Kick Off: TFC fight for Champions League survival tonight

Kick Off - Paul Mariner, Toronto FC

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Redemption.

That's what Toronto FC are hoping to find in the CONCACAF Champions League tonight in a make-or-break match against CD Águila (10 pm ET, Sportsnet One in Canada, Fox Soccer in US). Their CCL lives are in the balance – TFC must win in El Salvador to stay alive and score plenty of goals.

Goal difference would only come into play if Toronto can follow up a win in El Salvador with a win at Group 1 leaders Santos Laguna, and even TFC manager Paul Mariner calls it a "tall order" for the Reds to make the quarterfinals.

To make matters worse, Toronto will be without a number of key players, including their three Designated Players, their top two goalkeepers and perhaps defender Richard Eckersley, who was forced off against LA at the weekend during a 4-2 loss TSN’s Luke Wileman said illustrated the vast gap between TFC and MLS’ elite.

Speaking of the league’s top tier, check out this comprehensive breakdown of the remaining schedules for MLS’ playoff contenders as well as also-rans. Two Eastern Conference bubble teams have fairly easy routes to the playoffs, while San Jose’s road to the Supporters’ Shield looks fairly straightforward.

So straightforward in fact that NBC ProSoccerTalk’s Steve Davis says they have it all but locked up at this point. To that point, last year’s winners have essentially admitted they have no chance of catching MLS’ top side in the race for Western Conference supremacy.

The East, however, remains wide open as four teams fall within five points of each other at the top of the table, including the New York Red Bulls. Big Apple Soccer’s Michael Lewis has some advice for NYRB manager Hans Backe: Shoot for the playoffs rather than clinging to dreams of finishing atop the conference.

Columbus would be more than happy with a playoff berth of any kind. One man who will surely play a huge role should they manage to sneak into the field of 10 is goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum, who has enjoyed a standout year in his first full season as a starter. Not bad for a guy who once played for “the worst club soccer team in Kansas City.”

While the Crew find themselves on the outside looking in for now, the Whitecaps are at least in the playoff field – for now at least – after a dreadful stretch of results. Find out why Whitecaps manager Martin Rennie may have made a mistake moving Alain Rochat to the midfield against Colorado. On the flip side, could Kenny Miller be starting to find his form?

While Toronto continue to struggle and Vancouver seemingly play their way out of the playoffs, the Montreal Impact are finishing the 2012 feeling good about themselves. A run to the postseason may have been a bit too much to ask for from the expansion side, but one columnist says this season was still a rousing success.

Part of Montreal’s success is based on the recent surge in attendance at Stade Saputo. That goes along with a more general trend in MLS gate numbers: The league hit the five million mark for attendance last weekend with a 18,531 average per game.

D.C. United fans hope they’ll be contributing to those numbers in a new stadium sometime in the near future, perhaps at the long-rumored location in Buzzard Point. The club is moving forward slowly but progress is certainly being made, according to owner Jason Levien.

“What I’ve sensed – and I understand it better now than when we first took over – is that the political leaders are behind us now,” Levien told the Washington Examiner.

One stadium nobody needs to worry about filling is Livestrong Sporting Park. US Soccer announced on Monday that the Oct. 16 World Cup Qualifier against Guatemala is already sold out.

Speaking of the US, check out this interview with Clint Dempsey in which he discusses why a mooted Liverpool move broke down and the current state of the Nats under Jurgen Klinsmann. (VIDEO)

Meanwhile, Klinsmann will surely he happy to see Michael Bradley has returned to training with Roma following a thigh knock that sidelined him for nearly a month, including the US’ most recent qualifying matches.

Elsewhere in Europe, one former MLS star is atop the scorer’s charts in Russia, and a former MLS teammate of Robbie Rogers is joining the on-loan Leeds forward at Stevenage.

Finally, find out which Arsenal star is using a desire to follow in Thierry Henry’s footsteps to his benefit in contract talks with the club?

MLSsoccer.com Musts

 


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