The playoffs are no longer a mystery for Toronto FC fans. For the third straight year, the Reds will be heading back to the postseason, this time with higher ambitions than ever before. What will it take for our goals to be achieved? Here are three keys that will be critical to our success.
1. Stay healthy
As the regular season wound down, the question of rest lingered in the mind of Greg Vanney. The good news was that Nick Hagglund and Benoit Cheyrou returned to training, Sebastian Giovinco seemed not to have missed a beat and Jozy Altidore… well, he has simply been a beast since day one with this team.
The only question was whether or not our best players should have sat out, once the Supporters’ Shield had been clinched, until the playoffs began. I won’t go into too much detail on that - especially since this article covered this question very well - but while health was the biggest priority going into the playoffs, it was also important to stay in good form.
It appears injuries have been avoided for now and ensuring the team remains at full strength will be vital when our season is really on the line.
2. Rock-solid defensive foundation
We have all heard the old adage ‘defence wins championships’. We also know that the point of the game is to score more goals than the other team.
Toronto does not need to worry about offence. After all, we have scored the most goals in the league. We have also conceded the second-least amount of goals, which shows how capable we are defensively. It is important for us not to have any sort of defensive lapses, such as that which saw us concede nine goals over three games at the end of September.
It is also important for us to understand that the playoffs are a whole different animal. More fouls will be let go, physical play will be encouraged and frustration will build, as we experienced in the MLS Cup final against the Seattle Sounders last season. Thus, we must stay tight at the back if we are to lift the trophy for the first time ever in 2017.
Drew Moor has continued to be a stable leader, while Hagglund’s return will be a welcome one. The difference-maker could be the athleticism of Chris Mavinga, who has proven to be a fantastic addition despite a shaky start to the season. This combination appears to be our best and will be put to the test in the coming months.
3. Eyes on the prize
Ten months ago, the boys in the locker room had only one goal: to get another shot at the title… and win. Well, now is our chance.
Every game, every moment and every minute counts and cannot be taken lightly. No matter who the opponent or what the circumstances, excuses cannot be made and we need to show the determination and fight needed to win it all.
Some players will be more motivated than others - such as Altidore and Michael Bradley, who will look to refocus from their failure to make the World Cup. Other players, such as Victor Vazquez, have not experienced the MLS playoffs before but know what it takes to win a championship. There is no doubt that with the depth and quality of our squad, every player will be critical to our success. No matter what challenges are presented to us over the course of the next couple of months, the team must stick together to overcome them and remember what they are playing for.
Last year, this club made it all the way to the final and most of the roster is the same. Aside from a few key additions, such as Vazquez and Mavinga, the biggest difference we will have this time around will be experience. The memory and pain of last season is still fresh (at least for me), but all the hard work and effort to get all the way to the final is fresh as well.
This experience will be vital to our success and hopefully, Toronto FC fans can finally feel the joy of winning the MLS Cup.