TORONTO – It couldn't have come at a better time.
The 2018 season has been a strange one for Toronto FC, but riding a four-match unbeaten streak in all competitions and having taken six points from the Chicago Fire to get within sight of the playoff divide in the Eastern Conference, Saturday's trip to face Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (4 pm ET | ESPN, TSN2 - Full TV & Streaming info) will be a match that has the potential to speak volumes for the team.
“It is a measuring stick,” Greg Vanney said on Thursday. “To us finding our form again and where we are with a team that has been consistent for the MLS season.”
“On any given day, we can beat them,” continued Vanney. “For us, it's where are we now with this resurgence. It's a reminder of [the] concentration level, focus, intensity, that we're going to need. It's a great game – not a 'be all, end all' game – but we're going to approach it as if it has the playoff feel to it that it needs to have from our perspective.”
Last season, Toronto were running away with the Supporters' Shield at this point in the season. This time around, with 11 matches remaining, Atlanta are positioning themselves to be the winners, though several other clubs will have something to say about that prospect.
“I'm not sure [they're us last season],” Vanney said earlier this week. '”But they are the team that has been in-form for most of the year. Even last year you knew you had to have a complete game to beat them. It's a great test for us in our revival.”
The two sides played an exhilarating 2-2 draw on Decision Day presented by AT&T in 2017, where TFC earned the crown of most points ever in an MLS season. This time around, however, the champions will not be coming for the coronation of their successors.
“I can tell you one thing for damn sure,” Michael Bradley said. “We don't see it as any passing of any torch, regardless of where we are, where they are, Supporters' Shield this, MLS Cup that… a lot of games left, everything still to play for.”
“They're a very good team, very well coached; they have exciting players. It's all come together in a very good way for them. We have a lot of respect for them, but we also happen to like the team we have.”
The two will meet again on Decision Day this time around, on October 28 at BMO Field.
“We know that Atlanta is maybe the best team now in the competition. They are really dangerous, have a lot of speed, have the best striker now in the league” Victor Vazquez said on Tuesday. “But we know that we can hurt them, we have the quality also. And for sure they are a bit worried also about us.”
With Toronto “feeling good,” it's a “great time” to visit Atlanta, according to Jonathan Osorio.
“We're going to face the top team in the league, see where we are, where we stack up going into the last stretch,” Osorio said. “It's not a must-win; definitely a game that we want to win, will go in to win.”
Time, after all, is of the essence with 13 matches left for TFC to reach the MLS Cup Playoffs, where the past has taught that anything can happen.
For now, who will be lifting the Supporters’ Shield at the end of the regular season matters not one iota to Toronto.
“We don't have time to be worrying about that,” Eriq Zavaleta said. “We're worried about one thing: accumulating as many points as we can; position ourselves to make the playoffs.”
“It's an opportunity to get three points,” added Zavaleta. “People can call it whatever they want, what you are going to see is two very good teams going after each other; that aren't afraid of each other. Ultimately, that's the best type of match you can get.”