TORONTO, Canada—Toronto FC had nary taken a wrong step through the first half of their MLS Canadian Series journey — nine points through three matches.
In the run-up to their fourth match, a home fixture against the Montreal Impact, some (myself included) were transfixed by the fact that TFC could not clinch a Voyageurs Cup Final berth with a win. Head-to-head was not the first tie-breaker in this makeshift “competition”, and therefore, two out of three from Vancouver and two out of three from Montreal wouldn’t be enough to seal the deal.
Oh, what I would give to be back in those younger, more innocent days!
Heading into Tuesday’s match, Toronto FC hadn’t lost a regular season game in 395 days. They were a scant 90 minutes away from matching the all-time league record with 19 straight unbeaten. They had doubled their club record for consecutive clean sheets (from two to four). And all that was left was to bellyache about why the tiebreaker wouldn’t allow us to shutter the tournament after the fifth of nine matches.
Then. Stuff. Happened.
Quentin Westberg had a rare mis-Q (no, dear reader, I won’t apologize to you) which put the Reds behind on the scoreboard in league play for the first time since last Autumn.
Then followed a two-act play in Montreal’s penalty area.
First, Jozy Altidore perhaps was guilty of some overacting, but it’s always important to make your gestures grand, so that they can be seen in the balcony. His flailing arms did catch the eyes of the ‘Whistled One’, and a penalty ensued.
Alejandro Pozuelo, the owner of the most prolific TFC record from the spot stepped forward. The surprise ending he had cooked up for us was unfortunately spoiled when Pablo Piatti jumped his cue, and left Toronto baffled as the halftime curtain fell.
So where does this leave us?
Toronto have two matches to go, and need four points to breath easy. And not just any four points. They need them in a specific order. Let’s dig deep.
First, let’s assume that Montreal can and will have their way with Vancouver in Match #8 and Match #9.
Think of it as the 2009 Miracle in Montreal, but reversed. That year, Vancouver had one hand on the Voyageurs Cup but needed Montreal (in a dead-rubber match) to stand up to Toronto. TFC scored SIX that day and lifted their first silverware.
So, if this gets to the point where Montreal need to beat an already eliminated Vancouver twice and have a fairly modest goal differential to overcome, let’s just put them on that task.
So how can it be avoided? If they lose to Vancouver, then they’ve given up any control that they might’ve once had.
Even if they win their last match against Montreal (thus earning 2 of 3 from each club), Montreal can still beat them with a rather modest goal total in Matches 8&9.
So it is imperative for Toronto to take at least a point from Vancouver. But the point they take against Vancouver is more of a tiebreaker to validate the win they require in Montreal.
Even a pair of draws leaves the door wide open for Montreal.
The first clinching scenario would be a draw against Vancouver and a win against Montreal
So lets give Toronto that win against Vancouver. Great. What’s left vs. Montreal? A loss won’t be nearly good enough.
But neither will a draw! Below is the “Four Points The Wrong Way” option I mentioned earlier. If Toronto beats Vancouver and draws Montreal, those 13 points are still beatable with victories for Montreal in Match 8 and 9, assuming they get the goals for proper.
Of the NINE possible outcomes of Toronto’s next 2 matches, only DRAW-WIN and WIN-WIN see them clinch.
Toronto would be best to rack up as many goals against Vancouver as possible, to protect against a Montreal draw. Easier said than done, of course.
How do you see it playing out? Let me know!