A run of three matches without a win - all of them draws - has a few people around Toronto FC getting a little anxious as the playoffs approach.
Inside the locker room, there is frustration but resilience and Michael Bradley bristled when asked about the team’s lack of a home victory since August 6 after the 0-0 draw against Orlando City. “We’ve also lost once in the last, like, two-and-a-half months,” he responded. “So... yeah.”
With Jozy Altidore unsurprisingly cooling off after a superb run of form, the absence of Sebastian Giovinco has been felt particularly in the last couple of games and left-back Justin Morrow has the Reds’ only goal over the past 180 minutes. Orlando had conceded 12 goals in three games coming into Wednesday’s match but despite creating more chances than in the 3-3 draw against the New York Red Bulls, the Reds were shut out for only the second time in the league since May.
Giovinco’s expected return on Saturday against D.C. United, then, will be a welcome relief, particularly as Ben Olsen’s team have enjoyed 4-1 and 3-0 victories in their last two games. It is unlikely the Italian will start having been judged not ready to play any part against Orlando - which means Jordan Hamilton partnering Altidore due to the suspension of Tosaint Ricketts - but if he is fit enough to be included in the squad we will almost certainly see him from the bench.
In the meantime, Greg Vanney could use a few more goals from his midfielders, but it is difficult to identify exactly where they are going to come from. Tsubasa Endoh, Marky Delgado and Will Johnson are the club’s joint-top-scoring midfielders with just two each and it may be that only Johnson now gets into Vanney’s best XI. Jonathan Osorio has been been a creative force of late but lacks conviction in the penalty area and Bradley’s production has decreased due to his deeper position.
Players like Giovinco tend to mask these types of problems and Toronto can also help themselves by getting things right defensively, which they have shown signs of doing. The clean sheet against Orlando was the first the Eastern Conference’s best rearguard has kept since August 3 and the centre-back slot next to Drew Moor now looks to be Nick Hagglund’s to lose as a result.
With Clint Irwin expected to return in goal, Giovinco may be the only starter missing from the side that takes to the field for what is likely to be BMO Field’s first playoff match in a few weeks’ time. A statement performance on Saturday would certainly help them hit their stride ahead of that date.