TORONTO – For weeks, every game for Toronto FC has seemingly been a must-win game.
The team’s drop from sixth place to 10th in the standings over the last two months, combined with the rise of other contenders, has put Toronto in a precarious position.
Adding to the sense of urgency is the edict decried by parent owner Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. after last season that anything but a playoff spot would be unacceptable.
With the eighth-place San Jose Earthquakes in town on Saturday, the game is easily the biggest of Toronto’s season – a potential season-killer.
At 31 points, TFC sit five points behind San Jose for the final playoff spot. A win would close them to within two of the Earthquakes, but a loss would drop them back eight, making the game a virtual six-pointer in the standings.
Complicating matters is San Jose have two games in hand on Toronto, and Kansas City recently joined the fray, moving into ninth with their miracle comeback on Wednesday against Houston.
The magnitude of this game isn’t lost on the players, including defender Dan Gargan.
“Going forward, we know it is down to us,” Gargan told Toronto FC TV. “We can help ourselves and hurt ourselves by how we perform day in, day out. We are really looking forward to San Jose.
"We can’t look at the scoreboard anymore because that isn’t going to affect us. We have to take care of our own business and stay focused on what we have in front of us.”
Interim coach Nick Dasovic echoed the same sentiment, but added he feels the fight for jobs next season adds a positive incentive.
“Every game is do or die for us now, but the guys have been good and responded well,” said Dasovic after morning training on Friday. “All we can do is take care of our results and then at the end of the season we will see if it is good enough.
"Guys are playing for contracts next year and to prove to the staff and directors that they belong in this city, so there is added pressure in that respect as well.”
Dasovic, who’s 1-1-1 since MLSE fired both director of soccer Mo Johnston and coach Preki last week, has been pleased with how the players have responded to his approach at this late stage of the season.
“The thing I have been most proud of since I took over is that the players are listening to how we want to play tactically,” said the former Canadian international. “It’s not rocket science, but it is about commitment and attitude. It has been great to see that the players are all buying into it.”
That dedication will be key if Toronto hope to stay alive and not wonder what move MLSE will make next for another disappointing season.