Balance. It is something that Toronto FC have been missing all season, be it in their rosters, their attack and defence, or how they have handled the multiple competitions in which they have played.
Coach Greg Vanney has struggled with that balance all year. His side has done well in cup competitions, but as a result the league season has evidently taken a hit. That doesn’t all fall on him; a lot of the injuries have been beyond his control and the mandate to prioritize the Concacaf Champions League came from the top down.
Now, with that regular season very much on the ropes, he has one last balancing act to try to get right with tomorrow’s Campeones Cup match against Tigres. It doesn’t come at a very good time for Toronto FC, either, which means more difficult decisions for Vanney.
“There’s still a trophy on the line, we still want to go for it,” said Vanney after Saturday’s win over the LA Galaxy. “[But] we will do so with the understanding that we still have an important game on Saturday as well.”
Vanney admitted that he didn’t think the club’s playoff position would be this precarious at this point in the season back when the game was originally announced. Stats website FiveThirtyEight currently has Toronto FC at a 4% chance to make the playoffs, which did not improve by even one percentile after Saturday’s win.
It is basically a lost cause at this point, but not enough so that a coach can admit that publicly nor enough to pack it in just yet. That makes it difficult to justify going all in on yet another cup competition with a crucial game at Red Bull Arena this weekend.
Ticket sales for the game haven’t been great, and a cursory glance at social media will tell you that a lot of fans are not overtly invested. That being said, it doesn’t mean this competition can’t turn into something great in the future.
“This is a cup where this is the first year so people don’t really know what to make of it,” said Vanney. “But I think this is a cup that’s going to become important over the years. I think that’s the way everyone would like to see it go.”
Winning this trophy was one of Toronto FC’s internal goals before the season, although as mentioned already, some of the circumstances have definitely shifted. Vanney mentioned after the Galaxy match that he does intend to rotate his roster for this one after he takes stock of his players’ health situation.
There is, however, incentive for their players to want to both compete in, and win, this match. The MLS CBA dictates that Toronto FC players who appear in the match will each get a share of a $100,000 bonus. That rises to $150,000 should they win the match.
That could make any squad rotation plays from Vanney a little bit more difficult, as players will certainly want to appear in this match. Toronto FC, for their part, have named a strong roster of available players for this competition.
Vanney has aired on the side of caution of late when it comes to player selection, something that has consistently been clear with the squads Toronto has played on the road. He has seen an absurd amount of his players go down to injury during the team’s hectic schedule and seems intent on stopping the bleeding.
The further he goes down his depth chart, however, the further Vanney risks what could be an ugly loss in this match. Tigres will be coming in looking to avenge their loss from earlier in the season, and that as a side now a lot more ready to respect TFC as an opponent.
Depth in Liga MX remains well ahead of MLS, so even if they don’t play some of their top players — all of whom are also available and on their roster for this competition — they could do plenty of damage.
Another advantage that Toronto FC had earlier in the year, the weather, will no longer be on their side. In that regard the visitors can expect a comfortable night at BMO Field.
It all adds up to another tough decision for Vanney. Unless his side can pick up both the cup and a win on the weekend at Red Bull Arena — a venue that hasn’t been kind to Toronto over the year — he is likely to take criticism for that decision either way. It will be interesting to see how he deals with this situation.