This is the time of year where Toronto FC typically do their best work.
The Reds go into their Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs campaign with as much big-game experience as anybody, having been through it all over the course of lengthy playoff runs in coach Greg Vanney's tenure that have seen them go to three out of the last four MLS Cup finals, winning the whole thing in 2017.
It's the type of pedigree that can pay dividends come playoff time. According to captain Michael Bradley, it's all about finding the balance between leaning on that battle-tested nature, but realizing that it doesn't mean anything should be taken for granted.
"The core of our team has big experience together in a lot of different situations, in a lot of different moments, so that part is important and that part will serve us well," Bradley told reporters on a Monday video call. "But we also would never want to think that just because we have experience together and we've had success in the past that guarantees us anything now. So we all understand that, we're excited about what is to come. Obviously there's new faces who will play a big part in and help our success over the next few weeks. No two teams are exactly the same, no two situations are exactly the same, but it would be dumb if you didn't find the right ways to draw on the collective experience of the group and I think we will do that, we've always done that."
Toronto's first test comes in the form of an unpredictable opposition in expansion side Nashville SC, which emerged as 3-0 winners in their Play-In Round matchup with Inter Miami CF to set up Tuesday's bout at Toronto's temporary home of Rentschler Field at Pratt & Whitney Stadium (6 pm ET | TV & streaming info).
Due to the travel restrictions in 2020, Toronto and Nashville never faced off in the regular season, adding to the unfamiliarity that was already present as a first-year team in MLS. It's an interesting wrinkle, but Vanney said he feels as though his team is actually looking forward to playing a new team after spending much of 2020 playing the same rotating cast of opponents.
The Reds know they'll have their work cut out for them, though, taking on a Nashville side that has become known for its proficient defending and being extremely tough to break down.
"In some ways, it's interesting, in some ways it's nice. I feel like we've played so many teams so many times, and we've played a lot of teams not at all," Vanney said. "I think it's a little better that there's lack of familiarity than over-familiarity at this point. I think our guys are excited to play a new team and new faces. Both teams will be feeling things a little bit, but I also think that's in some ways why some of these games can be a little bit more open or be a little unique because in so many games there's not a lot of familiarity between the two teams. But we're excited to get into a game and get the playoffs started.
"Nashville is a good team, they're a very stingy team, they work hard, they make things difficult to play against them and they obviously have players that can make some plays. We're excited to play and we know we're going to have to be at our best to get a result."
All told, Vanney said his team is simply looking forward to getting back on the field.
Toronto have had a lengthy break in action following the marathon of fixture congestion leading up to the playoffs, which Vanney said was necessary to recuperate and get their legs back under them. But at this point, seeing the bedlam that has taken place throughout the other early-round postseason matches leaves the group eager to take part in the action.
"I think guys are excited to play again," Vanney said. "We went from having so many games so quickly and having to worry so much about recovery to having a lot of time on our hands and going through a ton of training sessions. Guys are excited to get going. They've waited all year for the playoffs and the moment is upon us. We've sat and watched a lot of the other games that have gone on around the league and you can see that crazy things happen in MLS playoffs and that's always been the case. But I know guys are excited to get out and compete and go for it, and we'll see what happens.