While the Supporters' Shield is on the line Sunday, all Toronto FC can do is take care of its own business when it visits the New York Red Bulls on Decision Day.
TFC needs help from New England, which visits Philadelphia on Sunday, to hoist the trophy that goes to the team with the best regular-season record.
Due to pandemic-related cancellations across the league, MLS decided to rank teams by points per game rather than total points. Toronto and Philadelphia go into Sunday's season finale both at 13-4-5, with 44 points each from their 22 games — an average of 2.00 points per game.
TFC needs to pick up more points than Philadelphia on the day. If they both win or tie, they finish with the same number of points and wins but the Union would get the nod via the second tiebreaker of goal differential per match (Philadelphia's is 1.00 compared to 0.36 for Toronto).
"Our approach is to try and get a result on the weekend and hope that the other result goes in our favour and (we can) raise another trophy," said Toronto coach Greg Vanney. "But the only thing we can control is ourselves and our performance. At the end of 90 minutes, hopefully our performance is good enough to get the win."
Added captain Michael Bradley: "The most important thing for us is to worry about ourselves. The most important thing is to step on the field, go after the game in a really good strong way, try to finish off the regular season playing really well and taking a big three points.
"Will we keep an eye on what's going on in Philadelphia? Absolutely."
The odds would seem to favour Philadelphia, which has won all eight home games this season.
The Supporters' Shield carries with it home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as well as a US$150,00 prize. Should it pick up its first ever trophy Sunday — the Union finished runner-up in the U.S. Open Cup in 2014, '15 and '18 — Philadelphia would also earn a berth into the 2021 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League. Canadian teams can only qualify for CONCACAF's top club tournament via the Canadian Championship.
A 5-0 defeat in Philadelphia on Oct. 24 and a 1-0 loss to New York City FC four days later in Hartford cost Toronto, which was ravaged by injuries at the time, in the standings. The Union let Toronto back in the hunt by losing 2-1 in Columbus last Sunday.
Toronto may be getting some reinforcements for Sunday's game. "We're getting healthier," said Vanney.
Striker Jozy Altidore. who has missed the last seven games with a hamstring strain, and midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who has sat out the last three outings, could be in the mix. If available, they would probably start on the bench.
Fullback Justin Morrow, midfielder Marky Delgado and attacking midfielder/forward Pablo Piatti are said to be progressing but may have to wait until the playoffs, which open Nov. 20.
The Red Bulls (8-9-5) go into Sunday's contest in seventh place in the East. Their goal is to get a win and hopefully move past New England into sixth, which would allow them to forgo the play-in round and get a few more days rest.
Toronto had to settle for a 1-0 tie with the New Yorkers they last time they met, thanks to a 77th-minute wonder-strike by 17-year-old substitute Caden Clark. Playing in just his second game, Clark — at 17 years four months 18 days — became the youngest player in league history to score in his first two MLS appearances.
While Toronto has had to survive a pandemic, playing away from home and more than a few injuries, it has still managed to put together a season of high quality.
Only six teams In league history have finished a season with 2.00 points per game or better. A win Sunday and Toronto would finish the regular season with a 2.04 points average.
TFC averaged 2.03 points a game in 2017 — tied for fourth-best in league history — when it also won the treble of Supporters; Shield, MLS Cup and Canadian Championship.
The Los Angeles Galaxy set the league points-per-game record in 1998, averaging 2.13 an outing a 24-0-8 season. That Galaxy team included Vanney and Toronto assistant coach Dan Calichman. Former TFC assistant coach Robin Fraser, now head coach of the Colorado Rapids, was also a member of the Galaxy that year.
TORONTO FC (13-4-5) AT NEW YORK RED BULLS (8-9-5)
Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET at Red Bull Arena, Harrison, N.J.
MOTIVATED: The Red Bulls blew a 2-1 lead last time out and lost 5-2 to rival New York City FC at Yankee Stadium. That snapped a season-long five-match (2-0-3) unbeaten streak that included a 1-1 tie with Toronto.
HOME ADVANTAGE: The Red Bulls are 12-2-2 all-time in home matches against Toronto FC. Toronto's 2-0 victory on March 6, 2016, was its first win ever at Red Bull Arena. The Red Bulls are unbeaten against Toronto in their last four home regular-season matches (3-0-1) and have outscored TFC 8-1 during that stretch.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2020
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press