TORONTO — With a chance to win Nutrilite Canadian Championship and qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League coming up on May 25 against Vancouver, the Reds might be forgiven if Sunday’s game against Colorado (7 pm ET, Watch Online) is an afterthought.
For its part, the club is saying the right things. Head coach Aron Winter insisted that he was fully focused on the Rapids game following this past Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with the Whitecaps in the first leg of the NCC final. However, there is healthy debate amongst TFC fans as to whether Toronto should prioritize winning the Voyageurs Cup over getting three points in Colorado, with opinion running about 50-50.
Although it's possible the NCC represents Toronto’s only realistic opportunity at a trophy this year — and they also don’t want to lose to Canadian rival Vancouver — a fifth year without an MLS Cup Playoffs appearance would be a far bigger disaster than losing the NCC.
Toronto need points, period. Even though a result in Colorado will be a tough task, the Reds have an obligation to do everything in their power to go out and compete.
Although fans will be disappointed if the Whitecaps get the better of Toronto on Wednesday, the president of TFC’s biggest supporters group, Boris Aguilar, says most thinking fans will understand that fixture congestion was a major factor. What they may not understand is the club deciding to throw away points by dressing a second-choice lineup.
“[Not playing a full strength lineup] is not the message this club should be making at this point of its development,” Aguilar said. “It sends the wrong message. The most important thing TFC can do is establish a winning mentality.”
Aguilar is likely on to something. Losing breeds losing and as a young team trying to find itself, it would be foolhardy to not treat every game with 100 percent urgency. Despite a tough start to the season, Toronto are just four points out of first place in the Eastern Conference. Every point counts and the club cannot afford to give up on any.
It’s Winter’s policy not to discuss his lineup until the morning of the game, so there is no way of knowing for sure what his plans are. But you can draw some conclusions from his behavior so far this season and his consistent message of “I treat every game the same” — the Reds dressed a full-strength lineup in the second leg of the NCC semifinal round despite leading the tie by three goals.
Circumstances out of Winter’s control will force some change. Julian de Guzman is out on yellow-card suspension and injuries to midfielders Jacob Peterson and Tony Tchani in the first leg of the NCC final make them questionable. So, there will be some changes — just don’t expect the reserve squad to take the field Sunday.
And that’s a good thing.