Toronto FC is hoping the possible return of midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye can help the club finish the season strong as they try to hunt down a playoff spot.
"It's unfortunate I couldn't play more of a bigger role in these last couple of games," the midfielder said before his club travelled to take on Charlotte FC on Saturday. "But I know how important this next stretch is and that's why we're trying to really make sure everything is ready to go on my end."
The Toronto native has missed the last five league matches due to a lower-body injury and said that he is "feeling good" and that his return to action this weekend is a "possibility." The 27-year-old could only help a club that left some important points on the field in their last two matches.
The Reds had to settle for a 2-2 draw at home to the New England Revolution on Aug. 17. On Saturday, they fell 2-1 to Inter Miami FC. Now they sit five points out of the seventh and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with seven matches to play and four teams to clear.
"The fact that we only took two (points) in the last two (matches) now makes that margin smaller," TFC coach Bob Bradley acknowledged. "But we still look at everything the same way. We certainly understand that every game the points become bigger."
Toronto FC has gone through a roster makeover this summer. The cub made a big splash by signing Italian designated players Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi as well as Italian defender Domenico Criscito.
All three of those players and Kaye were in the lineup for Toronto FC's 4-0 win over Charlotte on July 23 and showed what the Reds could do to opposing clubs with their best players available.
That was also the last time Kaye got into a match.
"You look at the calibre of players on our team, it makes the game a lot easier when everyone on the field is technically good," Kaye said. "That Charlotte game was definitely a glimpse of just a small bit of the potential we can reach."
As the newcomers continue to find the groove, some longer-tenured TFC players have seen their performance slip. Strikers Jesus Jimenez and Ayo Akinola have had a difficult time putting the ball into the net. Jimenez has gone 10 matches without scoring a goal and didn't accompany the club for the last game in Miami on Saturday.
"I know physically and mentally, you get through a season and you go through a stretch where, as a striker, things aren’t coming as easy," Bradley said of Jimenez. "And for those reasons, there was a feeling that, ‘Look, let’s see if we can give him some days to recharge'."
Akinola has gone 13 matches without a goal.
Kaye's potential return on Saturday could be the spark Toronto FC is needs. Bradley and Kaye spent four seasons together with the Los Angeles Football Club before being reunited last month.
"I understand what kind of football Bob is trying to play here," Kaye said. "I understand the culture that's needed, too."
Toronto FC acquired Kaye on July 8 from the Colorado Rapids in exchange for midfielder Ralph Priso, $1.025 million in general allocation money and TFC's first-round pick in the 2023 SuperDraft.
"He's got a feel for some of the important details that we are trying to push every day," Bradley said of Kaye.
Charlotte sits two points ahead of TFC in 10th place in the Eastern Conference and coming off a heartbreaking loss at home to Orlando City SC. They gave up the winner in the 89th minute.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 26, 2022.
David Alter, The Canadian Press