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Toronto FC have history in sight in most important game of the season

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This is it.

MLS: Toronto FC at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The opportunity to win the Supporters’ Shield. This is a big deal. A ‘bloody big deal’.

As good as I thought Toronto FC would be this year, never did I think that this would be a possibility. My 2017 predictions had FC Dallas repeating as champions, with Toronto battling it out with the Red Bulls for top spot in the Eastern Conference. At least I got one thing right. Sort of. Toronto will battle with the Red Bulls. One game. Saturday night. Win, and you’re legendary. Lose, and… let’s not consider the consequences.

In North American sports, finishing at the top of the table is not as important as winning the prize at the end of the playoffs. But this is different. This is soccer.

As we all know, MLS has been in T.O. for just over a decade. Prior to this, we all religiously followed other leagues around the world (most of us still do). In these leagues, finishing at the top of the regular season standings is the ultimate prize. It is the true measure of team success. A feat achieved over an entire season of toil, rather than over a simple elimination tournament. It is the championship.

With respect to MLS, the claim is that finishing at the top of the table is a secondary achievement because the schedule is not balanced. Fair point. But winning MLS Cup is not a balanced affair either. Why, therefore, should it be held in higher esteem? If anything, at the very least, both prizes are of equal value. They are just as difficult to win, and are the same in terms of scarcity. The stats bear witness to this.

MLS: Toronto FC at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

In total, only 11 different MLS teams have hoisted the MLS Cup. Only 11 have won the Supporters’ Shield. Of the 11 MLS Cup winners, only five teams have won the trophy multiple times. Only five teams have won the Shield multiple times. The most MLS Cups won by a single team is five (LA Galaxy). The most Shields won by a single team is four (LA and D.C. United).

A few weeks ago everybody, including yours truly, was ready for a red, white and black Supporters’ Shield coronation. But that was before two unplanned defeats in a row, an unrelenting New York City FC outfit, and a surging Atlanta United team.

From a New York perspective, the reality is that Toronto cannot win another game, and they (NYCFC) have to win all of their remaining games in order to claim the silver plate. That is a tall order, but NYCFC is capable of winning out.They are currently playing well as a team. They have tightened up on defence since that 4-0 thrashing at BMO Field, and they have found a way to win without David Villa in the lineup. Naturally, they have also continued to win with him in the lineup.

Looking at their schedule, they face Chicago, New England and Columbus. Outside of the Chi-town game, New York are the definite favourites in their remaining matches.

Then there is Atlanta. Watching Atlanta’s home telecasts, their fans and commentators have all anointed ‘the Five Stripes’ as the chosen ones. (Sidebar: they are called ‘the Five Stripes’ because of the five stripes on their jerseys, representing community, innovation, determination, over-confidence and arrogance. (I substituted the last two.)) With four games remaining, Atlanta can reach 64 points if they win out. That would include a win over TFC on Decision Day. If the Reds fail to win another game, under this scenario Atlanta would be the champions.

MLS: New York City FC at Toronto FC Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Even if Toronto draws its two remaining home games but loses to Atlanta, the Shield could be lost.

In short, Toronto needs a win. The good thing: TFC controls its own destiny. One win, and the Shield comes north of the border for the first time ever. This is history-making stuff.

Let’s look at TFC’s remaining tilts:

The Red Bulls played on Wednesday night. They had to fight tooth and nail only to draw against D.C. United. Let’s hope that they are tired. Saturday night’s game is also at BMO Field and the team should be much closer to full strength, with only Sebastian Giovinco still held out.

The sandwich game is also the Reds’ last home game of the season, against Montreal. Montreal is the only team, to date, to have breached Fortress BMO in 2017. This game also comes after two key U.S. World Cup qualifiers. With the travel and intensity of those games so late in the year, expect both Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore to be possibilities for a rest. If not rested, they certainly will not be at their best for 90 minutes.

MLS: Toronto FC at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Furthermore, if Toronto loses against the Red Bulls, then the Impact game takes on additional importance. Knowing what they will face in Atlanta, this sandwich game could lead to added pressure. This added pressure, against an opponent who isn’t intimidated by BMO Field, with a team at less than full strength, is not a recipe for success.

The final game of the season is on turf, in hostile (putting it mildly) Atlanta territory. Being on turf, the Reds could allow Giovinco and Vazquez to rest. Certainly, Vanney’s preference will be to keep them off the fake pitch for all, or at least a good part of, the game. No one wants to risk an injury so close to the play-offs.

Of the three, tonight’s match represents the best chance to clinch.

This is the opportunity to win the Shield, rather than backing into it with a loss by both chasers. This is the opportunity to silence the ghosts of failures past. This is the opportunity to win the most important trophy in club history. This is the opportunity to inscribe the record books with Toronto red. This is our time.

All for this one moment! Come on you Reds!