Toronto FC may be at home today when they play Orlando City SC, but that doesn't mean they won't be in the lions den. All of the pressure stemming from today's match will be felt by the home side, who need a response after a pair of poor performances.
Meanwhile, Orlando City will be eagerly waiting to pounce should Toronto stumble. Just three points behind TFC, Orlando is one of the teams that the Reds will have to fend off should they want their first ever playoff appearance. If they cannot do so their current situation could quickly get out of control.
Today needs to be treated like a playoff game, because realistically it as close as the regular season can get. These are the six point games that Toronto absolutely has to win in order to make the playoffs.
Being unable to ascend past their current position is one thing, as Toronto couldn't do in their last two games. But at this point giving any window of opportunity to an opponent behind them in the standings.
Toronto have used Orlando City effectively as a slump-busting opponent before and will be looking for a similar tale to play out today. Earlier in the season they ended a four game losing streak with a 2-0 victory over Orlando courtesy of two goals by Jozy Altidore. This month they added a 4-1 victory in which Sebastian Giovinco had a hat trick.
This has the Italian excited about another chance to play Orlando. He fondly recalled his three goals in training this week trough a translator. This has quickly been labeled "bulletin board material", in reality it was pretty tame.
But it does add intrigue to an already important storyline for this match: after two ineffective games how will Giovinco bounce back against Orlando?
More importantly, perhaps, it is Altidore who could use a monster performance. Even a goal really. The U.S. International has been in a horrible bout of form lately and it could not have come at a worse time. The team's secondary goal scoring has all but dried up, and most of that scoring came from Altidore.
Orlando will have their own designated player narrative going into this match, as Kaka will play at BMO Field for the first time. The Brazilian missed the game earlier this month but Toronto did not have the same fortune this time around. It goes without saying, but with Kaka in the lineup Brazil are a completely different side.
Young Canadian Cyle Larin will also be looking to do what he came incredibly close to doing last time: breaking the MLS rookie goal scoring record in his hometown. Larin has been sitting on 11 for a couple games now, and will be looking to get to at least 12 today. He will be as motivated as any player on the field today.
The only player who will for sure not be on the field today for Toronto is Damien Perquis. The central defender continues to deal with quad injuries that kept him out of last week's match as well.
Josh Williams filled in admirably in his spot, and is expected to do the same today. He may have been Toronto's best player against New York last week.
Who plays behind him in goal remains to be seen, as Greg Vanney has made it clear it could be either Joe Bendik or Chris Konopka that gets the start for Toronto. Konopka was recently loaned to the USL's Toronto FC II to get minutes along with defender Nick Hagglund.
Another key to this game is how Toronto is able to move the ball through the middle of the park. Toronto's passing has been dismal of late, which culminated in the loss a week ago to New York. They could hardly string together anything under the pressure the Red Bulls put on their defenders and midfielders.
While Orlando certainly won't have the same kind of defensive pressure that was exhibited by New York, that hasn't tended to matter lately. Toronto have passed poorly regardless of the opponent. With the amount of giveaways they have made it is unsurprising that so many goals have been conceded over the past few games.
Fixing this starts with Michael Bradley. It's not that Bradley has been bad since returning from the Gold Cup. Heck he has Toronto's only goal in the two games since.
However he definitely has the ability to takeover a game in the midfield, and Toronto could use that Bradley right now. Giovinco and Altidore are important for finishing chances, Bradley is crucial for creating them.
Toronto could afford not to win the last two games, this one is completely different. Losing games like today's directly eliminated Toronto from the playoffs last year. They cannot make that mistake again.