Toronto FC had little trouble with Orlando City SC when the teams last met two weeks ago. The expansion team will have a different look for the rematch on Saturday afternoon.
Star midfielder Kaka is expected to be in the lineup for the visitors at BMO Field in a key matchup between Eastern Conference clubs. He was out due to injury in Toronto's 4-1 win on Aug. 5.
"Right from the beginning this year, I think he's had an incredible way about him in terms of his willingness to put as much on his shoulders as possible and to try to make plays that really help their team," said Toronto midfielder Michael Bradley. "So we'll do what we always do, just try to look at their team, look at the important players on their team and make sure that we make the game as difficult as possible for them."
Toronto is coming off a 3-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls and needs to start earning points to avoid the playoff bubble in the East. With the top six teams making the post-season, fifth-place Toronto enters the weekend just three points ahead of Orlando City, Montreal and New York City FC.
"It's important to create separation from that playoff line if you will, and give yourself some cushion," head coach Greg Vanney said after putting the team through a two-hour practice. "The cushion for us is really more about our performance and assessment of things then moving forward. But of course we'd be silly to say we're not looking at standings and recognizing who's where.
"This is a team that for sure we want to keep behind us, as many points as possible, to create that separation. Meanwhile, we still have our eyes on the teams in front of us and we just know that this stretch of games at home are vital."
Orlando City (7-11-7) will also have adjustments to make from the teams' last meeting. Designated players Jozy Altidore (suspension) and Michael Bradley (injury) did not play for Toronto in that game but will be back Saturday.
Toronto midfielder Sebastian Giovinco enters play with 16 goals on the season, good for second spot in Major League Soccer behind Columbus forward Kei Kamara (18). Orlando City rookie Cyle Larin of Brampton, Ont., is tied for fifth on the list with 11 goals this year.
The host side has struggled of late with a win and a draw in its last five games. Toronto also beat Orlando City 2-0 in their first meeting this season on April 26 at the Citrus Bowl.
"Our mentality is that we don't really care that we beat them twice," said Vanney. "We know the importance of this game. Our mindset is it doesn't matter who's across from us. We're stepping up to play a certain way and that's going to be our expectation tomorrow."
The schedule becomes more kind to Toronto FC for the final third of the campaign. Of the 11 games remaining, eight are at home.
"We still have to understand that there will be good moments, there will be bad moments," Bradley said. "But our ability to deal with it all as the season winds down will play a big part in where we finish."
Notes: Toronto will play at home again on Aug. 29 against the visiting Impact. Montreal has two games in hand on Toronto. That matchup will be followed with a Sept. 5 game at Seattle.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press