TORONTO – Toronto FC players can hear the chatter. They know they have the potential to go down as perhaps the best MLS team ever.
But even as they close in on setting historic marks in MLS regular season play, they refuse to be drawn into looking too far ahead.
“I want them to embrace … one game at a time,” head coach Greg Vanney said after TFC's 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night at BMO Field. “They're very much aware of the possibilities, but it's a mature group. You only get to see those things if you make one play at a time, play one game at a time.
“We want to get better in each of these games as we approach the tail end. We want to be in form. That's the way this group thinks; more so than looking too far ahead. We all know what's out there.”
Sitting comfortably atop the Eastern Conference and Supporters' Shield race, Toronto have eight matches remaining this season. Most points and fewest losses, to name but a few, are some of the marks the club is chasing.
Still, Vanney would rather resort to tried-and-true sports cliches than think about making history — at least right now.
“Each game is the biggest game,” the TFC coach reiterated. “The next game will be the biggest game of the year too, by the way.”
When asked about the Supporters’ Shield chase, which Toronto now leads by seven points over New York City FC, goalkeeper Alex Bono pointed out that keeping it in the “back of the mind is a good way to put it.”
“There are a couple of teams that are really close on our heels,” said Bono, who earned his seventh shutout of the season Wednesday. “We know that it is in our hands; we hold our own destiny.”
Michael Bradley, who got the ball rolling when he called the Philadelphia match the biggest of the season on Tuesday, agrees with his coach that every game is important, whether or not they’re chasing history.
“This time of year is what it's all about,” Bradley said. “Every weekend is a final, every team is playing for something. The weather starts to cool down, the games pick up in tempo and intensity.”
“We feel good, but we understand that we've not done anything yet. The biggest games are still to come. The trophies haven't been passed out yet. As long as that's the case we're going to keep going.”
With that in mind, Bradley was naturally happy that TFC rode a balanced effort to another dominant win, extending their unbeaten streak to eight.
“The best part about this team is that we are who we are,” the Toronto captain said. “We found the right ways to keep a level-headed focus. We're really confident that when we're at our best, we're going to beat anybody. But we also understand the margins are so fine. The second our foot goes off the gas we can lose to anybody. The desire and the commitment to keep going, trying to improve, make it better and more consistent — we have that.”
“The humility and willingness to continue to work, that's the part that excites me most.”
But when asked about the club equalling their highest-ever point total (53), reached in just 26 matches compared to 34 last season, Bradley was less impressed.
“In and of itself, not much,” he said. “We've got to keep going.”