Burning questions: How will TFC approach this final stretch?

Sebastian Giovinco. (Nathan Denette/CP)

Some burning questions came to my mind after Toronto FC’s 4-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes this past weekend and as the Major League Soccer season enters the final stretch…

How will Toronto approach these final six games?

The win over San Jose, coupled with the Montreal Impact’s road loss to the New England Revolution later that same night, meant the Reds became the first team to clinch a playoff berth – and they did it with six games to spare.

Sitting atop the overall league standings with a comfortable nine-point lead over New York City FC, TFC is a virtual lock to win the Supporters’ Shield trophy, awarded to the first-place team during the regular season. Winning the Shield also comes with the added bonus of securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, including the MLS Cup final.

There’s also the small matter of Toronto trying to break the record for the most points in a single MLS season held by the 1998 L.A. Galaxy (68 points). With 59 points in the bank and 18 points on the table, the Reds look a sure bet to beat L.A.’s long-standing mark.

Winning the Shield and breaking the record are important goals, but they’re not the only things foremost on Greg Vanney’s mind. TFC’s coach will use these final six games to give valuable minutes to bench players and guys who haven’t seen much playing time this year.

Vanney wants all hands on deck once the regular season is over, so it behooves him to get players such as Jonathan Osorio, who was sensational in coming off the bench against San Jose, going now to better prepare the team for a deep playoff run – we saw in last year’s post-season how depth players such as Tosaint Ricketts and Benoit Cheyrou can play pivotal roles.

“I’ve tried to use different guys in substitution roles to try and keep getting guys out,” Vanney said after the San Jose match. “There’s games ahead that I’m looking at to try to make sure we keep guys sharp, get guys playing.”

Is breaking L.A.’s record more important than winning MLS Cup?

No, it’s not.

Setting the record would be something special, to be sure. It would allow TFC to enter the pantheon alongside the greatest teams in league history, and it’s something MLS fans would remember for decades.

Should the Reds eclipse L.A.’s mark but not win the MLS Cup, it wouldn’t mean this season would be a failure. Quite the contrary. Finishing in first place, and doing it in record fashion, and winning a second consecutive Canadian Championship would still be a remarkable achievement, and the campaign could rightly be deemed very successful. The success of Toronto’s campaign doesn’t hinge on whether it wins the league championship.

However, let’s not kid ourselves – winning the MLS Cup is the ultimate goal. That’s what matters the most. The Golden State Warriors are justly celebrated for their remarkable 73-win season in 2015-16, the single greatest NBA campaign on record. It’s something that Golden State should be proud about, but don’t think for one second that the loss in the NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t sting, and that Steph Curry and his cohorts wouldn’t have traded the record for a championship ring.

Who would TFC like to avoid in the playoffs?

Honestly, I can’t see the Reds fearing any potential Eastern Conference opponent with the way they’re playing. Riding a 10-game unbeaten run (seven wins), and with just one loss in their last 13 matches, TFC has firmly established themselves as the class of the league this season by a considerable distance. Nobody can touch them at the moment.

The Montreal Impact tend to play Toronto very tough whenever they meet, especially in the post-season – the Quebec outfit has won two of the three playoff meetings between the two sides. The New York Red Bulls can be a challenging proposition with their high-pressing style of play, especially at home where TFC has had very little success over the years.

However, it’s hard to imagine any of the teams in the East being able to get the better of Toronto over the course of a two-legged playoff series. A one-match playoff, like the MLS Cup final? Sure. Anything can happen over the course of 90 minutes – even a team as good as Toronto can have an off day. But two games? It’s not very likely.

That’s not to say TFC is unbeatable, because they’re not – although, they’ve done a very good job over the last two months of making people believe that. If nothing else, MLS is known for its parity, where any team can beat any other team on any given day, especially in the playoffs. But barring an unforeseen losing slump in the final weeks of the regular season, TFC will go into the playoffs fully confident that it can beat any opponent put before them.

TFC Pitchside will provide Toronto FC supporters with an inside look into their favourite obsession Monday nights at 11 pm ET on Sportsnet 590 The FAN. Call it an all-access pass for all things MLS brought to you by co-hosts Dan Riccio, Thomas Michalakos and producer Amil Delic. You'll hear from the biggest names around the club, and the MLS. You'll also get reviews and previews of every TFC game with reports from Pitchside at training and on game days at BMO Field. The Six is about to get done!