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Look, I don't want to fall into the Vancouver Whitecaps playing Toronto FC overconfidence trap here. The Whitecaps had a winning record against the FCs during the second division days but, as an MLS side, have just one victory in six attempts across all competitions. We haven't gotten so much as a point at BMO Field since we tied Toronto 0-0 in the rain-drenched final game of the 2010 Voyageurs Cup. They may be the worst team in the world but, for whatever reason, since Teitur Thordarson left they've just had our number.
After the heart-shattering experiences we've had with these guys the past year and a half, we should really know better than to underestimate them.
But, I mean... we're just better than them. I'm sorry but we are. I don't care what the head-to-head record is, I don't care that chubby Danny Koevermans is somehow wheezing his way to double-digit scoring figures while Sebastien Le Toux can't figure out which colour his team is wearing. Toronto FC has very few wins. They are dead fucking last in MLS's lesser conference. Their fans are rejoicing because they're managing to get one point per game under their latest incompetent coach Paul Mariner. They are not good at soccer. We should beat them. We should. We damned well should.
This game has stink lines drawn all over it. Our opponent stinks, their city stinks, the scheduling stinks (oh, they scheduled Vancouver's sole mid-week continental road trip at a time that would give Toronto the maximum possible advantage while minimizing the ability of Vancouver fans to watch? Just another remarkable TFC coincidence!).
But if the Whitecaps win, even in the most god-awful match it is possible to imagine, then it'll be worth it because we need to get this damned monkey off our back. Toronto sucks, and Vancouver is okay, and we should beat them, and it is preposterous that our recent record means that we're thinking otherwise. So, Martin Rennie, put on your shit-kicking boots, take care of business, and go to Chicago knowing that BMO Field need no longer hold any fears for you.
We are told that Toronto FC is close to full strength. (This is a team which can't keep track of whether they have Joao Plata or not so take that in context.) Even Adrian Cann is close to being healthy, although he's unlikely to play this afternoon.
Much has been made of Toronto FC's recent good form. This is because they are Toronto FC, a team which has never made the playoffs in five years. For most Major League Soccer teams, wins over the Montreal Impact and the Piotr Nowak Suck Machine do not count as achievements. Blowing games in the last minute to turn wins into draws is cause for despair, not cause for shouting "hooray, a point!"
This doesn't mean Toronto doesn't deserve some respect, as the Impact found out in the regular season and as we found out in the Voyageurs Cup. They're still professionals, or at least most of them are, and if the Whitecaps take this BMO fling as a chance to rest their legs we'll regret it. They're also weirdly good mid-week: their last defeat was April 4 against Santos Laguna and since the start of the MLS season they boast three wins, four draws, and no losses in mid-week fixtures. Often, when a team falters in the late minutes, it's because they're a step slow athletically: that certainly isn't true of the Toronto FC rank and file. Koevermans and professional Andrea Lombardo clone Torsten Frings have had some trouble but most of their players are of the "run for days" variety.
Vancouver, meanwhile, has every excuse to be tired. They're in a very tough run of games and must endure their most difficult stretch of travel of the season. In addition, Martin Rennie's lack of squad rotation and conservative substitute strategy has to bite us. I don't believe for a second we're going to see a change from the usual this afternoon; Rennie wouldn't dare.
There will be one change. Eric Hassli, or "Milos Kocic's nightmare" as I like to call him, is suspended because he made the mistake of running alongside a defender against Chivas USA. Oh well. Darren Mattocks is back from suspension, and if we can't beat them with thunder we can at least beat them with lightning. Heaven knows Toronto's back four breaks down from time to time, and their iffy positioning is just the sort of thing which can be exploited by a sprinting Mattocks and a few lobs over the top.
Beat Toronto. Beat Toronto beat Toronto beat Toronto. We have a disadvantage in a road trip, in timing, in fatigue, in player suspensions. Don't matter. Beat Toronto.
: Seriously, not to digress here, but Toronto FC has never made the MLS playoffs in five years. We all know that, but I don't think we fully appreciate what an extraordinary achievement that is. In 2007, when Toronto invented Canadian soccer, eight of thirteen MLS teams made the playoffs. Even in 2010, when eight of sixteen teams qualified, that still means that an average MLS team would make the playoffs one year out of every two. Toronto FC has never done it. Not only have they never done it, but they've only gotten close (within a win of qualifying) once, in 2009, when they celebrated their all-time high by losing their critical last game of the season 5-1 to the last-place New York Red Bulls.
Toronto FC is incompetent on the historic scale. In six seasons, I'd say Toronto fans had low expectations going into two of them (2007, their expansion year, and 2011 of the famous Aron Winter 3-year plan). Even then those expectations weren't met. There haven't been rebuilds, there hasn't been bad luck, there hasn't been cheapskate ownership unwilling to bring in expensive talent, there's just been a consistent run of complete incompetence. Someday a Toronto FC supporter's grandchild will ask about these first six seasons and the supporter will just refuse to talk about it, like a veteran of the Somme.