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Toronto FC’s meeting with the New York Red Bulls important for more than just the Supporters’ Shield

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Momentum is of utmost importance this time of year as we approach MLS’ Decision Day.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Toronto FC David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

It goes without saying that Decision Day 2020 will be a big one for Toronto FC. The nature of the day is that attentions will be divided, but given this year’s Supporters’ Shield comes down to Philadelphia and Toronto there will be a lot of eyes on the Reds on Sunday.

By now just about everyone reading this should know the scenario. A win and a Philadelphia draw or loss, or a Toronto FC tie and a Philadelphia loss, hands the Reds the shield. Philly has the tiebreaker, with a significantly better goal difference.

The Union host the New England Revolution at Subaru Park, where they have not lost all season. Toronto FC, meanwhile, travel to Red Bull Arena. While the Red Bulls were playing at Giants Field at the time, the last time the two sides met on the final day of the season, way back in 2009, didn’t exactly go so well. With that being said, the Reds did also secure their only Supporters’ Shield title against the Red Bulls, so history might cancel itself out here.

But while giving themselves a chance to lift their second shield will be top priority on Sunday, it is far from the only reason the game is crucial for the Reds.

After all, there is a more important trophy that awaits and teams who lift it are almost always in a good run of form when they do. Since 2007, the start of the Designated Player era, every MLS Cup winning team has had a better points per game over their last ten games compared to the first two-thirds of the season. This would indicate — to use Greg Vanney speak — they become the best version of themselves just in time for the playoffs. It also demonstrates the importance of positive momentum this time of year.

Statistical trends are probably a little bit different in a pandemic shortened season where Toronto FC played several different phases and only a handful of actual home games. However, it is worth noting that a win on Sunday would make Toronto FC’s points per game better over their last 10 games of the season than the 13 previous. To put it a little more simply, if TFC don’t win on Sunday they will have just one win in their final four games of the season, which isn’t much to build off of going into the postseason.

Momentum is one important factor, but continuity is another and part of that recent dip in form has been a lack of it within their roster. Injuries to key players like Marky Delgado, Jonathan Osorio, Jozy Altidore, Ayo Akinola, Pablo Piatti and Chris Mavinga among others has forced Vanney into some experimental lineups.

Akinola and Mavinga were back this past weekend and played a big part in Toronto FC’s win over Inter Miami. Osorio, and maybe even Altidore, could be back on Sunday and the quicker those players are integrated back into the side the better. Against New York they will have one more opportunity before elimination games to get a few guys back into the side.

The opponent is also important, and while the Red Bulls haven’t exactly had a banner season, they still are the kind of team that has given Toronto trouble all season. Historically, they have been the club known most in MLS for their pressing style of soccer. While it hasn’t been their MO all year, the Red Bulls have largely gone back to high pressure style of late.

This will be one last chance for Toronto to play against the press before they likely meet one in the playoffs. This experience could come in handy, especially if they face the Union, who pressed them off the park the last time the two sides met just a couple of weeks ago.

All in all, it will be the Shield race that steals the headlines, and rightfully so, on Sunday. But if Toronto FC can pick up a win, regardless of what happens in Philadelphia, it could prove critical for their success going forward.