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Strong start key for Toronto FC with tough summer ahead

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The Reds must make use of a light early schedule, with their most challenging games coming during the Gold Cup in July.

MLS: Toronto FC vs Chicago Fire Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

With no BMO Field renovations this winter, Toronto FC’s schedule to open the 2017 season is fairly normal. That’s a nice break from the past two years, where the Reds haven’t seen home field until early May, saddled with a seven-game road trip in both seasons.

TFC do start on the road at Real Salt Lake this weekend, but the home opener follows later this month against Sporting KC.

With all that in mind, Toronto’s early-season schedule means they need to hit the ground running this year. Putting up points in the first few months of the season, particularly while the squad is healthy, could make or break their position in the standings come October.

Looking at TFC’s 2017 calendar, the month of July sticks out like a sore thumb as a potential disaster waiting to happen. Not only do the Reds play FC Dallas, the Colorado Rapids and New York City FC (twice), but they’ll also be losing as many as seven first-team players to the CONCACAF Gold Cup that month.

Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio, Tosaint Ricketts, Jordan Hamilton, Jay Chapman, and Armando Cooper are all likely to play for the USA, Canada, and Panama at the Gold Cup. There’s also the chance that Eriq Zavaleta joins El Salvador, further hurting Toronto’s backline. The tournament runs from July 7–26.

LOOK AT IT! LOOK AT IT!!

To a TFC fan, that month is rightfully terrifying. Toronto will be praying that Sebastian Giovinco goes into July on top form, because he’ll be pretty much relied upon for offence against some of the best teams in the league.

July is far and away the hardest month for TFC, with opponents that averaged 53.4 points last season. That’s why padding out their position in the Eastern Conference is so important in the first few months this year.

The Reds have some very winnable games in March and April, clashing with the likes of the Philadelphia Union, Chicago Fire and Houston Dynamo. Actually, April looks likely to be the easiest month of the year, with three opponents averaging 33.7 points in 2016 on the calendar as well as the enigmatic Atlanta United early in their first MLS campaign.

Much better.

Toronto won’t really see a true known contender until May 6, when they head to Seattle for an MLS Cup rematch with the Sounders. Over the nine games until then, they’ll be playing opponents with an average 2016 point total of 39.5 (not counting Atlanta, of course), only three of which made the playoffs a year ago.

So, the ball is truly in TFC’s court with regards to how they come out of the gate. Preseason had its ups and downs (they’ll want to leave that Chicago game last weekend behind them quickly), and the 12-week offseason could leave them with a bit of an MLS Cup hangover. Still, Greg Vanney seems to be settling on his optimal lineup, and most of this group has had plenty of time to mesh.

Really, TFC have no excuse for not starting the season well. The team seems to be hinting that they fancy a run at the Supporters’ Shield this year, and fair play to them for it. That said, work toward such a lofty goal needs to start immediately. The Reds cannot afford to be far off the top of the Eastern Conference by the summer.