Toronto FC’s urgent search for points takes it next to Portland, where the MLS champions have never won before.
Wednesday may be a good time to visit. The slumping Timbers (10-7-7) were beaten 1-0 by visiting Seattle on Sunday night and have lost four straight since the Vancouver Whitecaps ended a 15-game unbeaten streak (10-0-5) that dated back to April 14.
Their longest losing run since July 2012 has seen the Timbers outscored 10-2 and shut out twice. Portland sits one point out of the playoffs in the Western Conference.
Toronto (7-12-6) has its own problems – six points out of the playoffs in the East with nine games remaining. Coach Greg Vanney estimates his team will have to win six of those to get back into the playoff picture.
Even if Toronto wins its five remaining homes games (Los Angeles FC, Los Angeles Galaxy, New England, Vancouver and Atlanta), Vanney’s arithmetic means an away victory is needed.
Portland does not seem the optimal choice, given Toronto’s record at Providence Park (0-2-1) and the 4,220-kilometre midweek journey to the Pacific Northwest, albeit one via a charter aircraft.
“The midweek game going across the country is one historically that league teams haven’t been very successful in,” said Vanney.
“We’re not going to risk anyone or throw anyone out that we may need for the remaining eight games (after Portland),” he added. “But if the guys are healthy and ready to go, we’ll take them and play them.”
Defender Chris Mavinga and Brazilian wingback Auro are unavailable through injury. Vanney suggested that Spanish playmaker Victor Vazquez was unlikely to play, given the crowded schedule and his wonky knee.
Vanney said team medical staff were “monitoring” Sebastian Giovinco, who has been playing with a sore groin. The travel and Portland’s artificial turf may prompt Vanney to rest the Italian forward despite his recent hot streak (six goals in the last six games including two in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Montreal).
On the plus side, striker Jozy Altidore is back from suspension. And Argentine newcomer Lucas Janson has proved to be a willing runner up front.
After Portland, Toronto has back-to-back home games against Los Angeles FC and the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Providence Park is home to the passionate Timber Army, who unveiled a Pennywise-themed tifo on Sunday showing an axe-wielding clown similar to the one in the horror movie “It.”
“It’s a tough place to play,” said Vanney. “Obviously they’ve got a great crowd, a great environment. The team’s been highly successful (there). I think this is the first time they’ve dropped a couple of games at home in years, which is a rare thing.”
“We have to be on our game. We have to execute. We’ve got to be mistake-free,” he added.