Toronto FC's players weren't particularly fazed by the news that they hadn't clinched a playoff spot (as they'd previously thought) after their dramatic 3-3 draw with New York on Sunday. Indeed, securing their berth is no more than a point of interest than cause for celebration this year.
Keeper Alex Bono said as much, telling reporters that "clinching a spot was never the end goal; our mindset is higher than that."
TFC will, of course, clinch properly on Saturday if they can come away with a point at home against the Philadelphia Union. What's more interesting, though is that a win would all but ensure that the Reds will host a playoff game at BMO Field this year. 50 points would put them out of reach of most teams below the top four in the Eastern Conference, with Philadelphia and Montreal the only clubs with a realistic shot.
Standing in the way of all that, of course, is the fourth-place Union. When Toronto FC visited Philadelphia in August, they were in the midst of their seven-game unbeaten streak. The attack was at full strength, driving TFC to a 3-1 victory. Since then, the Union are 2-2-1, but are winless in their last three games. They lost 2-1 in Portland on Saturday,
TFC have fared well against Philadelphia historically, with a 6-6-4 record all-time and a current four-game winning streak in matchups between the two. The Union have also struggled on the road this year, with only three wins away from home - complementing Toronto's sparkling 7-2-4 record at BMO Field.
On such a run of bad form, the Union will be looking to turn things around and generate some kind of momentum heading into the playoffs. As such, a game against a first-place team is one they'd very much like to win.
Philadelphia boasts one of the most potent attacks in MLS, headed by Chris Pontius, who has seen his career rejuvenated this season with 11 goals. He's joined by USMNT midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, CJ Sapong, and Roland Alberg, who are all capable of putting the ball in the net.
For TFC, injuries remain a major issue. Sebastian Giovinco seems perpetually "questionable" on matchdays, and once again coach Greg Vanney has kept mum on whether he'll play. If he does, it will almost certainly be off the bench, if Toronto is in need of a late goal against a tired defence. It wouldn't be smart to rush him back anyway, as he's far more valuable to the team if he's 100% in the playoffs, and there's very little danger of them not getting there.
Giovinco's fellow striker, Tosaint Ricketts, is also day-to-day with a groin injury, and if he's unavailable Vanney's options for the front of his lineup are even slimmer. As well, TFC found out this week that attacking midfielder Armando Cooper will also be out on Saturday, suspended for a game after an irrational kick at New York's Felipe last weekend.
As far as good news goes, Jozy Altidore has no issues, and is possibly in better form than anyone else in MLS at the moment. He scored twice to lead the comeback against New York, and has eight goals in his last nine games. Altidore was also named SB Nation's MLS Player of the Week on Thursday.
For the third week in a row, however, the most difficult decision for Vanney will be who to start in goal. Alex Bono performed admirably when Clint Irwin was sidelined with injury, and has been given the nod the last couple games despite Irwin's return to health. However, after allowing three goals to the Red Bulls, it may be time for Bono to hand over the reins to team's de-facto number one keeper for much of this year.
For the rest of the lineup, there won't be much Vanney has to change. Eriq Zavaleta had an off night last Sunday, but he's definitely proven to be more deserving of the starting spot than Nick Hagglund. It's also possible Benoit Cheyrou gets back into the squad, but no rumblings around the team suggest he's likely to start.
This is a game that TFC should, and certainly can win. The Union aren't in top form, and as the season winds down the Reds need to add on to their point total to stay as high in the standings as possible. Finding the ability to win without Giovinco in the lineup will make it that much better when he does return.
Projected Starting XI: