A swift turnaround at Toronto FC has the Major League Soccer club on an urgent late-season push to make the playoffs.
TFC enters a key game against the visiting New England Revolution on Wednesday night just four points out of a post-season spot in the Eastern Conference.
On a four-game unbeaten run since the debuts of Italian transfers Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi, TFC coach Bob Bradley says the pressure is on with just nine games remaining.
“It’s there, we all know that,” Bradley said. “We know that we’ve got to finish in a good way and we know that we’re in the moment playing better and better every game.
“We still focus on trying to make sure that the work that we’re doing, the football that we’re playing can grow [and] continue and that’s going to get us where we need to go. That’s really the way we handle things.”
Toronto has outscored its opponents 11-4 over the four-game run. The unbeaten streak began with a 4-0 win over Charlotte, followed by a 0-0 draw against New England, a 4-3 win over Nashville and a 3-1 victory over Portland.
Midfielder Jayden Nelson, who has started in place of Mark-Anthony Kaye, attributes the turnaround to the team’s mindset.
“I feel like from minute one to the 90th minute, we’re all engaged and that competitive nature you can see is a bit different,” he said. “We’re all backing each other and you can see there’s a difference. We’re all in that mindset that we need to do like a whole turnaround. It’s just everyone working together and working hard and I think you could see it.”
Bradley did not say whether Kaye will be made available for Wednesday’s match after missing the last three games.
Toronto (8-12-5) currently sits 12th in the conference standings, in a three-way tie with Charlotte (11th) and Atlanta (13th) on points with 29 apiece. Charlotte holds the tiebreaker with nine wins, while Toronto has eight and Atlanta seven.
New England (8-7-9) sits eighth with 33 points, one point out of a playoff spot. Orlando (sixth), Miami (seventh) and Cincinnati (ninth) also have 33 points, but Orlando and Miami have nine wins while the Revs and Cincinnati have eight.
With Toronto set to face Miami on the road on Saturday, any points the team can pick up will be valuable.
“We believe that there’s 27 points on the table. If we continue to play well, and if our football is good if we keep making chances, if we’re not giving much away, then let’s see how many points we can take out of 27,” Bradley said. “That’s the part and enjoying the football that keeps getting better.”
New England presents challenges of its own to TFC – specifically Carles Gil, who has five goals and is second in MLS with 12 assists in 24 outings.
“Gil is a great player, [he’s] key to their team. Skillful, [a] great eye for passes,” Bradley said. “He floats around the field. He’s very good at finding space. They’re good at making sure he gets on the ball. So those are the things that we have to for sure be on top of.”
TFC midfielder Jonathan Osorio feels his team could be more aggressive, acknowledging its inability to finish scoring opportunities in its last meeting with New England.
“We had a lot of chances, probably the most we had in a game this season,” he said. “We just have to build on that and I think that’s the important thing.
“[They’re] a really good team defensively [and] they don’t give up much, so we’ll have to move the ball fast and be our best to break them down.”
Amid the hype of Insigne and Bernardeschi’s impressive performances has been the rise of Osorio’s play.
Leading the team with nine goals this season, the 30-year-old Toronto native has scored four times within the last four games.
With the Italian stars opening up the field, Osorio has become the primary beneficiary.
“I have felt my best physically and mentally, and obviously it helps with these new additions,” he said. “There’s more threats for the opposition to think about which leaves more space on the field and more space for myself.
“I’m able to utilize the space they open up … that’s the main reason that everything is happening the way it’s happening.”