The stakes are high Saturday for Toronto FC’s first-ever visit to Banc of California Stadium to play league-leading Los Angeles FC.
A win and Toronto FC (12-10-9) clinches a playoff berth. A Toronto loss, coupled with a NYCFC draw or loss in Dallas on Sunday, will earn LAFC (19-4-7) the Supporters’ Shield — good for home-field advantage throughout the post-season.
Should LAFC secure the Supporters’ Shield this weekend, it will mark the earliest that has been done in MLS history. The Tampa Bay Mutiny (1996) and Los Angeles Galaxy (1998) assured themselves of the league’s best record with three games still to play.
Toronto, which goes into weekend play in fourth place in the East, can also secure a place in the post-season with a tie coupled with a loss or tie for both Chicago and Montreal. A loss or tie by Chicago, Montreal and Orlando would also net Toronto a place in the playoffs regardless of the result in L.A.
Adding spice to the evening is the fact the game represents the second edition of the Bradley Bowl, pitting Toronto captain Michael Bradley against Bob Bradley, his father and LAFC coach.
"We have a great relationship that will always be there," said Michael Bradley. "Nothing will change that, not even an LAFC-Toronto game. I’ll look forward to seeing him. I’ll look forward to seeing my mom.
"For 33 games a year, there’s no bigger LAFC fan than me and quite honestly there’s no bigger TFC fan than him. Obviously this is the one game that gets put aside a little bit, but in our own way we still enjoy this as well."
LAFC won the only previous meeting between the two 4-2 last September in Toronto.
Toronto is undefeated in its last seven league outings (3-0-4) although it lost 1-0 midweek in Montreal in the first leg of the Canadian Championship final. TFC’s last league loss was Aug. 3 when it was beaten 2-0 at the New York Red Bulls.
LAFC is winless in its last four (1-0-3) but has only lost once its last nine league games (5-1-3) dating back to mid-July. Still while Los Angeles leads the league with just 33 goals allowed, it has conceded eight in the last four matches.
Returning from a two-game injury absence, star forward Carlos Vela scored for LAFC in last weekend’s 1-1 tie with Philadelphia. The Mexican has a league-leading 28 goals with Uruguayan teammate Diego Rossi contributing 15.
Los Angeles has scored a league-leading 77 goals, 24 more than TFC. That ranks second only to the 1998 Los Angeles Galaxy, who racked up 85 goals in 32 games with Toronto head coach Greg Vanney and assistant Dan Calichman in the lineup.
LAFC also leads the league in assists, shots and shots on goal (Toronto is fourth, tied for 12th and tied for fourth in the same categories).
"Everybody there should be proud of what they’ve been able to do in a short amount of time," Michael Bradley said of the second-year team. "From afar, they’re so much fun to watch.
"When I get home after a big win at BMO (Field) there’s nothing that I enjoy more — whether it’s later on Saturday night or it’s on Sunday — than to sit down and watch them play," he continued. "Because the way they go about it, the way they play, what games look like from their stadium, I think the club has been great for the league. And the way that they’ve built their team has been amazing to watch."
Take your eye off LAFC and it can be costly. The team leads the league with 12 goals scored in the first 15 minutes of a game — and with 21 in the last 15 minutes of the first half and 28 in the last 30 minutes of the second half.
LAFC leads the league in offence (2.57 goals a game) and defence (1.10 goals a game conceded). Its home record (11-1-2) is also an MLS-best.
Vanney points to LAFC’s "relentless tenacity."
"They’re organized, which I think Bob’s teams have always had. Obviously they have a lot of quality … but there’s a grittiness about them in their midfield that makes them tough to play," he added.
TORONTO FC (12-10-9) at LOS ANGELES FC (19-4-7)
Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET at Banc of California Stadium.
ONE TO WATCH: LAFC star forward Carlos Vela leads the league with 28 goals, two more than Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Josef Martinez.
TEAM TIES: The LAFC roster features Canadian internationals Mark-Anthony Kaye and Dejan Jakovic. American-born Iran international fullback Steven Beitashour used to play for TFC. Toronto centre back Laurent Ciman was LAFC’s first captain.
INJURY REPORT: Toronto winger Nicolas Benezet is dealing with hip discomfort.