In 2016, TFC finished the season ranked third in the Eastern Conference. They dispatched the Philadelphia Union in the Knockout Round before picking up steam as they reached the MLS Cup final, progressing through NYCFC and the Montreal Impact in turn.
This time around, they are the top seed in the East, Supporters' Shield champions – by a whopping, record margin of 12 points – and in the conversation for the best team in MLS history. Expectations have been raised.
“It's different when you're the underdog rather than expected to win,” Steven Beitashour said. “We put that pressure on ourselves. You could see it throughout the season. It will be similar in the playoffs, if not more.
“We expect great things, guys [won't be] happy until we win the MLS Cup,” he added. “We have a veteran group. Guys will take [the pressure] positively.”
Toronto kick off their quest to hoist the cup on Monday night at Red Bull Arena with the first leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the New York Red Bulls (7 pm ET | FS1; TSN4, TVAS). For Greg Vanney, Toronto have had a target on their back all year.
“By and large we've played the whole season in that position. I don't think it makes the playoffs any different,” he said.
Chock-full of MLS veterans, in the playoffs for a third straight campaign, the Reds know that the regular season counts for relatively little at this time of year.
“What the regular season has given us is the ability to play the second game at home. When the game is on the line, we're going to be in our stadium,” said Vanney. “We like [that], having our fans behind us. We think that is an advantage. We've earned that.”
What happened from March to October goes out the window. All that matters now is the two matches against the Red Bulls.
And one thing is certain: TFC's approach will not change.
“We want to go after every game, after every moment,” said Michael Bradley. “We want to be the last ones standing. All of the rest is just a waste of time.”
“It has been all season,” said defender Drew Moor. “For me, for every guy and coach in that locker room.”
Fullback Justin Morrow put it plainly: “Our goal is to win MLS Cup. We've stated that since the beginning of the year.
“Nobody is going to rest on their laurels, nobody will be happy if we [win] the Supporters' Shield and that's it,” he continued. “If we don't get job done here in the playoffs, then we'll all be disappointed.”