Maybe the third time’s the charm for Toronto FC. The club has been chasing the top spot in the Eastern Conference for the past two weeks, and can finally grab it with a win today in Orlando.
Toronto FC has already missed on their two previous opportunities to rise to the top of the east. They drew Houston 1-1, allowing New York City FC to hang on to a narrow one point lead. Toronto FC took care of business in Philadelphia in their next match, but so did New York City against the visiting LA Galaxy.
Throughout all of this, however, Toronto FC has had a game in hand, and they cash that in today at the Citrus Bowl. If they can win, or draw, although that would be much less satisfying, this will be latest in a season that they will have reached first place in the east.
The motivation for Toronto’s opponent today will be very different. While TFC looks to top the conference in August for the first time, Orlando is in search of a first-ever playoff spot. It was Toronto who beat them out for the sixth and final spot last year, and Orlando has once again been on the bubble all season.
Their recent run of form won’t help them in that regard, as the two clubs have been the inverse of each other since they last met, a 3-2 win for Orlando. Toronto FC has lost just once since that June 25th match, while Orlando has only won once in that time.
At the Citrus Bowl, however, Orlando remain difficult to beat. While they have only won four of their home matches, they have also lost just once. The vast majority of their home matches end in draws, a big reason why they have struggled to stay in a playoff spot all season.
It is part of the reason why they switched coaches midseason. Adrian Heath departed the club shortly after the last meeting with Toronto FC, replaced by established MLS coach Jason Kreis. After winning big in Kreis’s debut, Orlando has not won since.
From a Toronto FC perspective, it will be interesting to see how Toronto handles their roster for this match. The club has an arguably bigger game coming up this weekend, when they meet the Montreal Impact at home, and in theory will want their best players available for that match.
Whether that means just managing the minutes of certain players, or resting them altogether, remains to be seen. How Vanney manages Jozy Altidore and Will Johnson will be particularly interesting, considering their recent injury concerns.
With Clint Irwin on the mend, this could be Alex Bono’s last start of the 2016 season for Toronto FC. He will have a chance to redeem himself in the place where his career got off to a shaky start. He has since been a big part of why Toronto FC is in its current position.