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Tosaint Ricketts heating up just when Toronto FC need him most

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Having the Canadian confident going into the playoffs is crucial.

MLS: Montreal Impact at Toronto FC John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

While the rest of his teammates are trying to forget a rough week, Tosaint Ricketts might not be as quick to put it behind him. In three games, spread out over just seven days, Ricketts started all three and scored four times.

The reason Toronto FC’s week didn’t quite go to plan, resulting in their first back-to-back losses of the season, was also the reason Ricketts was given his first start since late May. Injuries kept Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore (among others) out of the Toronto lineup, opening the door for players like Ricketts to get a rare 90 minutes.

Ricketts, just like his team, started the seven-day stretch on a high. He scored a brace in a 4-0 dismantling of the LA Galaxy away from home. His other two goals weren’t quite as meaningful, coming with his team already down 5-1 to Montreal.

But all of the goals mattered in terms of giving the Canadian a well-timed confidence boost. With the MLS playoffs now just around the corner, Ricketts becomes an important weapon that Toronto needs in their arsenal.

The 2017 season didn’t exactly start well for Ricketts, who had made a great first impression on Toronto FC fans after joining the club for the second half of 2016. Through his first nine appearances of the season, he was unable to find the back of the net and otherwise didn’t look the dangerous striker he had been the season before.

When he did finally score, on May 10 against Columbus Crew, it opened the floodgates. He scored twice that day to secure a come-from-behind victory at Mapfre Stadium. Three days later, he tapped home the winner against Minnesota United and looked to have done the same in the club’s next match against the New York Red Bulls only to be controversially ruled offside.

Perhaps that run of form would have continued, but Ricketts was diagnosed with a hamstring strain in early June. He then joined the Canadian men’s national team for the Gold Cup, meaning he didn’t appear again for Toronto FC until July 22.

Since coming back he has appeared only sparingly, with only 103 minutes total for the club over the entire summer. But afforded a run of starts this week, Ricketts has once again been scoring at an impressive rate.

In fact, combining this season and last, Ricketts has been the best per 90 minutes goalscorer on Toronto FC. His 0.68 goals per 90 over the 2016 and 2017 regular season is marginally better than the 0.67 Sebastian Giovinco has put up.

After his slow start, Ricketts has been scoring at the exact same rate he did last season. But how he has been scoring those goals has been noticeably different, and makes him an even more important asset.

Whereas in 2016 all five goals Ricketts scored (including his two playoff goals) were with his feet, 2017 has seen him become far more of an aerial threat. Four of his seven goals this season have been scored with his head. He also wins 1.7 aerial duels per game according to WhoScored, second only to Nick Hagglund on the team.

This gives him an attribute different from Toronto’s other striking options. While Altidore is more than capable in the air, he prefers to have the ball played into his feet. It goes without saying that the aerial game is not where Giovinco excels.

Late in games, when Toronto need goals, it helps to have a player who can get on the end of a ball into the box since opponents are likely to crowd that area.

That is one of the many reasons why Ricketts is so important to Toronto’s playoff run, just as he was last season. Having an in-form player who can come off the bench late in games and give the team a different option offensively makes all the difference.

It certainly did last season against New York City in the first leg of the conference finals. Forgotten in the fact that Toronto won the tie 7-0 on aggregate is how close they were to leaving BMO Field tied 0-0.

Toronto needed until the 80th minute to finally break down NYCFC, with Ricketts playing a part in Jozy Altidore’s opener. Then it was Ricketts himself who bundled the ball over the line in injury time to give Toronto an all-important second goal.

If Toronto is only up one going into that second leg, New York doesn't have to open themselves up nearly as much. The rest is history, as Toronto exposed the Pigeons in a 5-0 victory.

That is the kind of impact that Toronto FC will again need from Ricketts this year, and it wouldn’t have helped matters much if May was when he scored his last league goal. So if there is any consolation to the club’s worst week of the season, it is that they sharpened an important prong in their attack in the process.