Toronto FC will try to stay in the MLS playoff mix when they travel to Portland to take on the Timbers in a crucial mid-week game.
Fresh off a convincing 3-1 victory against the Montreal Impact at BMO Field last weekend, Toronto is attempting to win back-to-back league games for only the second time this campaign.
But it won’t be easy. For starters, TFC has never won in Portland.
Second, Portland has a lot riding on this game, too. Like TFC, the Timbers are on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs, and are looking to move up the standings and secure a post-season berth as the regular season enters the home stretch.
Here’s some things to keep in mind about Wednesday’s match at Providence Park….
THE PLAYOFF RACE
Toronto (7-12-6) sits ninth in the Eastern Conference, three spots and six points below the Montreal Impact (10-14-3), who hold down the sixth and final playoff spot in the East.
TFC have two games in hand on the Impact, but Montreal is not the only club the Reds have to worry about. New England is seventh in the East, and enjoys a two-point lead on Toronto, while D.C. United is tied with TFC on 27 points, but it has two games in hand on the MLS Cup champs.
With only nine games remaining on the schedule, Wednesday’s match is one Toronto can ill-afford to lose.
“We’re not dead, that’s for damn sure,” TFC midfielder Michael Bradley asserted after Saturday’s win over Montreal.
“Along the way there’s been a few people in some different places that have been ready to count us out. We’ve been able to just keep ourselves going and find ways [to stay alive]. We’re going to have to do that for nine more games.”
ALTIDORE IS BACK
Forward Jozy Altidore will be available for selection for Toronto on Wednesday after serving a two-game suspension.
Altidore has three goals and one assist in seven appearances during a 2018 MLS season that has been plagued by a series of injury problems.
Altidore’s return is good news for a TFC side that is monitoring Sebastian Giovinco – the Italian forward is dealing with a groin injury, and he might not play in Portland, especially as the Timbers play on an artificial surface.
It’s a calculated risk, to be sure. On the one hand, TFC doesn’t want to aggravate Giovinco’s injury. On the other hand, the Italian has been in fine form, with seven goals and five assists in his last nine MLS appearances.
“We’re not going to risk anyone or throw anyone out that we may need for the remaining eight games [after Wednesday in Portland]. But if the guys are healthy and ready to go, we’ll take them and play them,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney told reporters this week.
If Giovinco doesn’t play, look for Lucas Janson to partner with Altidore up front for TFC. Janson, 24, has impressed in his first two games since joining Toronto on loan, scoring one goal and adding an assist.
Also, Vanney revealed this week that Spanish midfielder Victor Vazquez (knee) likely won’t play on Wednesday.
Defender Chris Mavinga and fullback Auro Jr. are both unavailable due to hamstring injuries.
PORTLAND IN A SLUMP
Portland was one of the hottest teams in MLS, going unbeaten in 15 consecutive games (with 10 wins) from April 14 to Aug. 4.
But the Timbers have lost four in a row since suffering a 2-1 home loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Aug. 11.
“It’s a tough place to play,” Vanney said of Portland’s Providence Park.
“Obviously, they’ve got a great crowd, a great environment. The team’s been highly successful [there]. I think this is the first time they’ve dropped a couple of games at home in years, which is a rare thing. … We have to be on our game. We have to execute. We’ve got to be mistake-free.”
TFC vs. TIMBERS: A HISTORY
Toronto leads the all-time series against Portland, with four wins and two draws in eight meetings. The Reds hammered the Timbers in their last meeting, a 4-1 victory for Toronto on Aug. 12, 2017 at BMO Field.
TFC have never won in Portland, suffering two losses and recording one draw. The Timbers won the previous contest at Providence Park, earning a 2-1 decision on May 1, 2016.
Wednesday’s match is the only meeting between the two sides this season.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR TORONTO
After the Portland game, the Reds return home where they will host Los Angeles FC on Saturday night at BMO Field. LAFC is coached by Bob Bradley, father of TFC captain Michael Bradley.
After that, Toronto is off until Sept. 15 when it will host Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the LA Galaxy.