You can’t win ‘em all. It’s a common sports cliché that is seldom uttered around BMO Field or the training ground.
In fact, a lot of Toronto FC’s success has come in defiance of that statement. Last year, the team intentionally went into every match looking, expecting even, to win. There were no days off, and it resulted in a points record and three trophies.
Things have changed this year, however, and the biggest competition Toronto will play in all season is already in its final stage after only nine weeks. In that time they have already played twelve matches, the majority of which have come in intense CONCACAF Champions League battles.
In this case it has become clear that “winning them all,” or at least playing their first choice roster every game, is not realistic. Instead of spreading themselves too thin, Toronto FC has done the smart thing: put all their eggs in the CONCACAF basket.
Even if it doesn’t work out, and the Reds can’t claw their way back from the 2-1 final deficit they currently face in Guadalajara, it was still worth sacrificing a few league fixtures to increase their odds at Champions League glory.
Because who knows when Toronto will be back. As good as the Reds have been of late, and as likely as they are to win the Voyageurs Cup again this year considering the form of their Canadian rivals, no MLS team has ever reached two finals. This is a Toronto team at the height of its powers, the time to go for this is now.
Today’s game against Houston Dynamo, just like last Saturday’s 2-0 loss to Colorado, will see Toronto field a side largely made up of USL players. The majority of the first team will travel to Mexico where they will begin preparations for their biggest game of the season.
It was possible this game could have been moved, like the D.C. United game earlier this month, but Houston were not interested in having that happen. Fair enough, it is a lot easier getting three points against the visiting Toronto side they will face today versus the usual product.
The Dynamo have also already seen one of their fixtures moved as a result of this competition, that being to accommodate the New York Red Bulls in their campaign which ended in a semi-final exit. They also badly need this win as, like Toronto, they only have one league win this season.
Maybe if this match, or the Colorado loss, were played at home it would be different. In front of a BMO Field crowd there would be a certain expectation to give the crowd at least some of the team’s top players. Travel would be easier too in that case.
It’s not like these are easy trips either. The Rapids’ home in Dick’s Sporting Goods Park is at altitude and is always one of the toughest away dates on the MLS schedule, while Houston possesses a challenge because of its heat and the distance.
Distance is something Toronto has covered a lot of recently. According to calculations done by Oliver Platt of the TFC Report, the team has traveled 16,362 km so far this season.
Eventually that fatigue starts to wear on players, and it clearly has on the Reds. Jozy Altidore, Chris Mavinga, Victor Vazquez, Gregory van der Wiel and Justin Morrow have all dealt with injuries, and those are just the ones we know about. There is no sense risking further injury and fatigue just for a few points in the league.
This Champions League campaign has certainly set Toronto FC back in the table. They are currently last in the Eastern Conference, and are 14 points behind the league leaders already.
But they should only worry about that once the continental competition wraps up. For now, every possible resource they can should be allocated to getting a historic win on Tuesday.