over the Impact, extending their league unbeaten run against their rivals to six games. Curiously, all but one of those six have been played in Toronto.
Biello does have a few concerns heading into Sunday's final match.
Romero joins Cameron Porter and Kenny Cooper on the long-term disabled list, having torn his ACL – the same injury (more-or-less) that has had those two unavailable for the entire season.
Both Justin Mapp and Kyle Bekker are also listed on the injury report, though their status is unclear – either could feature if required.
Adding further confusion to the mix is the possibility of a play-in game on Wednesday or Thursday of next week. Coaches must decide whether it is worth the possibility of a bye to field a player in the hope of earning that reward, while aware that if not, a tired player may not be as effective in the one-off knockout round just days later.
Making such decisions is why they make the big bucks.
Both Montreal and Toronto are in the same position, capable of finishing anywhere from second to sixth in the Eastern Conference, depending on results.
Furthermore, several outlets have stated that Ciman will not be available for Sunday, pointing towards his suspension for yellow card accumulation. But he served his one-match ban against New England and official sources have him eligible for the match.
Their projected lineup is as follows: Evan Bush in goal; from right to left – Ambroise Oyongo, Victor Cabrera, Laurent Ciman, and Donny Toia across the back-line; Nigel Reo-Coker and Marco Donadel will sit deep in midfield with Johan Venegas, Ignacio Piatti, and Dilly Duka further afield; Didier Drogba will top the formation.
There are plenty of possible alterations.
If Ciman is not available, expect Wandrille Lefevre, who may even start in place of Cabrera, to step in. Hassoun Camara too is an option there, or at right-back, if Biello opts for a more defensive-minded full-back.
In the holding midfield two, Patrice Bernier would be the emotional choice to start, but is more likely to feature from the bench, coming on either to lock down a lead or spur a comeback in the second half. Bekker, if fit, could see some time there against his former team. Callum Mallace too is an option there.
With the loss of Romero and the potential absence of Mapp, options in attack are somewhat limited. Maxim Tissot does a lot of running on the left, while Oduro could play a wide striker's role in support of Drogba. Venegas has featured centrally on occasion if Piatti is not ready to go.
Aside from Oduro moving up top, if Drogba does not start, their only other option is for Canadian youngster Anthony Jackson-Hamel to get the nod, which is highly unlikely.
Plenty of question marks; will be interesting to see how it plays out.
Once more (apologies) no updates to the scouting report, but enthusiastic readers are encouraged to check out the previous editions: Meeting the First (Parts One and Two) and Meeting the Second.
This will be the third league meeting between the clubs this season and the eleventh all-time (again, in the league).
In the previous ten encounters, Montreal have won two, Toronto five, with three ending in draws.
Only four of those matches have been played in Montreal, where the Impact and TFC have each won twice.
Greg Vanney is unbeaten in three league matches against the Impact, winning twice and drawing another. His Voyageurs Cup record leaves a little to be desired, however.
The Impact have won the last three home cup matches, by a combined score of 8-0 (2013's 6-0 win playing a large part of that figure).