TORONTO - A season that started with such promise for Toronto FC wraps up Saturday with a whimper rather than a bang.
Toronto (11-14-8) visits playoff-bound New England (16-13-4) with nothing of meaning on the line.
With Houston losing 2-1 in Chicago on Friday nght, Toronto can finish no lower than seventh in the Eastern Conference. Sixth place is possible depending on results in New England and Columbus, which hosts Philadelphia. The Union hold a one-point edge over Toronto going into play Saturday.
Toronto is also looking to add to the franchise single-season records it has already set in 2014: most wins (11) and points (41).
Either way, it hardly makes for a cliffhanger. And despite the franchise marks, the season can be seen only as a another in a long line of disappointments.
Ownership spent buckets of money and made promises it couldn't keep after finishing ninth in 2013 with a 6-17-11 record. Good people lost their jobs.
Toronto enters the 2014 season finale winless in four (1-3-0), a stretch that has seen it outscored 8-2. It is 2-7-3 over its last 12 games with coach Greg Vanney's record at the helm 2-5-2 since taking over from Ryan Nelsen (who went 9-9-6 before getting the axe).
"For me it's a character game," Vanney said of Saturday's finale. "In the grand scheme of things, there's nothing for us to play for. But if you're a true competitor and a winner, then you're going to go out on the field and we're going to find a way to get a result and we're going to play together."
Vanney says it's also another chance for the team to "wrap our heads around the style of play and things we want to do moving forward."
"We don't want to just waste this last game," he added. "It's still an opportunity. I still think there's some opportunity for guys to step in and show a little bit of something as well, because decisions will have to be made at the end of the year. But by and large we have a good sense of what that is. I don't think anyone is necessarily playing for their job but I think guys can make good cases for themselves this weekend."
It's a far cry from the beginning of the season when star striker Jermain Defoe scored twice in a 2-1 win in Seattle that drew a TSN audience of 299,000. The next weekend, the home opener against D.C. United drew a TSN audience of 342,000 — the most watched MLS game ever on English television in Canada.
Fast forward to Oct. 11 and Toronto at New York drew an average audience of 53,000, which bumped up to 107,000 for the 1-1 tie with Montreal last Saturday that eliminated TFC from playoff contention.
Overall, TFC games on TSN have averaged 136,000 viewers this year — an increase of 33 per cent from last year.
Average audience for games on Sportsnet, which had second pick of the games behind TSN, was 48,000. The Sportsnet broadcast of the Chivas USA game at Toronto, its most recent broadcast, drew an average audience of 28,000, down 51 per cent from the network's first game of the season (at Columbus) in April.
New England, meanwhile, will finish second in the East no matter what happens the final weekend of the regular season. It will be watching the results to see whether it will play Sporting Kansas City, Columbus Crew or New York Red Bulls in the playoffs.
The Revolution are unbeaten in their last four matches and have lost once in their last 11 matches (8-1-2) since mid-August. New England has won five straight at home and has not lost at Gillette Stadium in seven games (6-0-1) since a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Columbus on July 26.
"We want to take momentum into the playoffs if we can," Revs defender A.J. Soares told reporters this week. "We know there's no consequence of the game but it doesn't really matter. It's all about us and looking forward, and we know if we have a good performance here, that'll carry to the next week."
New England has been off since Oct. 16 when it rallied for a 2-1 road win over Houston.
Toronto will face the Revolution without Defoe (groin) and suspended Canadian midfielders Jonathan Osorio and Dwayne De Rosario. Centre back Nick Hagglund (hamstring) is also ailing.
Star midfielder Michael Bradley is expected to play despite missing several practices this week due to an ongoing nerve-related foot issue which necessitated a minor procedure earlier in the season.
"It's something he could manage and deal with but it is highly annoying and painful at times," said Vanney.
The plan is for Bradley to seek a more permanent solution during the off-season.
NOTES: New England won the two previous meetings with Toronto this season, 3-0 and 2-1, at BMO Field ... Revolution midfielder Lee Nguyen comes into the game having won MLS Goal of the Week for Week 32.
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter