While its schedule after this week is unclear, Toronto FC knows what it needs to do Wednesday in Montreal.
Toronto looks to bounce back from consecutive losses when it plays the last match of its six-game Canadian round-robin against the Impact on Wednesday. TFC’s MLS schedule is bare after that — with the possibility that Canadian teams may have to head to temporary bubbles south of the border because of pandemic-related travel restrictions limiting the ability of U.S. clubs to come north.
There is plenty at stake Wednesday. A win and Montreal will be in the driver’s seat in the mini-tournament — created to give Canadian teams regular-season games while the border remains closed — to decide which MLS team advances to the final of the Canadian Championship.
“The last game and our last opportunity to impact this tournament,” said Toronto coach Greg Vanney. “For us, it’s a final.”
“A very, very big game,” said Toronto midfielder Jonathan Osorio.
Toronto goes into the match with nine points in the tournament standings, three ahead of Montreal which still has a pair of games remaining against the Vancouver Whitecaps (who have three points from four games).
The team with the best record after the all-Canadian portion of the schedule advances to the Canadian Championship final against the winner of the CPL’s Island Games with the Voyageurs Trophy and a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League on the line.
After Wednesday, Toronto will have to watch from the sidelines as Montreal plays at Vancouver on Sept. 13 and 16.
“We’ve got to try to close this out and make it as difficult as possible for Montreal,” said Vanney. “Obviously the two of them on some level will take points from each other but we’ve got to make the gap that they have to close as big as we possibly can.
“Taking points, specifically three points, from Montreal is important. And then those two have to duke it out to see where they are at the end of the day.”
If Toronto wins, the Impact will have to defeat the Whitecaps twice to match TFC on points. Goal difference would then be the first tiebreaker with Toronto currently holding a one-goal edge over Montreal in that department.
A tie Wednesday would still ease Montreal’s path past Toronto, needing just three points from the two games to catch Toronto.
Impact coach Thierry Henry expects a challenging contest Wednesday.
“It’s a tough team to beat,” he said. “No matter what circumstances.”
The Impact ended Toronto’s 18-match unbeaten streak in regular-season play, one short of the league record, with a 1-0 victory at BMO Field last week.
As for his club’s road map after the Canadian games, Henry offered little.
“All I can say, is that we’re preparing for the game against Toronto and we have two games in Vancouver. Then, we’ll adapt.”
In its recent losses — 1-0 at home to Montreal and 3-2 in Vancouver — Toronto outshot its opposition 42-17 (15-6) in shots on target, had a 17-9 edge in corners and more than 62 per-cent possession.
“We’re letting them off the hook a little bit too much,” said Vanney.
Added Osorio: “We’re getting the chances … We just have to execute, have a little bit more of that killer mentality in front of the net.”
Toronto will also look to tighten up its defence, after conceding goals from set pieces against both Montreal and Vancouver.
The two losses knocked TFC out of first place in the Eastern Conference — and the league. It stands third in the East behind conference-leading Columbus and Philadelphia (on goal difference). Montreal is sixth.
Toronto did not start striker Jozy Altidore and defender Chris Mavinga last time out on the artificial turf in Vancouver. Both have been managing injuries — foot for Altidore and ankle for Mavinga — but Vanney said they should be available Wednesday.
Toronto will be without captain Michael Bradley (knee) and forward Patrick Mullins (hamstring). Fullback Richie Laryea (ankle) is back training and could be available Wednesday.
The Impact laid the groundwork Tuesday for a future move when it acquired an international roster spot from D.C. United for the remainder of the 2020 season and for the entire 2021 season. In exchange, the Impact sent D.C. US$225,000 in general allocation money — $75,000 from 2020 and $150,000 from 2021.
TORONTO FC (5-2-3) AT MONTREAL IMPACT (4-3-1)
Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET, Saputo Stadium.
SEASON MATCHUPS: Toronto has won two of the three previous meetings, including a 4-3 victory at the MLS is Back Tournament in Florida.
PLAYMAKERS TO WATCH: Toronto’s Alejandro Pozuelo leads the league with eight assists in 10 games. Montreal’s Saphir Taider is tied with Vancouver’s Ali Adnan for most game-winning assists with three.
MAKING IT COUNT: Striker Ayo Akinola has only played in five of Toronto’s 10 games because of a hamstring issue. But his 11 shots on goals are second only to Pozuelo’s 12 on the team. Add in Pablo Piatti’s nine shots on goal and the three attackers account for half of Toronto’s 64 shots on target this season.
ON THE MOVE: Toronto has sent 19-year-old forward Jordan Perruzza on loan to San Antonio FC of the USL. Perruzza signed a first-team deal in August, becoming Toronto’s 24th homegrown player.