Having not won since September 10, it seems that Toronto FC have all but stumbled their way into the MLS playoffs. Last weekend's 2-2 draw in Montreal may have showed character, but it was not the late-season result a team looking to go deep into the postseason needs. On Sunday, the Reds have the good fortune of hosting the last-place Chicago Fire at home, in what will be their final opportunity to get back in the win column before the playoffs start.
Historically TFC haven't done particularly well against Chicago, with a 6-9-8 all-time MLS record against them, but they won both previous meetings between the clubs this year—in fact, a 2-1 victory at Toyota Park is the last time Toronto won at all.
Chicago doesn't have much to play for on Sunday, but TFC have a lot at stake. A win could vault them over New York City FC for second in the Eastern Conference, securing them a first-round bye. More than that, though, a win might rejuvenate them a little bit, having been in poor form for more than a month now.
The Fire may indeed be the perfect opponent for TFC's final playoff tuneup. They're not a particularly potent team offensively, and they likely won't be able to threaten Toronto's back four too much. The Reds have shown some defensive lapses recently, so it'll be good for them to regain some confidence.
This will also be a chance to turn BMO Field back into the fortress it was during the summer. TFC are 7-3-6 overall at home, but are 0-2-3 in their last five, dating back to a 1-0 loss to Montreal in late August. Guaranteeing a home playoff game is only helpful if you play better at home, and the Reds haven't shown that lately.
Sebastian Giovinco returned to TFC's lineup last weekend in Montreal, and was a breath of fresh air in attack. He is unequivocally the best player in MLS, and they were sorely missing him. Without Giovinco, Toronto struggles to finish, as seen during the long homestand without him. Ideally, he'll use this game against Chicago to work on his partnership with Armando Cooper, with whom he hasn't played much.
On the injury front, TFC are nearly back to full health. Will Johnson remains the only major player dealing with a knock, and even he is listed as questionable for the weekend.
The lineup Greg Vanney puts out for this game will probably be very close to his ideal playoff starting XI. He appears to be set on four at the back, a midfield diamond and two strikers. There are really only a couple of spots that may be up for grabs.
The club recently showed faith in Marky Delgado, signing him to a contract extension, and indicating he's part of the future of Toronto FC. As such, it seems unlikely he'll be dropped from the left side of midfield, despite a couple of shaky performances down the stretch. He is a capable midfielder, but needs to step up his defensive game, particularly with a left back like Justin Morrow behind him, who loves to press forward.
As well, Vanney seems to be set on keeping Jonathan Osorio as the central attacking midfielder, for better or for worse. He hasn't been brilliant recently either, but of course neither has the rest of the team. Osorio seems to work well with Giovinco, but he had trouble servicing Jozy Altidore.
Where things may be a little less concrete, however, is at centre back. Drew Moor will stay on the right side, but his partner could be either Eriq Zavaleta or Nick Hagglund. Vanney seems to lean toward Zavaleta, but he's been embarrassed a couple times on goals recently, failing to mark well in the box. Hagglund seems like he would be a better option.
Simply, this is not a game TFC can afford to lose, nor is it one they should lose. The Fire are not a good team right now, and they have nothing to play for. The Reds need three points here, and more importantly they need the morale boost at home.
Projected Starting XI