Toronto FC holds no love for CF Montreal. But it can do its biggest rival a huge solid Sunday as MLS wraps up the regular season.
Toronto (9-17-7, 34 points) was eliminated from playoff contention on Sept. 17 in a 4-0 loss at Orlando City SC. But it can still impact the post-season picture Sunday when it visits Philadelphia, the team Montreal is chasing for top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Montreal (19-9-5, 62 points) plays at Inter Miami on Sunday, looking to close the two-point gap with Philadelphia (18-5-10, 64 points).
Philadelphia will clinch the first seed in the East with a win over Toronto or a Montreal loss or tie at Miami. Montreal will finish first if it wins in Miami and Philadelphia loses or ties TFC. Should Montreal and Philadelphia finish tied on points, Montreal wins the tiebreaker by virtue of more wins.
"They've had a good season," Toronto midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye said of Montreal. "I have some good friends on the team and Canadian teammates that have had conversations with me just about how important their game is. They need to win. And the result of our game.
"At the end of the day, we want to win. And if that means us winning helps Montreal, then lucky for them."
Finishing first means home-field advantage for the Eastern Conference portion of the playoffs. And depending on what happens to West-leading Los Angeles FC in the playoffs, it could mean home-field advantage for the MLS Cup final.
TFC may have to face the Union without the Italian trio of Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi and Domenico Criscito who did not train Friday.
"All question-marks for the game. All carrying little things," sad Toronto coach Bob Bradley.
Toronto will finish 13th in the East no matter what happens Decision Day. More help is needed in goal, defence and attack for a team still under construction.
While progress has been made with the midseason acquisition of the Italians and Kaye and fellow Canadian international Richie Laryea, who returned to Toronto on loan from England's Nottingham Forest, TFC currently stands 26th overall in the league — the same as last year, albeit with six more points.
In contrast, the Union were the class of the East for most of the season. But Philadelphia is paying the price for picking up just one point in its last two outings.
A 4-0 loss at Charlotte last weekend, combined with LAFC's 2-1 win in Portland courtesy of Denis Bouanga's 95th-minute highlight-reel winner, ended the Union's hopes of winning the Supporters' Shield for best regular-season record. That trophy goes to LAFC, along with a berth in the 2023 CONCACAF Champions League.
Philadelphia coach Jim Curtin called the Charlotte defeat "a wake-up call" ahead of the post-season where "it's one bad game and you're done."
"Make no mistake … We wanted to obviously win the Supporters' Shield. We came up a little short," he said. "But let's also recognize, perspective-wise, to finish second in a league of 28 teams in terms of the record is also still a heck of an accomplishment for the group."
Toronto has had more than its share of bad outings. Bradley's team has been outscored 13-6 in losing its last four games and is winless in five. Compare that to Philadelphia which, despite the recent stumble, has conceded just 26 goals in 33 games.
"Ultimately maybe this season hasn't gone exactly how they hoped but they're also in the process of changing and shifting the culture," Curtin said of Toronto.
Prior to its current slide, Toronto had lost just one of eight games (4-1-3), a run that coincided with the arrival of Insigne and Bernardeschi. Fifteen of TFC's 34 points this season came during that stretch.
Philadelphia is 11-0-5 at Subaru Park this season and has outscored visiting opposition 45-9, included 34-4 in the last seven home games. The 34 goals and plus-30 differential are both the most in any seven-game home span in MLS history.
Toronto is 2-10-4 away from home. Still TFC is responsible for one of Philadelphia's five losses this season, a 2-1 setback at BMO Field on April 16.
Having conceded 62 goals this season, Toronto is just four off its franchise-worst of 66, set last season when the team went 6-18-10.
Toronto will be without the suspended Laryea. Midfielder Jonathan Osorio (neurological dysfunction) remains unavailable.
Philadelphia will be missing the suspended Kai Wagner with Matt Real expected to fill in at fullback. Curtin is awaiting word on the status of captain Alejandro Bedoya, who has missed the last two games with a hip issue.
Bedoya was listed as questionable.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press