TORONTO – Greg Vanney stopped short of calling it a “must-win.”
But who’s kidding who? Even though Toronto FC can’t be officially eliminated from playoff contention, if it loses Saturday night’s home game against the Montreal Impact, Vanney must know in his heart of hearts that his side can ill-afford to drop three points against their bitter rivals.
“I don’t think it’s ‘this game or we’re out,’ but I think it’s very close. We’re at home now for six games. I think we have to win at least seven [overall] between now and the end of the season to put ourselves even into a position to compete for a playoff spot,” TFC’s coach said.
“You gotta think that the six home games are really important, and then the remaining four that are on road, you have to come away with dome results. But you don’t want to have to rely on winning games on the road, you want to win games at home, which makes this one really important.”
Make no mistake about it: this match is a “must-win” for Toronto. Not technically, but in a very real sense.
Montreal (10-13-3) currently holds down the sixth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, and sits three spots and nine points above Toronto (6-12-6) in the standings, although the Reds do have two games in hand. A victory on Saturday would keep its fading playoff hopes alive. A loss or a draw would essentially kill TFC’s chances of making the post-season – Toronto could possibly drop 12 points below the playoff line in the East (depending on other results this weekend) with nine games to play.
“They’re a team that’s in front of us [in the standings] that we need to track down and they’re a rival. All of those things make it an important game,” Vanney stated.
Veteran defender Drew Moor added: “We know how important it is to the players, the club, the fans, the entire organization. And we’ll play like it’s a Cup final. It’s a good opportunity to get ourselves going.”
As if the Reds weren’t in a tough situation to begin with ahead of this match, the league’s disciplinary committee announced Wednesday that it hit forward Jozy Altidore with a one-game suspension for “violent conduct” after he kicked out at New York City FC’s Alexander Callens in a 3-2 home loss on Aug. 12
Vanney described the ban as “harsh,” especially in light of what he feels were more serious and egregious fouls in MLS this season that went unpunished.
“We sized up a lot of different scenarios that have happened around the league this year, and I think this is a harsh suspension. I don’t agree with it, but we will, like we do with everything this year, manage it and get through it,” Vanney offered.
Altidore won’t be the only regular starter missing for Toronto on Saturday.
Brazilian full-back Auro Jr. is still on the sidelines recovering from a hamstring injury. On Friday, Vanney confirmed that central defender Chris Mavinga could also be out for a few of weeks due to an ongoing hamstring issue.
Mavinga was a key figure for the Reds in 2017, making 26 regular season appearances in his debut campaign in MLS. This year, though, he has been limited to only seven MLS games due to a rash of injuries.
Spanish playmaker Victor Vazquez received a cortisone shot into his knee this week, but he could see action Saturday.
“If all goes well between tonight and tomorrow he should be available,” Vanney said.
With Altidore out of commission, Vanney could insert newcomer Lucas Janson into the starting lineup alongside fellow forward Sebastian Giovinco.
“That’s one of the options. We have multiple forwards we can bring into the equation. We can use Janson in different roles, because he’s capable of playing any number of attacking positions, so we do have some different ways to play this,” Vanney explained.
Acquired by TFC in the first week of August, Janson made his MLS debut in San Jose, starting for the Reds and scoring the side’s lone goal in the 59th minute off a setup from Giovinco and Gregory van der Wiel.
Janson, who turned 24 last week, put in a man-of-the-match performance for Toronto, as he effectively linked up in the attack with midfielders Marky Delgado and Jonathan Osorio before being subbed out in the 66th minute.
Regardless of what Vanney does, players will have to step up to make up for the absence of Altidore in such an important game.
“We’ve dealt with it all year, whether you lose [players] to injury or lose them to a suspension. It reshapes your lineup and someone else has to step in and play a role. We’ve been doing that since Game 1 … For me, it’s frustrating but it’s part of the game,” Vanney said.