It’s first against worst Saturday as the league-leading New England Revolution visit Toronto FC.
New England (12-3-4) comes into the game with 40 points, 25 ahead of 27th-place Toronto (3-9-6). And the Revs are unbeaten in six games (5-0-1), have won their past three road matches and are unbeaten in four away from home (3-0-1).
With a 5-2-3 record away from Gillette Stadium, New England has two more road victories than Toronto has wins this season.
The Revs have been a force. They entered this week’s play six points clear in the Supporters’ Shield race and with a 10-point cushion atop the Eastern Conference.
Still their last loss was at the hands of Toronto, a 3-2 defeat July 7 in Foxborough, Mass, in the debut of TFC coach Javier Perez.
“They’re going to be a tough opponent but we’re also confident because we’ve played them before and we came out with three points,” said Toronto forward Ifunanyachi Achara, a bright light since returning from knee surgery.
Fans have been left in recent weeks wondering which Toronto team will take the pitch. At times, TFC has looked like it belongs in the league basement – slow and hesitant with a Swiss cheese defence. But then the team has come out looking like a winner – fast, self-assured and relentless.
The team showed both sides in last weekend’s 2-2 tie with New York City FC.
Nine points out of the last playoff position in the Eastern Conference, Toronto needs to kick into high gear and stay there. While the club has lost just once in seven games (2-1-4) under Perez, it has taken just four of a possible 12 points from four games at BMO Field.
“I think the performance was good but we need to get wins. We need to get three points,” said Perez. “Because one point at a time, we see that it is very difficult.”
On the plus side, Toronto is unbeaten in its past six matches (4-0-2) with New England, TFC’s longest unbeaten run against the Revs in MLS play. Toronto has won its past four home matches against the Revs, outscoring them 13-4.
But New England is blazing a record trail.
Only four teams in MLS history have had more than 40 points at this stage of a season: L.A. Galaxy (46) in 1998, D.C. United (44) in 2006, LAFC (43) in 2019 and Toronto (41) in 2020.
The two New England storylines going into the game were the status of Spanish playmaker Carles Gil and rising Canadian star Tajon Buchanan.
Gil has missed the past two matches through injury while Buchanan, a 22-year-old winger from Brampton, Ont., is the subject of interest from Europe.
“Carles Gil has a muscle injury and he’s rehabbing it. Tajon Buchanan has interest from clubs abroad, and we’re listening to the clubs,” said a somewhat exasperated Revs coach Bruce Arena this week. “If there’s any updates on the injury of Carles and his rehab or the transfer of Tajon, we’ll let you know.”
“Don’t believe everything you read,” he added on the subject of Buchanan.
New England forward Adam Buksa was interested in talking about Buchanan, however.
“My personal opinion, he’s definitely ready for the transfer to Europe because he’s everything that’s needed to be a great player in Europe, to make that step forward,” said the Polish striker. “But it’s his decision, his career, so he needs to be comfortable with that.
“I’m definitely not the guy who will suggest him anything. He needs to feel comfortable with any decision that’s taken, but I don’t have any doubts. I’m pretty sure that he will do well wherever he goes if he wants to go.”
On Friday, the Revs listed Gil as out on their injury report. Despite his injury absence, the stylish Spaniard still leads the league with 15 assists, eight more than the next player. Seven of those were game-winning assists.
“It’s not easy to replace the best player in the league,” said Buksa.
Buchanan, meanwhile, ranks second in the league in fouls won in the final third of the pitch, with 16.
“A great player,” said Perez.
Toronto’s Tsubasa Endoh, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty and Ayo Akinola are out injured, while Dom Dwyer and Chris Mavinga were listed as questionable.
Midfielder Tommy McNamara says New England is taking nothing for granted in the visit to Toronto.
“They’re a quality team, they have quality players, and some of them have been injured and they’re kind of getting back healthy now,” he said. “So, they’re at home, we’re expecting with a lot of energy and with their crowd and they’re out of the playoff picture now I believe, so they’re going to be extremely desperate to win games at home.”