Major League Soccer scheduling has always been a controversial topic, especially when it comes to the fact that the league continues to schedule matches during international breaks. But as Toronto FC's season draws to a close, whether by design or not, the remaining five games have been scheduled perfectly.
It starts with this weekend's game against the Chicago Fire, and ends with a visit to Montreal to end the season on October 25. It is a five game stretch that will ultimately determine whether or not Toronto FC make their first ever playoff appearance, but will also give the club a chance to settle some scores along the way.
At this time last year Toronto FC were on the outside of the playoff picture trying their very hardest not to shift out of the frame altogether. Why? Because of a stretch of six games at the end of August leading into mid-September that saw the club go winless.
In the middle of this stretch were a pair of home-and-away series for Toronto FC against Eastern Conference opponents that was the negative turning point of the club's 2014 season.
By the time Toronto had collected only 2 of a possible 12 points while allowing both the Chicago Fire and Philadelphia Union to pass them in the standings, it was clear Toronto was going to miss the playoffs for the eight straight time. It wasn't necessarily the points they dropped, it was who they let pick them up and how easily they rolled over.
This weekend Toronto FC get a chance to revise that history: beating the Chicago Fire would all but guarantee them a playoff position. A subsequent win next weekend against the Philadelphia Union has the potential to clinch Toronto's spot. Wins against the teams that effectively eliminated Toronto from the playoffs last year could mean playoff qualification.
Following these two matches, Toronto FC will face their next hurdle: the Eastern Conference leading New York Red Bulls. The Red Bulls also have a chapter in Toronto's playoff history, or lack thereof. In 2009, Toronto came within one game of qualifying for the league playoffs, only to completely implode in a 5-0 loss to New York.
While not a single player on this Toronto roster was on the team that year, it remains the biggest loss in the club's history and certainly still a sore spot for supporters who have been around long enough to remember it. From this context, a victory over the New York Red Bulls would be perhaps the most fitting way for the club to clinch a first ever playoff spot.
Toronto's second last match, on October 17, doesn't have the same kind of historical significance as the other three, but against the Columbus Crew it is still a rivalry game. A come from behind 3-3 draw earlier in the season means the Trillium Cup is still up for grabs as well, not to mention the fact that this could be a first round playoff match-up.
Then there is the final matchday of the season on October 25, a game against the Montreal Impact which has increasing importance with every passing week. By the time that match rolls around it could determine whether or not one of these teams makes the playoffs, or it could restructure the Eastern Conference standings.
Montreal were the team that statistically eliminated Toronto from the playoffs last year, and also eliminated Toronto from the Voyageur's Cup earlier this season. Toronto came very close to denying the Impact their lone playoff appearance two years ago.
When MLS scheduled its season, they likely didn't have this much foresight. The games were determined based on scheduling convenience, and which opponent's schedules fit well with each other. But out of that algorithm has come a perfect last stretch for Toronto FC, and a chance to rewrite some of the club's sorry history.