BMO Field should be a party on Sunday, as Toronto FC will lift the Supporters’ Shield in front of their fans. The visiting Montreal Impact would certainly love nothing more than to spoil that party by winning again in Toronto, as they did a few weeks ago.
The Reds are hoping to have a full ensemble for this homecoming celebration, with Sebastian Giovinco likely to make his return to the lineup. That’ll be a huge boost to the team as they look to ramp up their form in the final two games of the regular season before the playoffs.
Although TFC have clinched the Shield and Montreal are out of the playoff race, there’s always something on the line when these teams meet. Sunday will be no different.
Here are three key stories for Toronto FC this weekend.
1. Reinstate supremacy
Losing 5-3 at home to their bitterest rivals was nothing short of embarrassing for TFC. Falling again in New England gave further cause for concern, with some wondering whether the Reds had peaked too early.
Toronto killed off a lot of those doubts by beating the New York Red Bulls at home, and the international break (more on that in a second) has taken away some of the sting of defeat. That said, losing two of three league games to the Impact in the club’s best-ever season would be quite irritating, and it would give Montreal fans something to hold over TFC for years.
This weekend, the Reds need to play like a team that hasn’t clinched the league yet. Form is incredibly important in a short tournament like the MLS Cup playoffs, so Toronto could really benefit from winning on Sunday and again in Atlanta the week after.
A win against Montreal would help fix any mindset issues that might be plaguing the Reds right now. Getting Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley back to winning ways after the USMNT disaster could also help clear their heads. The last thing TFC need is DPs short on confidence for the most important part of the season.
2. Get Seba going
Giovinco hasn’t played for TFC since September 9 against the San Jose Earthquakes, when he came off at half-time. That’s about five weeks ago. The bye week gave him a little bit more time to rest up and return to 100% health, but it’s definitely time for him to get back into it.
It’s good that he hasn’t been rushed back into the lineup; TFC don’t want their best player to cramp up in the MLS Cup final again. Still, they need him fit and dangerous. A game like this, against a team he’s done well against this year, can get his confidence up.
Ideally, these last two games will give Seba and Altidore enough time to find their rhythm together. They haven’t been able to do that very often this year, but their partnership is crucial to TFC for any kind of playoff success.
3. Strike from the possession game
TFC have found a lot of success this year by playing a dominant possession game with lots of passing through Michael Bradley and Victor Vazquez. They’ve actually strayed away from that a little bit recently, though.
In the win against the Red Bulls, Toronto actually had less of the ball (just 43.5%) and a low 73% pass success rate. Both of those are well short the team averages of 51.4% and 81.3% respectively.
Against New England, the Reds actually did dominate possession, but couldn’t find the net. They did manage to score against Montreal, but often at the expense of a leaky back line.
How much of that can be attributed to squad rotation, I don’t know. All that’s certain is that TFC are at their best when they control the ball in the attacking half, and when they use Vazquez or the wing-backs to feed strikers. If either Giovinco or Altidore had been playing in New England, they might’ve found the net a few more times, but instead the Reds looked impotent in front of goal that night.
The game against NYRB was encouraging, but neither dominant nor particularly convincing. Getting back to the style that’s suited them all year will help TFC in these last two games and the playoffs.