Six points with a game in hand. Despite all the disappointing results for Toronto FC this season, that’s still all that is separating them from the sixth and final playoff spot in the MLS Eastern Conference.
Earlier in the year, this was a sign of hope, that despite a Champions League-effected slow start to the season, the Reds still had plenty of time to bridge a gap that was not overly big. But as the weeks continue to tick by, and the gap doesn’t close, it has started to feel like a missed opportunity.
There have been so many from Toronto FC this season: allowing Chicago and Columbus to come from behind after establishing multi-goal leads, drawing 4-4 with wooden spoon contending D.C. United at home, a 2-1 home loss to a heavily battered Seattle Sounders, even those two away dates against Houston and Colorado sacrificed earlier in the season.
Picking up a win in even one of those games puts Toronto in a much better position. But as much as the weak playoff chase group around them continues to provide plenty of opportunities to get back into things, Toronto can’t seem to make any upward progress.
The chart below shows Toronto FC’s point total relative to that of the sixth highest point total (playoff cut-off) sorted by matches played. So essentially, Toronto FC has 15 points after 15 games and the sixth-highest point total an Eastern Conference team had after 15 games were 19 points.
At this point, it is getting harder and harder to see it happening. Somehow the team came out of what was touted as a crucial World Cup break and ended up looking even more tired in a 2-1 away loss to NYCFC. But if Toronto FC still wants to get back in the playoffs, the month of July is their best opportunity.
Starting tomorrow against the New York Red Bulls, Toronto FC plays eight games in all competitions this month. Three of their six MLS matches come against teams in direct competition with them for that final playoff spot: away to Orlando City on July 14 and a home-and-home with the Chicago Fire on July 21 and 28.
As mentioned already, Toronto FC is still only six points out of the playoffs, but for the four or five teams they are fighting with for that final playoff spot that gap is even smaller or non-existent. Other than a home date at the end of August against the Montreal Impact, this is the only chance Toronto will have to do first-hand damage to their direct competitors.
This sort of fixture congestion likely isn’t being greeted with open arms, especially given the travel as they play five away dates this month. But it does give Toronto an opportunity to build some momentum, something they haven’t done all season. They still haven’t won back-to-back games yet this season. Here’s a quick look at the full July schedule:
A couple of positive results in a row, and all of the sudden the old TFC confidence could come back. By all metrics, Toronto FC should still be a far better team. They have scored 9.5 goals less than their expected output this season, the biggest negative gulf in the league. They also have the second-lowest (.944) PDO in MLS, a stat that measures how far above, or in Toronto’s case below, a team is from the typical sum of shooting and save percentage. The chances are being created, the club just needs to be a bit sharper in front of goal.
This month will also give Toronto the added motivation of the Voyageurs Cup. It is no secret that no matter what else happens this season, TFC is intent on getting back to the CONCACAF Champions League. This could give the team a rallying point that they seemingly haven’t had since that fateful penalty loss to Chivas in this year’s CCL final.
Finally, it will give them a chance to spend some time on the road. From a results perspective, this could be difficult, but it is no secret that TFC could use a chance to get on the same page, and spending more time together is certainly an opportunity to do that.
So by the end of this month, we will know, probably definitively, whether or not Toronto FC can salvage this season. It’s now probably more unlikely than it is likely, but it remains possible. That might not be the case by August.