TORONTO – Not on our patch.
That was the message that Greg Vanney reiterated to his side this week.
On Sunday another club will be crowned Supporters' Shield champions, taking the hardware that’s belonged to Toronto FC for the past year. Atlanta United are in the pole position with 69 points, one more than the New York Red Bulls. Both have the chance to set the record for most points in a single season – surpassing the one set by TFC last year.
Atlanta matched Toronto's mark with a win last weekend, but standing in the their way, of both the Shield and the record, are TFC, as the two will clash at BMO Field on Decision Day presented by AT&T (4:30 pm ET | TSN4 – full TV and streaming info).
“I brought it up today with the guys,” said Vanney on Wednesday. “It's about finding purpose and meaning: Our last season has to matter, the fact we got to 69 points. We don't control what happens in the Red Bulls game. They may or may not get beyond it, but we do control [against] Atlanta.”
Already eliminated, TFC will not be present in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs to defend that title. Though meager consolation, the chance to deny a rival offers some motivation.
“We don't want to lose on our home field to anybody,” said Eriq Zavaleta. “Them being on 69 points is an extra little motivation. Them being a team that we don't like, trying to win the Shield on our home field, is extra motivation.”
Three matches into their all-time series, these two sides have played some crackers, each ending 2-2.
Atlanta came to Toronto early last April and bopped TFC on the nose, with Hector Villalba scoring first and last. Toronto returned the favor come October, sealing their points record in the process, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on last year’s Deadline Day through Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco.
“There are a lot of things that add fuel to this game,” said Vanney. “It starts with respect. They have a good team, good players; we have a good team, good players. Both teams have been able to hurt the other team, both have had a hard time stopping the other.
“Last year we went on the run we did, set the points, had the results that we had, the championships and all that. That's something that they're chasing in their way this year,” he explained. “They've got a big, interesting fan base; we have a great fan base. When two teams have been at the top, there is a natural rivalry that exists. And there have been some interesting moments along the way.”
Zavaleta summed it up neatly: “It's two clubs that over the last two years have been towards the top of MLS. We went to their home field and broke a record last year, I don't think they liked that. There is a mutual respect and with [that] comes a mutual dislike. We're in each others' way.
“We're not this year, but [are] in the current moment: of them winning the Supporters' Shield; of them breaking a record,” added Zavaleta. “We're going to do everything we can to stop them.”