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Soccer Toronto FC looks to consolidate playoff position as familiar faces visit BMO Field

Toronto FC returns home Sunday to play host to some familiar faces as the Colorado Rapids visit BMO Field.

Toronto coach Greg Vanney will see former assistant Robin Fraser, a long-time friend and former teammate, in the other coach’s box. Clint Irwin, a former TFC player, is expected to start in goal for Colorado.

“It will be strange,” Vanney said. “Because I know some of the philosophy that they’re going to use, there is a lot of some stuff that we used here. … They’re obviously excited as a group and have played a couple of good games in which they’ve been able to get good results. So they’re feeling good about what they’re doing.”

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Colorado (10-14-6) has won three straight since Fraser was appointed head coach on Aug. 25 – with victories over the New York Red Bulls, Seattle Sounders and Los Angeles Galaxy – and comes north of the border trailing TFC by just six points.

But a Rapids loss Sunday, combined with other results, could officially eliminate Colorado from playoff contention. A trip to the post-season has long seemed a pipe dream for the Rapids, given their 0-9-2 start to the season.

For Vanney, the return to BMO Field is welcome after road games on the postage-stamp pitch at Yankee Stadium and artificial turf of New England and FC Cincinnati.

Toronto (11-10-9) is unbeaten in its past eight games (4-0-4) in all competitions and has not lost since Aug. 3 (a 2-0 defeat at the New York Red Bulls).

“I think we are really close,” said Vanney when asked if his team is finally firing on all cylinders. “Earlier in the year and through stretches of it, we were talking about bigger things – which was the profile of players that we still needed. It was bigger details.

“Now we’re talking about small things. It’s the timing of things, the position guys sometimes are in that maybe could be a little better. Now we’re talking about small things that can help us to take steps forward instead of big things that can take [steps] forward, and that’s a big difference.”

Vanney’s roster is also getting healthy. Fullback Justin Morrow, who missed the past three games with a quad injury, trained Friday, although he is questionable for Sunday.

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Venezuelan winger Erickson Gallardo, who came off early in the 1-1 mid-week tie with NYCFC, also saw some training time Friday. Midfielder Nick DeLeon, who is nursing several knocks, did not train as part of a maintenance day.

Fullback Richie Laryea and midfielders Jonathan Osorio and Liam Fraser are back from international duty with Canada.

Competition is fierce in the Toronto lineup with striker Jozy Altidore, Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo, French winger Nicolas Benezet, captain Michael Bradley and Marky Delgado all seeming locks in front of the back line of Vanney’s preferred 4-3-3 formation. The 23-year-old Gallardo has shown flashes of his speed and guile on the wing, but has yet to pass the hour-mark in his four league starts.

Fourth in the Eastern Conference going into weekend play – ahead of D.C. United on goal difference – Toronto is looking to consolidate its position in the top four so as to have home-field advantage in the first round of the post-season.

If the playoffs started today, No. 4 Toronto would play host to No. 5 D.C. United in the first round, with the winner advancing to play at the first-place team (currently New York City FC).

Sunday marks the third game in eight days for both teams.

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Toronto is in the third leg of a seven-match, 22-day stretch, a run complicated by the two-legged Canadian Championship final that opens next Wednesday in Montreal.

Irwin is expected to start in the Colorado goal Sunday, with Tim Howard nursing a hamstring injury. The 30-year-old Irwin spent three seasons with Toronto before being dealt to Colorado last December.

Irwin started for Toronto in the 2016 MLS Cup final, but lost his starting job to Alex Bono the next season. Bono has since been surpassed by Quentin Westberg.

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