TORONTO – It’s that time of year again.
The Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs kick off this weekend and for Toronto FC, that means they'll welcome D.C. United to BMO Field on Saturday for a Round One clash (6 pm ET | TUDN in US; TSN4, TVAS in Canada), with the victor earning the right to visit New York City FC in the Eastern Conference Semifinal.
After a tumultuous season — one that saw the club rebuild itself mid-flight — Toronto have their sights aimed high.
“At this point, it’s the cup,” said Nick DeLeon, welcoming the visit of his former club to his new home. “We’re here, we have the talent, we’re in good form, to come up anything short would definitely be a disappointment.”
“This league is funny that way, timing can really make the difference,” he continued. “Our expectation, my expectation, anything short of an MLS Cup at this point would be a failure.”
TFC closed the season with a ten-match unbeaten run, but in the two meetings between them and D.C. neither was able to find the upper hand: D.C. withstood a barrage of 36 shots to nab a scoreless draw in Toronto back in May, while DeLeon scored on his return to Washington, D.C. in the end of June, only for a late Video Review to set the table for Wayne Rooney to level from the penalty spot late.
With the visitors having racked up five straight clean sheets as their regular season closed, it is expected to be a tight match.
“I don’t suspect anything different,” forecast Greg Vanney. “Being on the road, at our place, and the way the two games went, they’ll look to protect themselves and look for us to make mistakes.”
“They’re a stingy team, don’t give away a ton of chances,” he continued. “A team that will grind you out, make it very difficult. They’ll find their moments where they’ll look to get a result.”
With a tweak in the postseason format, rather than a two-legged, home-and-away contest, all postseason ties are now one-off, win-or-go-home style knockout action.
While that changes some elements, Toronto will look to make the most of being at home on Saturday.
“I wouldn’t say cautious at all. Smart for sure, but we’re playing at home, we want to go after things in a strong, aggressive way,” said Bradley. “It’s similar to when you get a second leg back at your place, depending on the scenarios. In terms of away goals, in this format you’re not worrying about any of that. It’s one game, 90 minutes, see who can, on the day, play better, make more plays, compete harder, and find the way to move on to the next round.”
There is magic in the air at BMO on nights like this.
“For TFC, in the city, it’s huge. You feel it in the air, you feel it in training with the guys, in the dressing room.”