Toronto and DC finished with identical records over the 34-match regular season, with the Reds earning home field advantage through goal differential tie-breaker on the final day of the regular season. But the path that the clubs took to get to their identical records couldn’t have been more different.
A TALE OF TWO SUMMERS
The last time these two clubs met was at the end of June, with both sides settling for a 1-1 draw in Washington. At that point, DC seemed to have things fairly well in hand in the Eastern Conference table, while Toronto was struggling to find their footing with a squad that was in much need of it’s Gold Cup internationals and summer transfer window additions.
Below, I look at the path’s the teams have taken since that match at Audi Field.
TFC had just 6 wins in their first 20 matches, allowing 1.8 goals per game in all competitions. But since they last met DC, they’ve lost only 4 of their next 20, and their goals against is a much more manageable 1.1 per match.
Conversely, DC lost only five of their first 21 matches, but have only won a handful since that last match vs. TFC, and their goals differential has inverted from a positive one to a negative.
AN UNBROKEN RUN
Toronto is currently on a much-heralded 10-match unbeaten run in league play.
If they manage to dispatch the visitors tomorrow, it will be only their second 11-match streak within MLS play (including playoffs). The only other comparable run of form came back in their championship season of 2017.
There has been much made about Wayne Rooney’s decision to leave DC at the end of this campaign to return to England, and the affect that this may have had on his team’s second half slump.
TFC fans will hope that Wazza doesn’t have one more moment of magic to display as he finishes up his short but dominant MLS career.
In just three matches against Toronto FC, Rooney has managed to become only the fifth player to score both a PK and FK against the Reds.
The free kick strike last season was in his first match vs. Toronto, and the it was the first the Reds had conceded in over two years of MLS play.
CAN’T CHANGE YOUR SPOTS
Saturday will be the 36th time that Toronto has entered a competitive match where a penalty shootout looms as a possibility. Only four of the first 35 have gone the way of nervy spotters.
It’s no secret to anyone who follows the team (or remembers last month) that Toronto doesn’t have the greatest record with penalty kicks — both within the match, and as a tiebreaker.
I went back and combined the results of the four shootouts with penalty kicks in play.
Without me digging too deep into the weeds for you, I would propose that the 65.1% success rate by TFC takers is probably as frustrating as the 14.4% success rate by its keepers.
So far, Alejandro Pozuelo and Quentin Westberg are far better than the curve, which could give some pause for optimism, but I think everyone involved would prefer the match be settled whilst the clock is still ticking.
NOT KEEPING THE KEEPER
Toronto FC also find themselves in the odd situation of heading into their fourth playoff run in five seasons with their fourth different first-choice keeper. Chris Konopka earned the start in 2015 ahead of Joe Bendik, and Alex Bono and Clint Irwin switched spots in the two Cup Final runs of 2016-17.
Westberg will become the fourth Red to tend the woodwork in playoff action.
With kickoff set for 6 p.m. EST on Saturday — in what could be Rooney’s final match in MLS — this one is shaping up to be a good one. If there are questions in regards to any TFC/CPL numbers you have interest in, please post them in our comments section below and I will be happy to provide an answer.