It has long been a lesson learned by Toronto FC: games in hand are meaningless if you don't win them. So while Toronto FC enter tonight's match against the Philadelphia Union having played three less games than their Eastern Conference opponent, this is still a massive game for the reds.
Last year Toronto not only had games in hand late in the season, those games came against opponents directly behind them in the standings. Down the stretch they played themselves out of the playoffs, and played other teams into them.
While today is far from must win as far as playoffs go, but it is a massive test for how this team can play in crucial six point games. If Toronto lose today to the Philadelphia Union they will be passed in the standings, and could potentially fall out of a playoff position.
Luckily they will have plenty of reinforcements to do so, and those who are ready to make an impact. The way the Gold Cup ended for Jonathan Osorio, Ashtone Morgan and Jozy Altidore all of them will be looking to prove something at the club level.
Morgan's return is perhaps the most significant, as it couldn't have come at a better time for a struggling Toronto backline. The club has bled goals in the last couple of games, allowing eight with five coming from open play.
A lot of those goals have come as a result of the team's lack of depth at fullback. With Morgan back in the lineup the team can play the same backline that is has had the most success with this season. Having not played a minute at the Gold Cup, Morgan will be fresh and rested.
While they gain depth at fullback Toronto will lose it in the middle. Nick Hagglund underwent an emergency appendectomy this week and is almost certainly unavailable for tonight's match. With Steven Caldwell announcing his retirement this week that leaves very few options.
Behind them, Joe Bendik will get an opportunity to reprise his role as Toronto FC's starting goalkeeper. He lost the job after going down to injury earlier this season, courtesy of the play of Chris Konopka. Konopka, however, has been suspended one game for a foul in last Sunday's match.
Having Jozy Altidore return up front doesn't solve Toronto's problems, which have been keeping goals out not scoring them. But it's the little things he does up top that have been missed. Altidore confirmed in training this week that he is ready to go for today's match.
Finally, the return of Jonathan Osorio means Greg Vanney has the option of playing the type of diamond midfield that has seen Toronto play the best centre of the park soccer it has in its existence. Osorio will likely slot in as an attacking midfield, moving Cheyrou back to the base of the midfield.
While a loss has the potential to drop Toronto out of the playoffs today, a win could put them all the way up to second in the conference. That would make next week's match against rival Columbus Crew all the more meaningful.
Expect a lot of passion at BMO Field today, as both teams truly need the three points that this match could provide to keep their respective seasons on track.