All Toronto FC can do now is beat the Chicago Fire and hope. The Reds failed to capitalise on New York City FC’s loss to D.C. United on Sunday and now need the Columbus Crew to get a result at Yankee Stadium in order to have a chance of progressing straight to the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
Whatever happens, if TFC are to play for the MLS Cup they are likely to face Patrick Vieira’s side at some point. As the second-place team progressing straight to the semis, Toronto would face the winner of the third vs sixth game New York would be favoured to win. Finish third, and the roles are reversed.
Currently in the six spot is the Philadelphia Union, who are yet to officially clinch their playoff place but, with a 12-goal advantage in the differential column over the New England Revolution, are all but in. They could still yet overtake the Montreal Impact - potentially setting up another 401 Derby - but will need to beat the first-place New York Red Bulls and hope the Impact lose to the Revs.
Got that? Here’s a closer look at the three teams relevant to Toronto in the first two rounds of the postseason.
New York City FC
Final match: vs. Columbus Crew
Last five: LWWDL
Against Toronto: TFC 1-1 NYC, NYC 2-2 TFC
There are a lot of similarities between Toronto and New York; both boast perennial MVP contenders, excellent (if injury-prone) second scorers and a veteran at the base of midfield. Just a point separates them in the standings and both of their matches this season have ended in draws, but while New York have scored 10 goals more than Toronto, the Reds have conceded a remarkable 19 fewer.
The defence that has been so strong for much of the season has wilted in recent weeks, however, and Toronto will need to get back to their best in that regard if they are to have an edge in this matchup. With a home game against a Columbus side that has won away just twice all season, it would be a shock to see New York cough up second place and that will mean a trip to the Bronx if the Reds can get through their likely knockout game.
Final match: @ New England Revolution
Last five: DWWLL
Against Toronto: MTL 2-2 TFC, TFC 0-1 MTL, MTL 0-2 TFC
Montreal face a strange situation on final day, because they are in with a chance of claiming fourth place and a home knockout game but might have a more favourable matchup - against our good selves - if they fall to sixth. In fourth or fifth, the in-form D.C. United await on the back of four wins in a row. D.C. have only lost once since July - a 4-1 defeat to Toronto - and have beaten New York City and drawn away against the Red Bulls recently.
Coming to BMO Field is by no means a walk in the park, of course, but the Impact might feel they have a slight mental edge after winning in Toronto in August and coming very close to repeating the feat at Stade Saputo on Sunday. Greg Vanney made adjustments that improved his team in the second half of that game, but Ignacio Piatti has tormented the Reds and they will not look forward to facing him again.
Final match: vs. New York Red Bulls
Last five: LLDLD
Against Toronto: TFC 1-1 PHI, PHI 1-3 TFC
If there is one team in MLS ending a playoff-bound season in even less convincing style than Toronto, it is Philadelphia. This is the probable third vs sixth matchup and seems like an inevitable one, too, and you get the feeling neither side would say no to the chance to battle for a morale-boosting win against another out-of-sorts team.
Thanks to New England’s loss to Chicago, the Union get a free crack at the Red Bulls and the chance to figure a few things out in a match no one will be expecting them to win. If they are the visitors to BMO Field, Toronto can take some confidence from the fact that Alejandro Bedoya is unlikely to come up with another chip quite like this one.