LOS ANGELES – Toronto FC became the gold standard in MLS after their stunning 2017 treble campaign and an admirable run to the final of the 2018 Concacaf Champions League a few months later. But after a rough hangover from that push for continental silverware, the Reds were unable to make the playoffs and began to disappear from the conversation about elite teams in the league.
Greg Vanney’s team took a massive step toward getting back to their best on Saturday night at Banc of California Stadium, dominating chunks of the game against league leaders LAFC while officially qualifying for the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs.
“For this group, not all of our guys have played in MLS playoff games before and so [Saturday’s match] is what it feels like to be in an MLS playoff game,” said Vanney after the 1-1 draw. “You’ve got to have those dry runs before you get to it and we knew that tonight, and that’s why we came here and put all our horses on the field and went for the game.”
While a late Carlos Vela penalty kick robbed TFC of what would have been a deserved three points at the Banc, results elsewhere meant the draw was enough to secure passage to the postseason.
Though the Canadian squad will be relieved to not miss out on the push for MLS Cup for a second straight season, it is the general upswing of his team that has Vanney enthusiastic.
“Most importantly for me is once we got our group settled, and that was in mid-July, I think we’re somewhere third in the league in terms of points acquired since that time period,” he said.
“Once we now have some of that stability, we’ve got more depth, we’ve got, again, that collective idea running again, we show that we are a top team in this league and so that’s what feels good. Getting into the playoffs and all that is just a product of the hard work of the team settling in and starting to compete in the way we know we’re capable of.”
Veteran defender Omar Gonzalez felt some of his team’s buoyancy was on display Saturday, but also acknowledged there is work left to be done.
“When you’re playing against the league leaders, a first-place team, it’s always good to put out a performance like that against a team of that caliber,” said the ex-LA Galaxy center back. “We take the good, we go with it, and we’ve just got to keep on improving, because we have to start getting shutouts. Because when we get to the playoffs, not letting goals in is extremely important.”
Toronto face another quick turnaround to do that Wednesday night as they welcome their bitter rivals the Montreal Impact to BMO Field for the conclusion of the Canadian Championship final, carrying a 1-0 deficit from the first leg.
“Now if we come with anything like this [performance against LAFC] at home on Wednesday, we’re going to put ourselves within a good position to try to win the [Canadian Championship],” said Vanney.
TFC’s captain Michael Bradley — who split the points with his father Bob’s side this time around after falling to LAFC 4-2 in last year’s meeting — feels these recent performances bode well for the Reds as they enter the business end of the season.
“We have confidence in ourselves. We feel like we have a good team. We feel like things are coming together at the right time and we’ve got to keep going,” he said. “We’ve got to keep working, we’ve got to keep improving, but if we do that, I think we have a team that can have a lot to say down the stretch as the most important games of the year come around.”