What You Need To Know About Toronto FC’s Playoff Run

By: Nikolas Theodorakidis | @Nikolastheo

It hasn’t always been easy to love Toronto FC.

Since the franchise was born in 2007, the team has put together season after season of disappointment. And not only were the results bad, they were often heartbreaking, with points being dropped in the dying minutes. TFC had become synonymous with failure in Toronto, but now it appears that might be changing.

TFC are in the playoffs for the second straight year after not making it at all in their first eight seasons. The Reds followed up a 3-1 victory against the Philadelphia Union in the knockout round with a 2-0 win at home against New York City FC this past Sunday in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Things are finally starting to look up for TFC. And if you weren’t a fan before, you should start right now. Here’s what you need to know.

The Matchup

As mentioned, TFC won the first leg in their matchup against New York City FC this past weekend with the second leg taking place in New York on Sunday. Late goals from forwards Jozy Altidore and Tosaint Ricketts gave the team a 2-0 victory and put all the pressure on New York going into Sunday.

For those unfamiliar with how the MLS playoffs work, the Conference Semifinals and Conference Finals are two-leg matchups with the team scoring more goals on aggregate going through, with away goals serving as a tiebreaker. TFC’s 2-0 win means that they are through if they win, draw, lose by one goal, or lose by two goals (a 2-0 defeat would however send the matchup to extra time). There are a lot of ways TFC could progress and it’s highly likely that they will, but there are still reasons to watch.

The first leg was a tense one with multiple scuffles breaking out throughout the match, 31 combined fouls, and 6 combined yellow cards.

One of the biggest incidents was New York forward David Villa kicking out and hitting Toronto’s Armando Cooper in the back of the knees. What should have been a red card for Villa went unseen by the refs and Villa went undisciplined. This week, it was announced that Villa would not be suspended for the kick, which could lead to even more tension between the two teams this week.

Key Players

It’s no secret that the key to Toronto’s success over the past two years has been the play of Sebastian Giovinco. The Italian forward came to Toronto from Juventus before the beginning of the 2015 season and has cemented himself as the best player in the team’s history.

Giovinco still led the league in goals plus assists this year while missing time due to injury. That’s a repeat of what he did last year when he won the MLS MVP award. However, he will not repeat as MLS MVP this year.

The list of finalists for the award was released on Tuesday, and Giovinco’s name was not on it. The three players that made the cut were New York Red Bull’s Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan along with New York City FC’s David Villa.

Now Giovinco will take the field on Sunday going up against Villa with a chip on his shoulder. The best player on Toronto FC and debatably the best player in the league, now with something to prove, seems like a recipe for Toronto’s success.

Atmosphere

It’s not guaranteed that there will be another game at BMO Field this year, but if TFC advances to the Conference Finals, you won’t want to miss that home game.

The atmosphere at BMO is unlike anything else in this city. Being outdoors with thousands of fans that sing loud and jump around so much that the building starts shaking is something that needs to be experienced by any Toronto sports fan. Especially since a matchup against the rival Montreal Impact is on the horizon.

Yes, it will be cold. But if you put on a TFC scarf and wear some gloves, you’ll be fine. Don’t let a little chilly weather stop you from seeing Toronto’s best chance at a championship this year.

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Featured image via The Globe and Mail

What to Watch Now That the Jays are Gone

By: Nikolas Theodorakidis | @nikolastheo

It’s official: the long cold baseball-less winter is upon us.

Despite any amount of hope fans may have had, the Blue Jays were unable to rally back from a 3-0 deficit in the American League Championship Series last week.

But the end of the baseball season means we can now turn our collective attention to the other teams in this city. And, for what it’s worth, this is turning out to be as good a winter in Toronto as we’ve had in a few years.

Raptors

Let’s start with Toronto’s most successful team as of late. The Raptors ended last year on a high having made it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Although the team was outmatched by the Cleveland Cavaliers, there was some joy found in taking two games from the eventual champs in between four blowout losses. Winning a playoff series was the main goal last year, and, though they struggled to do so, they won two of them.

This year, gauging the team’s success might be a bit more difficult.

A repeat trip to the Eastern Conference Finals would be appreciated but can hardly be expected. Multiple teams in the East have improved in the offseason, including division rivals Boston and New York, so the Raptors shouldn’t be considered a lock for anything like last year.  But a first round elimination would feel like a step backwards for a team that overcame so much in terms of shaking the franchise’s monkeys off their backs.

Perhaps the team’s success will be determined by the actual product on court, rather than the mile markers the team passes on their way to being eliminated. The team, and particularly newly minted Olympic Gold Medallists Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, have been criticized for playing “hero ball” in the past that has been a detriment to the team. If the team can play in a more effective way – one that doesn’t leave fans burying their face in their free giveaway t-shirt – elimination won’t feel as bad and might provide more hope for the future.

Leafs

The Leafs have not been must-see TV for a few years now. If you opened up the fridge of Toronto sports and all you saw was the Leafs, you’d complain that there was nothing to eat. But this year’s version of the Buds is already way more appetizing.

The only thing the Leafs have won in recent memory was the draft lottery at the end of last season. With that came the arrival of Auston Matthews. The 18-year-old American centre has been anointed the saviour of the Leafs and so far, he’s lived up to the high praise. In his first NHL game, Matthews scored four goals, a feat that had never been accomplished before by anyone in their first game.

And he’s not the only youngster getting in on the action. Mitch Marner has also been turning heads, notching three points through five games, including a great goal against Boston in the Leafs home opener. And William Nylander has nine points through six games, including a two-goal night against Chicago this past Saturday.

Unfortunately, the goal scoring has not led to success for the Leafs as of yet. They have just one win this season and have blown third period games in four of their six games so far this season. But at least they are starting to look relevant again, right? A team that scores goals but can’t prevent them is more enjoyable than the opposite any day of the week.

Toronto FC

And finally, we have TFC. The butt of many jokes in Toronto sports, TFC have actually put together their most successful season to date. Gaining a franchise high 53 points, the Reds have secured a home playoff match for the first time in the team’s history. They will take on the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night at BMO Field in a win-or-go-home match with a spot on the Eastern Conference semi-finals on the line.

Once again, it has been a spectacular season for Sebastian Giovinco. If it wasn’t clear after his first season with the club, we can say for sure that he is the best player in team history after his second. He scored 17 goals and racked 15 assists without even playing a game in September.

A win on Wednesday and a somewhat deep playoff run could finally give TFC their fair share of the media attention. It’s hard to think that a team sitting near the top of their conference for most of their season and an MVP candidate on their roster – kind of like the Blue Jays of the last two years – would be relegated to the middle of the sports section or to the latter part of a Sportscentre broadcast, but that’s where TFC often find themselves. TFC have the best chance to bring the city a championship and deserve to be treated that way.

Featured image via Toronto Star