Toronto FC coach: Minimal margin for error in playoff race

Michael-Bradley

Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley. (Frank Gunn/CP)

TORONTO – Greg Vanney hasn’t done the calculations, joking that he’s not very good at math, and that there are too many variables involved.

But Toronto FC’s coach does concede that the margin for error is minimal for the MLS Cup champions as they attempt to fight their way back into the playoff picture.

TFC currently sits in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, nine points and four spots behind the New England Revolution, who hold down the sixth and final playoff berth in the East. The good news is that Toronto has games in hand on the five clubs directly ahead of them in the standings, including two on the Chicago Fire, who they’ll host on Saturday night at BMO Field.

TFC earned a 2-1 win over the Fire in Chicago last weekend, its first MLS victory since June 8 that also snapped a six-game winless skid. With 14 matches remaining in the regular season – and nine of them against Eastern opponents – the Reds have a great chance to make up some valuable ground in the playoff race.

What’s more, Toronto is starting to get fully healthy after being dogged by injuries all season. Although some players remain out, TFC received a big boost last week when forward Jozy Altidore and defender Chris Mavinga returned from lengthy absences.

Still, Vanney knows this is crunch time, and that his team can’t afford to drop too many more points if they’re going to qualify for the post-season.

“[There’s a] minimal margin of error. It’s minimal. I don’t think we want to be a in positon where we trying to rely too heavily on the results of everybody else. We need to take care of our business, and if we do so, we’ll be okay. If we can come up with nine wins out of the 14, we’ll probably be in a good position,” Vanney said after Friday’s practice.

For now, Vanney is keeping TFC’s focus on closing the gap with the teams they are chasing in the East.

“For us, we have to take care of our business. We have enough games coming up against teams between us [and sixth place]; we have one or two games to close the gap on them. … Right now, we just need to close that gap,” Vanney offered.

Toronto enters Saturday’s contest with a bit of momentum, having won their last three games in all competitions, including both legs of the Canadian Championship semifinals versus the Ottawa Fury. Vanney rested a number of his starters for the two-game set against Ottawa, including top scorer Sebastian Giovinco and captain Michael Bradley. Other starters, including Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio, were used sparingly in the semifinal series.

“With the busy stretch coming up, Greg felt like it was a good chance to rotate [the squad] and make sure we had everybody healthy, everybody fit, everybody sharp, everybody feeling good. The games are going to come thick and fast now, and they’re important games, and there’s some travel in there, so it’s important that every single guy is ready to go,” Bradley said.

 
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STATUS OF VAZQUEZ, AURO AND MOOR

Midfielder Victor Vazquez came on as a second-half substitute in last week’s game vs. Chicago after sitting out the previous four matches. The Spaniard has been managing a lingering knee issue this week, but Vanney said there is a “good possibility” he’ll play some part in Saturday’s contest.

Brazilian full-back Auro Jr. has missed the last five games with a hamstring issue and isn’t fully integrated back into full training just yet. Vanney hopes he’ll be available for their next game, on the road against Atlanta United on Aug. 4.

Veteran central defender Drew Moor, who has been sidelined since April with a quad tear, continues to train on his own during practices as he works his way back to full fitness. He suffered a big of a setback with a calf injury, which pushed back his return by a week or so.

HASLER’S RETURN

Prior to last Saturday’s game, TFC traded Lichtenstein midfielder Nicolas Hasler to Chicago for forward Jon Bakero and $50,000 in general allocation money.

Hasler joined Toronto last summer as a free agent, and ended up playing 12 games (including two playoff appearances). This season, he played in 14 league games for the Reds, 11 as a starter, and recorded three assists.

Bakero, 21, was selected No. 5 overall in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft by Chicago, but ended up making only four appearances (75 minutes in total) this season. The son of former FC Barcelona star Jose Mari Bakero, Jon played four seasons at Wake Forest where he won the MAC Hermann Trophy, awarded to college soccer’s top player.

Both Hasler and Bakero could make their respective debuts for their new clubs on Saturday.

Raheem Edwards will also mark his return to BMO Field on Saturday. The young Canadian joined Chicago via a trade with the Montreal Impact, and made his debut for the Fire in last week’s loss to TFC.

ALL-TIME SERIES VS. CHICAGO

Toronto leads the all-time MLS series against Chicago with 10 wins and nine draws in 28 matches. The teams played to a 2-2 draw on April 28 in their last meeting at BMO Field.

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