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Toronto FC is winding down its Major League Soccer season as a high-wire act, in which the team has to win every week or fall completely out of playoff contention.

Saturday’s game at BMO Field against the Vancouver Whitecaps sets up a final act over the final four games, in which the Reds will play two of the teams that lie between them and the unlikely prize of the sixth and last playoff spot.

If the Reds can beat the Whitecaps, whose playoff hopes are similarly faint, then they can stay alive for consecutive games against the Montreal Impact, who hold the final playoff spot in the east, and D.C. United, which sits two points behind the Impact. The 9-15-6 TFC sits ninth in the Eastern Conference, seven points behind Montreal, but with a game in hand. Then again, D.C. United has a game in hand on the Reds and two on the Impact and it is six points behind Montreal.

So TFC head coach Greg Vanney can’t be blamed for looking at the bigger picture as the Whitecaps visit approaches.

“It’s the position we got ourselves in,” he said. “We have to deal with it. We have to get in this game with the right mentality. I think it’s a good challenge for these guys right now. We have to play well, build off our last performance and get a good result.

“If we can do that, then we put ourselves into a series against D.C. and then Montreal that can impact the standings. Then we’ll see where we’re at after that.”

Vanney thinks his players are in good position to walk this tightrope because over the past two years they have been playing and winning lots of short series. There was the run to the 2017 MLS Cup, which culminated in winning the one-game final. Ditto for the Canadian club championships won last year and this year. And, of course, the run to this year’s CONCACAF Champions League final, which is blamed for TFC’s calamity- and injury-filled MLS regular season.

“We’ve been in a lot of tough games, a lot of playoff games or Cup games or scenarios where they’re knockout scenarios,” Vanney said. “Because of that I think the group understands it in that way and is comfortable with it. I don’t think anybody is really comfortable with where we are in the grand scheme of things.

“But I think one of the things it does is lock this group into understanding that a specific result and a certain type of performance has to be put out on the field. I don’t think that’s ever a bad thing for any group at any moment. In every league, the more meaningful games you have, the more concentration, the more quality you tend to get in games. I think this group understands that.”

The injury troubles remain for TFC. Both striker Jozy Altidore (ankle) and defender Drew Moor (calf) are questionable starters because of injuries.

One bright spot is that Vanney does not plan to play midfielder Michael Bradley at centre back in the absence of Moor. That disastrous experiment, forced upon Vanney because Moor missed most of the season, can be abandoned because defender Gregory van der Wiel is playing well at the position and clicking with fellow defender Chris Mavinga.

However, more problems await even if TFC dispatches the Whitecaps. Bradley has been called up to the U.S. men’s national team following the game for a pair of friendlies against Columbia on Oct. 11 and Peru on Oct. 16. Four TFC players – Jonathan Osorio, Tosaint Ricketts, Ashtone Morgan and Jay Chapman – will play for Canada in a CONCACAF Nations League qualifying game next Tuesday against Dominica.

The national-team games will put a strain on the players involved, as TFC plays the Impact and D.C. within four days, on Oct. 17 and Oct. 21, respectively. Vanney said he has already been talking to both the U.S. and Canadian teams about not giving his players a lot of minutes.

“I would say the conversations are ongoing and they will be ongoing until we see what the results are on the weekend,” the coach said. "We’re talking hypothetical at the moment. But that subject has been broached with everybody.”

In other words, if TFC ties or loses against Vancouver, and the Impact gets a point in a game against the Columbus Crew, then both national teams are free to play the Reds players all they want.

Another complication in that regard popped up on Friday when Italy named striker Sebastian Giovinco to its national team for a pair of friendlies on Oct. 10 against Ukraine and Oct, 14 against Poland. This is the first time in three years Giovinco has been called to the Azzurri. After he left Europe to play for TFC, a succession of Italian managers declined to use him because they consider MLS an inferior league to those in Europe.

However, this may not present as big a problem for Vanney as the other call-ups because of the dates the Italian team plays.​

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