Back to back wins, including a massive come from behind victory against the Portland Timbers have TFC fans buzzing at the prospect of a possible playoff appearance. Sitting just 1 point back of New York, the healthy Reds, including one Jermain Defoe, will travel to California to face one of their biggest tests of the season.
Standing in their way on Saturday evening is the seemingly unstoppable LA Galaxy, a team that has quickly risen to the top of the Western Conference alongside the Sounders. On the backs of a star studded cast including Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, and rising star Gyasi Zardes, LA has put the rest of the league on notice in recent weeks, especially after their convincing victory over the usually strong New York Red Bulls.
Both teams, coming off huge wins last week, will now face off in Carson, California with very different implications.
For TFC, prior to a 6 game slide that saw them free fall from a strong 3rd seed in the East to a horrifying 7th seed, the playoffs were firmly in their grasp. Since the dismissal of the entire coaching staff and the constant scourge of injuries taking their toll on the team, TFC has battled their way to within a single point of the 5th and final playoff spot in the East. With a game in hand, but some very stiff competition from now until the end of the season, it will take a historic effort from the entire squad…and a bit of luck…for TFC to take part in this years’ post-season activities.
For the Galaxy, having already secured a playoff spot, Bruce Arena’s men have set their sights on the Supporter’s Shield. A home and home against Seattle will very well determine if they achieve their goal or if Seattle is just that good. Veteran leadership and raw talent seem to be the perfect combination for LA, and with the retirement of Landon Donovan looming, you know very well that this team wants him to go out with as much silverware as possible.
For those expecting TFC to come away with something from this trip to California besides a tan, I suggest you temper your expectations. The Galaxy’s form leading up to this match is scary. Not only has the team only lost 5 matches all season, they are unbeaten in their last 9 games, and have a +32 goal differential.
Also for those counting, Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes sit 3rd and 4th in MLS goal scoring with 17 and 16 goals respectively, while Landon Donovan leads the league in assists while Keane sits 3rd in that list as well with 18 and 14 assists respectively.
The odds are clearly stacked against the Reds.
A huge bonus for TFC is the return of team leading scorer Jermain Defoe after “recovering” from a plethora of injuries and missing over a month of league matches. Say what you will about his personality or professionalism springing from the transfer controversy surrounding him and the team, his goal scoring ability will be greatly appreciated in the lineup.
However stacked the odds are in LA’s favour, historically, TFC hasn’t been that bad against the Galaxy. In the 14 matches played between them, LA has won 4 while TFC has won 3, with the remaining matches splitting the points. The last meeting was last season at BMO Field that ended in a 2-2 draw, but if it wasn’t for a Jose Villarreal scissor kick 94th minute, TFC would have taken all 3 points.
But there was that CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal match up in 2012. In front of nearly 50,000 screaming fans in Toronto’s Rogers Centre, these two teams battled to an emotional 2-2 draw. The second leg saw TFC travel to California and walk out as victors on the back of a Nick Soolsma 67th minute winner.
If history decides to repeat itself and somehow gift TFC at least a point, the soccer gods will have nearly repaid TFC fans in full for all of the hardships they have put us through. On the other hand, following the recent trend in results when TFC takes on other top teams in the league, this will not end well. The moral of the story is that, even if the Reds suffer a demoralizing loss, their playoff chances will not be done and dusted. It will make the road ahead a whole lot more bumpy, but not impossible.
Fans can take solace in the fact that an Aron Winter coached, Torsten Frings captained Toronto FC, managed to go into LA’s house and beat the Bruce Arena coached, David Beckham and Landon Donovan led LA Galaxy. Anything can happen.
(image courtesy of Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)