TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays have already started their post-season celebrations. Toronto FC could join them this weekend in cracking the playoff bubbly for the first time in franchise history.
Toronto (13-13-4) needs to beat visiting Philadelphia (9-15-7) on Saturday and have New York City FC and Orlando drop points in other matches. A Toronto tie could also do it depending on other results in the Eastern Conference.
With three games still to play after the weekend, fifth-place Toronto has more chances to secure its first playoff berth. But getting a massive monkey off the franchise back sooner than later would be welcome.
Would Toronto FC mark the moment with a celebration, manager Greg Vanney was asked?
"I would be hard to say there wouldn't be," Vanney replied. "I mean it's been a long time coming, not necessarily for this group but we feel the responsibility of many years before to try to get it done.
"So when that moment comes, I can pretty much assure you there'll be some form of a celebration. Then we'll get back to the business of positioning (in the standings)."
Toronto (whose career MLS record is 75-133-78) has gone through 286 regular-season games, nine managers and an ever-changing cast of players since entering the league in 2007. It has yet to finish with a record above .500.
It might be acceptable if the team had no resources. But TFC falls under the umbrella of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the Jabba the Hutt of sports ownership.
Players like captain Michael Bradley signed on, in part, drawn by the challenge to put the franchise back on track.
The current Toronto roster of players shouldn't have to wear such a shabby history. But they do.
"To me and I think everybody else in the locker-room we understand it's a huge monkey on the back," said centre back Josh Williams.
Vanney can see his team carrying the burden of TFC history.
"For me, sometimes, I come into the locker-room and you can feel the weight of responsibility in the group," said Vanney.
"You sense that they feel like there's a big hurdle in front of them that they have to clear," he added. "I almost feel like once we clear it, it will be a relief and maybe we can even let loose a little more in terms of our personality and our emotions."
For Vanney, his team is "so wound tight right now" that it can play not to lose at times.
"But we're dealing with it and finding ways to continue to play and get results and push ourselves."
It seems part of that is an us-against-them mentality.
"Until you're that group that has a history of winning, and you have that swagger and people are saying wonderful things about you, then you need a common enemy, you need a common goal," Vanney said. "The goal is obviously to get to the playoffs and make a championship run, but sometimes you need a common enemy."
Vanney has tapped into that, pointing out criticism in the media prior to the Colorado game two weeks ago. Defender Damien Perquis popped off at a reporter after the game.
Toronto can clinch a playoff berth if it beats Philadelphia and New York City FC loses or ties D.C. United and Orlando City loses or ties Montreal.
It can also guarantee post-season play if it ties Philadelphia and New York City FC loses or ties D.C. United and Orlando City loses to Montreal.
The NYCFC-D.C. United game goes Friday. On Saturday, Toronto hosts Philadelphia at 5 p.m. ET while Orlando welcomes Montreal at 7:30 p.m.
So Toronto players will have to wait a couple of hours to see the final shoe drop.
With Toronto having a bye next week, the playoff celebrations could be in camera. Which might just suit the players.
Toronto may be getting the Union at the right time. Philadelphia hosts Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday in the final of the U.S. Open Cup.
Montreal, sixth in the East, can also qualify for the playoffs if it beats Orlando and New York City FC loses or ties. Vancouver can book its playoff ticket by beating San Jose on Saturday.
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