10/10/2014 03:10 EDT | Updated 12/10/2014 05:59 EST

Toronto FC embraces challenge of must-win game in New York against the Red Bulls

TORONTO - Toronto FC's season may be in the balance but the team's pulse seemed very steady ahead of what coach Greg Vanney called "the most important match of the year."

Toronto visits the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, with maximum points needed. Anything else won't result in playoff elimination but the already slim chance of advancing will dwindle.

Toronto (11-13-7) stands sixth, three points behind Columbus which currently holds down the fifth and last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Columbus (11-10-10) plays at eighth-place Philadelphia (9-10-12) on Saturday.

Vanney said his players are embracing the challenge, rather than seeing their backs against the wall.

"They firmly believe that they can go to New York and win the game, as do I," Vanney said Friday before getting on the plane.

"I think the group believes in what we have and what we're doing," he added. "I think we're quite frankly looking forward at this challenge."

"We know how important it is," added captain Steven Caldwell. "We need to roll our sleeves up, be men and come away with the victory."

Of course the same could be said for Wednesday, when Toronto ran into a hot goalie in Tyler Deric and squandered a pile of scoring chances in a costly 1-0 loss to the visiting Houston Dynamo. Toronto could not take advantage of a penalty or extra man after Dynamo defender A.J. Cochran was sent off with 35 minutes remaining.

"We kind of dug ourselves in a hole when we didn't get a result against Houston," said Ghanaian midfielder-forward Dominic Oduro.

"To me, that's no pressure," he added. "We just have to go out there and execute."

With three games remaining, Toronto desperately needs to collect as many of the nine available points left as possible.

"If we can do our job and win (Saturday), we set ourselves up in a pretty good way as we come home again (to host Montreal)," said Vanney. "And then we'll see where we're at and what we need as we go to New England for the final match.

"But those two matches don't mean anything until we get something out of (Saturday)."

A loss Saturday would put Toronto on playoff life support. A tie and the team would be watching other results with fingers crossed.

Even with a win Saturday, it needs other teams to falter to keep its playoff dream alive. Five points separate teams No. 4 through No. 8 in the Eastern Conference with Toronto in the middle at No. 6.

Vanney sees more than light at the end of the tunnel. He said if TFC makes the post-season, "I don't think anyone would want to play our team because we continue, I think, to grow as a group week in and week out, day in and day out."

While Toronto looks to stay alive in the playoff hunt, the Red Bulls (11-9-11) hope to book their ticket to the post-season. They can qualify with a win over Toronto and a Houston tie or loss to D.C. United on Saturday.

Toronto has lost two straight via shutout with the Houston setback following a 3-0 defeat in Los Angeles against the Galaxy.

New York sits fourth in the Eastern Conference and has lost just once in its last six (4-1-1).

Sporting Kansas City, the New England Revolution, Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas can also book their post-season tickets with the right combination of weekend results. Philadelphia and Houston could be eliminated.

New York will be without star midfielder Tim Cahill (Australia) and defenders Roy Miller (Costa Rica) and Ambroise Oyongo (Cameroon), all away on international duty.

Congo striker Peguy Luyindula is suspended for the game, the result of a scissors tackle on Houston's Luis Garrido.

Toronto has Doneil Henry, Manny Aparacio and Quillan Roberts in camp with Canada, which plays Colombia on Tuesday at Red Bulls Arena. None is a starter, however. Toronto teenage striker Jordan Hamilton, on loan to a Portuguese second-tier team, is also in the Canadian camp.

New York has won six straight at Red Bull Arena and is unbeaten there in its last nine matches (7-0-2) including a 2-2 draw with Toronto on June 27. The Red Bulls have not lost at home since May 24.

Toronto won 2-0 at BMO Field on May 17 in the teams' other meeting this season.

The Red Bulls hope to make some noise en route to the playoffs. English striker Bradley Wright-Phillips, who leads the MLS with 24 goals, is after the league single-season scoring record of 27 set by Roy Lassiter (1996)and Chris Wondolowski (2012).

Vanney said the best defence is a good offence. But he also knows the squad cannot throw caution to the wind, with Wright-Phillips and Thierry Henry lurking in attack.

"We have to go out there, we have to be bold," said Caldwell. "We have to be attack-minded to win the game, but we can't be too cavalier. There's a right mix."

Vanney has a full squad at his disposal. Brazilian striker Gilberto, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring issue, is part of the travelling squad but Vanney appears to be leaning towards sticking with an all-English strike force of Jermain Defoe and Luke Moore.

Fullback Justin Morrow, limping after rolling an ankle Wednesday, is also available to play.

Notes: Vanney expects star midfielder Michael Bradley to join the U.S. squad after the Red Bulls game for the Americans' friendly Tuesday against Honduras in Boca Raton, Fla. ... Look for Oduro to add some pink to his ever-changing mohawk, to honour breast cancer awareness month.


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