Throughout this MLS season, the best Toronto FC fans have been able to hope for is that their club was a sleeping giant. That the historically dominant 2017 edition of the side was in there somewhere and just needed a rude awakening to get back in the playoff race.
The second half of their match against the Chicago Fire this weekend was the closest sign we’ve had yet that this may well still happen. Toronto was their old dominant self in what was a crucial match at home. The match was part of a four-game win streak in all competitions, the Reds’ best stretch of results all season.
Tomorrow, however, Toronto FC have a chance to not just prove that they have woken up, but also that they are approaching their former heights. They visit an Atlanta United side that sure look a lot like 2017 TFC, and in beating them would prove that they aren’t as far away from that squad as they have looked for most of this season.
Atlanta United remain the only team in MLS that Toronto FC has played but have not beaten (the reds get their first crack at LAFC on September 1). TFC drew them twice last season, both incredibly exciting 2-2 results, the latter of which secured Toronto the single-season MLS point record.
All week in training this has been called a measuring stick match for the club. It’s a chance to prove to themselves and the rest of the league that they can still be among the league’s elite heading into a critical stretch.
Atlanta is the type of team Toronto will have to mimic down the stretch as well. In their second season in the league, United have been hovering around the 2 points per game range all year. Toronto is going to need to play at a similar pace if they want to assure themselves of a postseason berth.
Playing at that pace has put Atlanta on track to put together a season very similar to Toronto FC’s 69-point record-setting campaign of last season. This match, plus their decision day meeting on October 28 are the last chances Toronto will have to sabotage that record being broken.
Momentum is also an important factor in this match and the rest of Toronto FC’s season. It is something that has seemingly eluded them all year, but now that they finally have some it becomes imperative they don’t let it die. Momentum will ultimately be the difference between TFC making the playoffs or not.
If they can get there, more games like tomorrow will be waiting. Toronto is likely to get minimal matches at BMO Field during the postseason, which will mean a lot of away dates in hostile environments. There is perhaps no better test than the building they call “the Benz”.
Don’t think Atlanta will be thinking of this match any differently, either. Nobody should want to play Toronto FC in the playoffs, so making sure they don’t even get there is motivating. This is also a chance for Atlanta to prove definitively that they are the new top dogs in MLS.
So tomorrow’s match is a big litmus test for Toronto FC. If they can pass it, and get a result, the playoffs truly are within reach for the first time in 2018.