Toronto FC looks for redemption in Montreal after loss to Impact in season finale

Toronto FC looks for redemption in Montreal after loss to Impact in season finale

Main pic: Montreal Impact’s Dilly Duka, right, challenges Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco during second half MLS soccer action in Montreal, Sunday, October 25, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes.

TORONTO — Thursday in Montreal represents the biggest game in Toronto FC franchise history. The hope is that an even bigger game follows.

Greg Vanney’s team enters win-or-go-home territory for the first time Thursday, in a rematch against an Impact side that defeated it 2-1 Sunday in the MLS regular-season finale.

That result lifted Montreal (15-13-6) into third place in the Eastern Conference while Toronto (15-15-4) dropped to sixth. It also earned Montreal home-field advantage to open the playoffs.

A Toronto win and TFC will play the New York Bulls next in the two-game Eastern Conference semifinal. Should Montreal advance, it will face the Columbus Crew.

Toronto arrives in the post-season for a first time with a chip on its shoulder. The club is clearly tired about being painted as the Richie Rich of Major League Soccer, and of its reputation as a high-flying offence with a sieve for a defence — TFC tied for second in goals scored per game (1.71) and 18th in goals conceded per outing (1.71).

“We know we have a very talented team,” said Vanney. “We also know we have a young team — this will be the first time they’re in the playoffs.

“But if we make the right plays and we stick together as a team and tactically make the adjustments that we need to make, then we have as good a chance as anyone in this league to win the championship, in my opinion.

“We can beat anyone on any given day, but this league is incredibly difficult to predict, as you’ve seen over the course of the year and the way everyone finished. You have to make the plays and you have to do the things that you have to do or else you get beat. That’s the parity of the league.

“And it has nothing to do with money. It has everything to do with lots of things — which is continuity, how long groups have been together, the situations they’ve seen.”

In truth, Toronto is a team with decent depth and some marvellous parts — Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Benoit Cheyrou are fun to watch pulling the strings — that is still finding its identity.

Good teams take time to gel. But given Toronto’s poor history, patience is lacking these days.

Toronto is probably also fed up talking about Didier Drogba, the Impact’s star striker whose 54th- and 55th-minute goals proved to be the game-changer Sunday, and its poor record away from home.

TFC was 11-5-1 at BMO Field and 4-10-3 away from it.

Toronto has lost its last five road games and is 0-6-2 away from home since a 2-1 win June 6 at D.C. United.

Toronto was 13th in the league on the road this season, ranking 17th in goals conceded at 2.12 a game away. On the plus side, Vanney’s team was tied for second in scoring away from home, averaging 1.41 goals a game.

Bradley pointed to the parity in MLS as the main reason for TFC’s road record. Other than conference leaders FC Dallas and the Red Bulls, which both had 60 points, the other 10 playoff teams ranged between 53 and 49 points.

“Everything is very tight. So going on the road can be difficult,” Bradley told reporters after practice Tuesday. “But having said that, stats are for you guys.

“We feel very confident about where we are, about the position that we’re in, about the chance that we have in front of us.

“It’s a team that we know well,” he said of Montreal. “It’s a team that brings out a lot of emotion in terms of the fans, in terms of everything that goes into these games. Whoever is able to win and go through will be the team that on the day has more guys that are able to make plays at the right times.”

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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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