TORONTO — It does not say much for the strength of the teams chasing the sixth and final playoff spot in MLS’ Eastern Conference that Toronto FC’s visit to Orlando City on Saturday feels like a crucial match.
TFC has won just four of its 18 MLS games this year, while the Lions fired head coach Jason Kreis after a run of six consecutive losses that has since stretched to nine. Both teams have been in the kind of form that wrecks most campaigns long before they are over, and yet neither is out of postseason contention just yet.
One could deal the other a decisive blow, though, at Orlando City Stadium.
“This is a six-point game,” Toronto defender Nick Hagglund said. “It’s a six-point swing — one team loses three points, the other team gains three points. So it’s important, these next couple of games. We’re looking at important games.
“You’d think they’re going to be hungry. They’ve got a new coach, everyone’s fighting for positions, fighting for a job. I think they’re going be together, organized and they’re going to have a lot of grit. They’re going to try to find [midfielder Sacha] Kljestan and he’s going to try to open up the game for them, so that’s who we have to watch.”
As Hagglund alluded to, Toronto is in do-or-die territory. After the Reds, who sit 10th in the East, take on ninth-place Orlando, they will face the Chicago Fire, currently in eighth, twice in a home-and-home.
“I think every game for us is important,” TFC coach Greg Vanney added. “We have this stretch where all these games are on the road, which is not easy, and we want to take as many points as we can out of this stretch knowing that it’s a challenging stretch. Obviously with Orlando being one of those teams between us and a playoff spot, it makes it a little more interesting. But I think all points matter right now.
“In terms of timing for them, they obviously just went through a coaching change so they’re getting used to and they’re getting a feel for what their new manager wants as opposed to what they were doing previously. I think there’s a feeling-out process there. One thing that doesn’t change is that they have some dangerous pieces. They have guys who can score goals, guys who can set up goals, guys who will take you on one-on-one. They have runners, they have lots of things to work with.”
Toronto is hoping Victor Vázquez, who has five goals and six assists in 11 games this season, will be ready to return having missed three games with swelling in his knee. Chris Mavinga is also in contention for his first appearance since May after a hamstring injury. Drew Moor (quad) and Jozy Altidore (foot) have trained, but this match is likely to come too soon for them.
“Our hope is if he doesn’t have any repercussions or setbacks, we’ll see how he is [Friday] as we come in,” Vanney said of Vázquez. “That’s similar for a lot of guys: Chris, as well, who’s trained hard this week.
“Everything is about a response now. Everybody is starting to do some of the things that we need them to do on the training field, but it’s also about how they respond after they push a little bit harder that day — what does the next day look like? So between this week and next week, our target is to have three or four of these guys back into the team. If this week is pushing it too fast, then we won’t. If we can, then we will. So there’s a very vague answer for you as to who is in and who’s out. We’re trying to get everybody back in quickly but also be smart about it. We want to keep guys in once we get them back.”