Not. Dead. Yet. That’s the caption Jozy Altidore put on a picture of himself and Michael Bradley, celebrating last weekend’s 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire, in an Instagram story this week.
It’s a feeling that has been reflected a little bit throughout Toronto FC circles after the club’s first three-game winning streak of the season. It’s also true, to some degree. As poor as Toronto FC have been, the Eastern Conference playoff race is still as wide open as it has ever been.
But as Toronto continue to get closer and closer to the end of the season, while subsequently making no real progress towards the sixth spot in the East, their situation gets more dire by the matchday. Statistics website Five Thirty Eight currently has them at a 31% chance to make the playoffs this year.
Digging into the numbers, even that might be generous. Toronto will likely need the equivalent points of nine wins from their final 14 games just to be in the postseason mix. This assumes that the playoff line stays at its current points-per-game pace, which is 45.
On the inverse, if Toronto FC supporters are looking for a “doomsday clock” of sorts, the Reds can only afford to drop 16 points from their remaining 14 games at the very most. It isn’t impossible, but they’ll have to go from the 0.95 points-per-game they have put up so far this season to the 1.9 they will likely need to make the playoffs.
Basically they will have to play like 2017 Toronto FC, a side they haven’t truly resembled since the Champions League final.
There are a few things, however, that remain positives for Toronto FC in their quest to make a fourth straight postseason. The first of which is how quickly their rival Montreal Impact have been able to turn around their season. It is proof that stringing a couple wins together can still rocket a team up the standings and back into the playoff driver’s seat.
The other is the fall of the New England Revolution, who once looked closer to being in the Eastern Conference top group than those fighting for a playoff spot. Their fall, which was somewhat predictable looking at their underlying numbers, has meant two playoff spots have opened up for Toronto instead of the one originally thought to be available.
Toronto play New England at home, and a home and away against the Montreal Impact before the season is over. They also play Chicago at home and D.C. United away. Almost all of those games now become must wins, but also give Toronto a chance to do some damage to direct playoff competitors.
Regardless of who they play at BMO Field, however, it is their performance on home field that will ultimately make or break this late push. Toronto FC have been dreadful at home this season, only marginally better than the last time they were this bad in 2013. It’s also the biggest difference in form between this year and last.
The 2016 MLS Cup-winning Seattle Sounders, who themselves were able to climb back into the playoffs after winning only six games before August, completed their second half run on the back of home results. From the start of August until the end of the 2016 regular season, Seattle only dropped 12 points. Only two of those dropped points came at CenturyLink field.
The Reds have eight remaining home games this season. Even if they can match that Sounders team and win all but one of those games, drawing the other, they will still need at least three results from their remaining six road games. During this stretch they have a home and away set with table-topping Atlanta, an away date at Red Bull Arena, as well as hosting New York City FC and both LA teams.
Keep in mind this is still the most optimistic of projections. The Reds could well do all that and still miss the playoffs if a couple of other teams go on runs.
On top of all of this, Toronto now plays in the two-legged Canadian Championship final on August 8th and 15th against the Vancouver Whitecaps. The first leg at BC Place comes in the middle of a trip to Atlanta and a home date against NYCFC. So August for Toronto might end up feeling a little bit like they are back in the Champions League.
Altidore is right, Toronto FC aren’t dead yet. Things could be a lot worse if the rest of the Eastern Conference had its act together. But if the Reds want to make the playoffs for the fourth straight season, they will need a miracle.