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Toronto FC - The Playoff Picture

“Playoffs? Don’t talk about Playoffs – you kidding me?  Playoffs?” - Thank you, once again, Jim Mora.

Yes. That’s right. Michael Bradley is smiling. Things are good in TFC land - but good enough to make the playoffs?
Sean Pollock - Waking the Red

Insigne and Bernardeschi made their debuts on Saturday against Charlotte, and, well, it was spectacular. I could insert a whole bunch of hyperboles, but I won’t. Quite simply, the match was awe-inspiring. Tomas Karageorgos did an excellent job of recapping the match here: Recap: Toronto FC records dominant victory in first meeting against Charlotte FC

One of the effects of this performance, combined with the hype around the new signings, is a renewed interest in Toronto Football Club in the GTA. Also, TFC fandom is left to ponder what will happen with the team’s season with 12 league games left. Are the playoffs a realistic possibility?

The Eastern Conference Table

Here are the Eastern Conference standings as of Sunday evening.

Toronto FC is currently on 22 points after 22 matches. That’s 1 point per game. That record is good enough for 13th place. Not great. However, there are still 12 games left in the season for TFC. What will it take to make the playoffs?

FC Cincinnati currently occupies 7th place in the Eastern Conference, with 28 points from 22 matches. That equals 1.27 points per game. If this number is extrapolated over 34 games, FC Cincinnati would hypothetically finish the season with 43 points (rounded down).

For TFC to make the playoffs, they would need to finish the season with 44 points (I say 44 points because a tie in points would go to goal differential, which is not in TFC’s favour at the moment). Some quick math means that TFC would need to earn 22 points from 12 matches, which means 1.83 points per match.

That means the team needs to either have any of these records (wins-draws-losses) to clinch a playoff berth:

  • 5-7-0
  • 6-4-2
  • 7-1-4
  • 8-0-4

Is it attainable? There are some pros and cons to consider.

The Positives

Toronto plays in the Eastern Conference. Let’s be realistic – there are not too many quality teams in the East. Apart from Philly, NYCFC, and maybe Les Pieds du Mont Royal (begrudgingly so), there are not that many teams that look unbeatable. Even then, TFC inexplicably handed the Philadelphia Union their first loss in April, and almost came away with result in New York with a 5-4 goalfest. We can be thankful that TFC is done playing the New York teams.

Also, TFC has a pretty favourable schedule for the next 12 matches. They play the New England Revolution twice, Inter Miami twice, Charlotte again, and Atlanta United. Those games should all be winnable ones. The rest of the games are not out of the question, as TFC plays Portland, Orlando, LA Galaxy, and Montreal. MLS Decision Day sees Toronto travel to Philadelphia to face the Union, which might be the game that decides the playoff fate of the team.

The roster rebuild is not complete, but the lineup has been transformed significantly. For instance, there were 6 different starters in Saturday’s game since a month ago against Atlanta at home. That’s significant turnover. I think we haven’t seen the full potential of this team. Jonathan Osorio is scoring goals with his posterior. Michael Bradley is making defenders look silly and scoring striker-quality goals. Mark-Anthony Kaye is moving the ball. Criscito, Insigne, and Bernardeschi are too darn good and will only get better with more time together. If the league did not take notice before Saturday, I’m sure many teams will look at Toronto in a different light.

The Not-So-Positives

Defence is still a problem – You need to score more goals than opponents. That’s how you win matches. However, there hasn’t been a significant signing to improve defending (No offence Doneil – we’re all happy to see you back in Toronto where you belong). Toronto has recorded a total of one clean sheet in regular season play. I guess if you score four goals in a game, it’s okay to concede three.

Toronto has only five home games left this season. Being at home at Fortress BMO/the House on Lakeshore certainly has its advantages. The atmosphere on Saturday night hearkened back to the mid 2010s – Tej captured the sentiment in his article quite well Mambo Italiano (reprise). So, being on the road doesn’t make for easy matches for the TFC. Also, having to play in proverbial steam baths like Miami, Charlotte, Atlanta, and Orlando doesn’t help the playoff push either.

With the World Cup starting in November, MLS had to adopt a compressed schedule. TFC has 12 matches in the span of 71 days, meaning a game roughly every six days. While that doesn’t seem too onerous, there are stretches in the schedule where TFC is playing three matches in seven days. Squad rotation is inevitable. As the bench is not as deep as we would like, there may be some instances where Toronto FC will have to field a less-than-ideal team.

There are a number of things to consider to try to predict this team’s playoff fortunes. However, we can continue to wildly speculate about this team as we always have been doing. While nothing is certain, it will be an entertaining last 12 games of the season. Also, something to consider – if Toronto FC squeaks into the playoffs, they need to win just three games to reach MLS Cup. Perhaps we should not start planning the parade quite yet. I’m sure the players are definitely ready, every single day, to go into the office, into the laboratory, to cook up some great stuff for you guys.