Toronto FC may hold off on the champagne if it secures a first-ever playoff berth this weekend.
Coach Greg Vanney, who seemed more open earlier in the week to the idea of a long-awaited playoff celebration, and captain Michael Bradley were all business Friday.
With all eyes on the Blue Jays’ post-season, Toronto FC’s bid to break its own playoff hoodoo has been all but ignored locally. Which seems fine with the coach and captain, who maintain that getting into the post-season is just part of the job at hand.
For Bradley, it’s a time to keep the pedal on the metal. Popping corks comes later.
“We spoke this morning about the games at the end of the year and playoff games and playoff-type games, the margin for error becomes even smaller,” he said after a chilly practice. “That line between winning and losing becomes even smaller. And so it’s so important that now as we hit this final stretch that the mentality, the commitment, the determination, everything, these things get ramped up another notch.
“If and when it happens, sure it will be something that we’re all excited about and very proud of but it will just be Step 1 along the way.”
Vanney says there is no bottle of bubbly in his fridge. And he doesn’t expect his players to party hearty should everything go their way this weekend.
“I feel like this is a group that sees us clinching is a step into what we’re trying to accomplish, not THE step,” he said. “And so in that way, I think they will probably have something where they get together and have their acknowledgment of the achievement once we get there. After that I think it is all attention on placement (in the standings) and everything else because we still have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Toronto (13-13-4) can secure a playoff berth with a win or tie over visiting Philadelphia (9-15-7) on Saturday and help from New York City FC and Orlando City. NYCFC plays D.C. United on Friday while Orlando faces Montreal in a later start Saturday.
Toronto has a bye next week, so champagne celebrations a la Blue Jays in the dressing room seem unlikely.
TFC currently stands fifth in the East, one point ahead of Montreal which has a game in hand.
The top six teams in each of the two conferences make the post-season with the top two in the East and West having first-round bye. No. 3 will host No. 6 while No. 4 faces No. 5 in what are essentially wild-card games with the winners advancing to the conference semifinals.
Toronto, which has been searching for the post-season since entering the league in 2007, knows that a one-and-done visit to the playoffs will not satisfy.
The club goes into the weekend on a two-game win streak with Vanney having the future of a largely healthy lineup that is very motivated, given some local tunnel-vision criticism.
It takes time to grow a squad and while there have been plenty of bumps on the 2015 road, notably on defence, Toronto has played some sparkling soccer with Sebastian Giovinco orchestrating the attack. The character and experience that Bradley said was sorely lacking at the end of last season have also been upgraded.
For Toronto, the four remaining regular-season games and whatever playoff matches that follow are the franchise’s final exam this season.
In contrast, the Union arrive on the heels of a crushing 7-6 penalty shootout loss at home to Sporting Kansas City in Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup final.
“Not a ton of words after a night like that,” said Philadelphia coach Jim Curtin.
Philadelphia lost last year’s final to Seattle, conceding two goals in extra-time.
On Friday, the Union announced that CEO Nick Sakiewicz was leaving with chief revenue officer Dave Rowan assuming interim day-to-day business operations.
“It’s time to move forward now and execute on our plan to bring a winning team to Philadelphia and its fans,” club majority owner Jay Sugarman said in a statement.
A loss or tie will eliminate Philadelphia from playoff contention Saturday. So will a Montreal win over Orlando City.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press