While The Bard explored far less impactful queries, such as 'To be, or not to be?', The Gaffer is left pondering soccer's existential crisis when the season is winding down: 'To rest, or not to rest?'
This past Saturday, with a 4-2 win over New York Red Bulls, Toronto FC clinched home-field advantage throughout the march to the MLS Cup final. With the Supporters' Shield won, the final two games for Toronto will not have any impact on standings.
So we have to ask: how should Greg Vanney approach them?
At first glance, the answer screams: rest! rest! rest! Two of Toronto's three designated players have picked up some level of injury of late, and after a few weeks off Jozy Altidore was back but Sebastian Giovinco remains on the trainers’ table rather than the pitch. Add in an illness for Victor Vazquez and a huge minutes count for Michael Bradley, and it would make sense to get some rest for your four most important players.
While I agree, there is one elephant in the room (or on the pitch) that hasn't gotten as much talk as it did a few weeks prior... the all-time points record. A few weeks back, Kurtis Larson of the Sun argued in this piece that winning the MLS Cup was important, but losing in the final wouldn't diminish the historic season that Toronto FC was en route to completing. The only problem was that was before Toronto lost two in a row, when setting the all-time record seemed more of an inevitability then it does today.
For Toronto to break the LA Galaxy record of 68 points, they would need at least one win and one draw in their final two games to get to 69 points and go down in the MLS record books as the team with the most points in a single season.
If we are to believe the murmur from the players, this record is something that they are acutely aware of and desire to achieve. Kurtis is right when he implies that while the MLS Cup is awarded every year, there is only ever one singular team that holds the record for the most points. It makes an otherwise great season a historic season.
Add in the quest for the treble, and this Toronto team could make waves that no previous MLS team, last year's TFC squad included, ever could.
So what to do? Rest or record?
I offer this as a solution to Mr. Vanney: go for the win at home against Montreal. It's the final home game of the season, it's a derby, it's against your biggest rival, the Shield will be awarded and emotions will be high. Trot out your best XI, go for gusto with the three points and at the very least, tie the record set by LA.
Then the following week in Atlanta, rest as many of your stars as you can. It's on the road, and even a road point seals the deal for the record as long as the Impact are beaten. Atlanta hasn't rotated much of their squad over the previous month; this may be a game that they are also looking to rest some players, as they have playoff goals squarely in sight and almost all but secured.
This very well may be a B-squad face-off. With an opportunity for Benoit Cheyrou and Nick Hagglund to get some fitness minutes in, I feel confident that we can let some of the more overworked players rest while still fielding a competitive squad. Add in that for all it's advancements and brand spanking new amenities, Atlanta United still play on synthetic turf. That right there is an automatic no-no for your DPs and Vazquez in a game that only offers historic gratification. No risk of injury needed for that.
For my liking, I would like to see Irwin in goal, a back line of Hagglund, Hernandez and Zavaleta. With a midfield of Cheyrou, Osorio, Cooper, Hasler and Alseth. Up front the tandem of Ricketts and Hamilton should get the nod in the A.
With this strategy of treating Montreal as a meaningful game, you also let your players get some time in to shake some rust off, as otherwise Toronto has a first-round bye and it would be several weeks before the players would see meaningful action since their last game this past weekend.
Let them go for the record, but don't go for broke in getting it.
To paraphrase another Bard quote, records were meant to be broken, but not at the expense of breaking your designated players.*
*That may not be an actual Shakespeare quote. Don’t quote me on this.