The international break felt long, with a two-week lay-off after Toronto FC’s win in Montreal. Thankfully, the wait is over as the Reds will be back in action this weekend, taking on the San Jose Earthquakes at home.
TFC have a six-point lead on New York City FC in the Supporters’ Shield race after the Pigeons beat Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday. With just seven games left, the Reds are 12 points back of the 1998 LA Galaxy’s single-season record. A win against San Jose would certainly help the cause, especially with some tough contests coming up, like an away date at New England.
A win would also clinch a playoff spot for Toronto, although that’ll likely come with far less fanfare than it has the past two years. San Jose will be hoping to boost their own playoff push, as they currently sit one point behind FC Dallas for sixth in the Western Conference.
The Reds should be well rested and mostly healthy for this one, so expect an effectively full-strength team.
Clint Irwin’s name was floating around on Twitter this week: he dislocated his finger during the international break but will be available for Saturday’s game. I wonder if Greg Vanney brought that up unprompted or not. If he’s stressing that Irwin is able to be involved in this game, does that mean he’s going to be?
Bono is still the de facto No. 1 keeper here, but it probably wouldn’t hurt to give Irwin a game.
Chris Mavinga, Drew Moor, Eriq Zavaleta
This trio has been fantastic for weeks now. It’s not going anywhere for the foreseeable future — frankly, even if Nick Hagglund returns before the playoffs, he might not get back into the lineup regularly until next season.
Mavinga is better and better each game, and makes up for pretty much every mistake anybody makes with a game-saving tackle. He also provides a decent bit of pace and ball movement in attack, which helps out Michael Bradley a ton.
Justin Morrow, Victor Vazquez, Michael Bradley, Marky Delgado, Steven Beitashour
I’ve been calling for a Beita start for the past couple games since he made his return to the lineup. Nicolas Hasler has been excellent in his recent starts at right wing-back, and some have argued he’s more deserving of the spot than Beitashour at the moment. Nonetheless, we can’t really compare them on form unless Beita gets a start.
It’s time for TFC’s playoff XI to settle into a routine. With a full-strength lineup, that’s what this game should be — routine. This is the kind of fixture where the Reds can work on meshing their midfield unit. These five are likely to be the ones to start any elimination game, barring injury.
Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore
My new favourite debate among TFC fans is whether they’d rather be awarded a free-kick on the edge of the box or a penalty if Seba’s on the pitch. It’s kind of funny that Giovinco is so good at curling it over a wall that you almost feel he’s more dangerous from 25 yards out than 12 — I mean, at least on a penalty you have a decent idea which way he’s going.
Joking aside, Giovinco’s been on a tear recently. I would like to see him smash in a few more goals from open play, but that’s getting nitpicky. Altidore, as well, picked up his form in the last couple weeks, scoring against Montreal and against Philadelphia earlier that week. This is around the time of year when he burst into beast mode in 2016. A repeat of that kind of form would go a long way toward locking up the Shield.