TORONTO – Since the preseason disruptions, it's been a game of catch up.
Before a competitive match was played, the departures of Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vazquez meant Toronto FC have always been chasing this season. But with the additions of Omar Gonzalez and Erickson Gallardo following Alejandro Pozuelo and Jacob Shaffelburg, as well as the return of Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore from the Concacaf Gold Cup, finally the picture is becoming more clear.
“We've got a full strength team,” Toronto FC general manager Ali Curtis said at a press conference Tuesday, his phone still pinging with activity. “We're very excited about the schedule we have in front of us – a lot of those opponents being Eastern Conference. There is a lot to play for, it should be very exciting. We just want to go out there and fight, get every point possible.”
With 19 matches played, TFC are on the bubble, five points back of the New York Red Bulls above them and barely leading the chasing pack to cling to the final playoff berth in the East.
Fifteen games remain.
According to coach Greg Vanney: “Now, it's serious.”
“We've gone through the stretch that we all red-flagged as challenging moments: 5 [games] in 15 days, the Gold Cup with guys away,” Vanney said. “The good part is we've fared well against our direct opponents. We haven't done so well against the Western Conference teams.”
In 10 in-conference matches, Toronto have lost just twice and drawn three times. In nine against the West, they have won just once and drawn twice.
Between injuries and absences, it has been impossible to find one of the prerequisites to success.
“Key is, can we build some consistency into this second half? If we can do that, we can build some momentum. And if you can in this league then lots can turn fast,” Vanney said. “You can move up the standings quick, especially when you're playing Eastern Conference opponents. That's our objective. This is an important stretch.”
Toronto travel to Quebec for a derby match Saturday (7:30 PM ET | TVAS, TSN4, MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US) against the Montreal Impact. They then return for a stretch of three straight at home against the Red Bulls, Houston Dynamo, and FC Cincinnati.
A series of matches that may determine their postseason fate following a turbulent May and June. Intriguingly, 10 of their next 11 matches are against in-conference opposition beginning with the derby against Montreal.
“It'll be a heavyweight fight. Two teams that need to pick up three points,” said Curtis, who will be partaking in his first sample of the rivalry. “That will be our approach. If it's more than that, then so be it, but our guys will be ready. We're going to go out there to win that game.”
Curtis hinted that there may yet be further movement during this transfer window. Regardless, options are a luxury Vanney has not often enjoyed in 2018.
“It's great to see everybody around,” Vanney said. “The trick now is just because guys arrive doesn't mean it's all going to fall together in perfect harmony. We have to sew the seams back together, become unified, as quickly as possible.”
“I have no doubt that we can get there quickly,” urged Vanney. “We want to be there by this weekend against Montreal.”