Canadian MLS Playoff Preview

By: Nate Lewis

The summer session of Major League Soccer is coming to an end this month and Canadian teams lead both the Eastern and Western Conferences. Toronto FC set a new MLS record for points in a season, far and away leading the league with 69 points . TFC is the most offensively explosive and dangerous team version of themselves in recent years, and their fans will expect them to reach the finals for the second straight year. Toronto will wait until this weekend to face the lowest seeded winner of the wild card games in the East. The Vancouver Whitecaps have had a breakout season, in large part due to mid-season acquisitions. Most notable among these acquisitions was the addition of the dynamic Peruvian Jordy Reyna. The Whitecaps were beaten by their Cascadian foes, the Portland Timbers in the final game of the season. This loss dropped the ‘Caps into wild card round, increasing the obstacles to a highly anticipated meeting in the final between the cross-Canada rivals.

Toronto Football Club has been close to unstoppable this season, after last season when they got to within a penalty of MLS glory. Sebastian Giovinco has been everything that Toronto expects out of the 2015 MLS MVP, but the biggest difference in TFC’s offense from last year to this one has been the blossoming of Jozy Altidore. Altidore had an 8 million dollar price tag slapped on him in 2008 when the New York Red Bulls sold him to Villarreal of Spanish La Liga. He’s been good for TFC since he came back to the MLS three years ago, but he had never quite lived up to his potential as a dominant striker. This year he has done that, potting a career-high 14 goals and 6 assists, playing almost every game beside Giovinco. They will be a duo almost impossible to stop if they can find the form of last postseason. They posted 9 goals and 8 assists combined over six games.

Toronto FC Forward Sebastian Giovinco. Photo courtesy of CBC. 

Toronto FC Forward Sebastian Giovinco. Photo courtesy of CBC. 

The Whitecaps’s season has really taken off with the trade-deadline addition of centre attacking midfielder, Jordy Reyna. Reyna has all the skills of a typical #10, scoring six goals along with 3 assists and 26 shots in 17 games played. Manager Carl

Robinson pairs Reyna with striker Freddie Montero, the newly acquired designated player, following the departure of Pedro Morales and striker Octavio Rivero. Recently, the ‘Caps have gotten surprise contributions from wingbacks Jake Nerwinski and Canadian Marcel De Jong. With lifelong ‘Cap Jordan Harvey providing another strong wingback option, Vancouver has a solid starting back line. Kendall Waston and Tim Parker have developed into an elite MLS centre back duo, anchoring the Whitecaps’s defence structure in the absence of excellent holding midfielder Matias Laba. Laba’s torn ACL, which occurred in August, was thought to derail Vancouver’s season, as he was their best mid-field player and a veteran of 129 MLS games, with TFC in his first season, before joining the ‘Caps in 2014. Luckily, Carl Robinson and Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi had acquired midfield help at the MLS trade deadline, a few days before Laba’s injury, in the form of Egyptian International Aly Ghazal. Australian-born Bernie Ibini and Cameroonian Tony Tchani were brought in to strengthened the ‘Caps midfield earlier in the season.

TFC record-breaking season: by the numbers (SS = single season):

59% – Win percentage

85% – Games with at least 1 point

69 – Points gained – New MLS SS record

74 – Goals scored – Tied for second SS all-time

+37 – Goal differential – Second best SS mark all-time

42 – Points gained at home – New MLS SS record

Toronto has locked up the Supporters Shield as the MLS’s top regular season team. A benefit of finishing in the top two of a conference is a first round bye, sending four teams straight to their respective Conference Semi-Finals against the winners from the Wild-Card round. In the Conference Semis and Final, teams play a two-game home and away series with an aggregate score kept through the two games, and away goals scored as a tiebreaker. The Whitecaps slid from first to third in the Western Conference on the last day of the season, losing against their Cascadia rival the Portland Timbers. Toronto tied their last game of the season against Atlanta FC, a powerful team in their inaugural season, and set a new single season MLS record for points gained in the standings. Both games are potential playoff previews for the Canadian sides, matchups that constitute formidable threats to an all-Canadian Final. The Whitecaps will play San Jose at home in a single-game elimination Wild- Card game on Wednesday while TFC waits until the weekend to take on the lowest seeded winner of the Wild-Card games in the East.