With two games remaining in the regular season, Toronto FC needs maximum points and a little help from elsewhere if it hopes to lift the Supporters' Shield.
Philadelphia (13-3-5) has taken the pole position for the trophy that goes to the team with the best-regular season record — and the playoff home-field advantage and US$150,00 prize that goes with it.
Back-to-back losses against Philadelphia and New York City FC have raised the degree of difficulty in Toronto's push for the Shield. A lengthy injury list has not helped Toronto (12-4-5) in recent days.
"Trophies are important, period," said Toronto midfielder Nick DeLeon. "They don't come around often ... But for me more importantly we've got to get back on the right foot. I think the game against New York was a step in the right direction. We were just playing with a little more bite, which we were lacking in the previous game."
Toronto entertains expansion Inter Miami on Sunday before travelling to the Red Bulls on Nov. 8. TFC needs to win both games and hope that the Union tie or lose their remaining contests.
Philadelphia closes out with games Sunday in Columbus and Nov. 8 against New England at Subaru Park, where it has won all eight games this season
Toronto's bid to finish first overall in the 26-team league took a body blow when it was thrashed 5-0 last weekend in Philadelphia, tying the teams on points. The Union then moved three points ahead midweek with a 2-1 win over Chicago while Toronto lost 1-0 to NYCFC.
While home-field advantage mean less to Toronto given it is playing out of East Hartford rather than BMO Field due to the pandemic, reducing travel in the COVID era is welcome. The trophy has also been one of TFC's season goals.
Due to pandemic-related game cancellations, MLS has decided that 2020 playoff qualification will be decided by points per game rather than total points. Philadelphia is currently at 2.1 points a game compare to 1.95 for Toronto.
Even if TFC wins its last two games, it will need help. If it does claim maximum points and Philadelphia wins one of its two remaining games, they would finish with the same points per game (2.04) and both would have 14 wins.
That would mean goal difference would decide the tie, with Philadelphia currently holding a 16-goal edge on that score.
That is assuming COVID doesn't affect either of their remaining schedules.
Toronto hoisted the Supporters' Shield in 2017 when it also won the MLS Cup and Canadian Championship. It averaged 2.03 points a game that year in going 20-5-9 during the regular season.
Philadelphia is on a roll, undefeated in six games (5-0-1) since a 2-1 loss to Toronto on Oct. 3. It has lost just once in 12 games (9-1-2). Toronto had been on a nine-game unbeaten streak (7-0-2) prior to the recent mini-slide.
TFC trained in the snow Friday at a local baseball stadium. After hearing snow mentioned in the forecast, coach Greg Vanney said he expected a minor flurry.
"It literally has not stopped snowing the entire day," he said. "We again had to shovel snow off the baseball diamond outfield to create some space for us to move around."
"My toes were numb," said DeLeon.
The TFC players got into the spirit of things with "a lot of snowballs being thrown."
Local authorities are allowing up to 5,000 fans into the game, a first for Toronto in East Hartford. Light rain is forecast for Sunday night
Sunday's game marks Toronto's first-ever meeting with Miami (6-12-3).
Miami will be missing three-quarters of its backline with centre backs Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Andres Reyes suspended and fullback Nico Figal injured.
Coming off a 2-1 loss in Dallas, Miami is on the fringe of the playoffs with two games remaining. It stands 11th in the Eastern Conference going into weekend play, just behind Chicago.
Chicago stands 10th at 1.05 points a game while Miami and D.C. United are both at 1.0 points a game.
The first- and second-place teams in the East will play the winners of the play-in games, which match No. 7 versus No. 10 and No. 8 versus No. 9.
Toronto was without injured defender Chris Mavinga, midfielders Marky Delgado and Jonathan Osorio and forwards Ayo Akinola, Jozy Altidore and Pablo Piatti for the NYCFC game.
Vanney declined to provide specifics Friday on his injured list other to say that some may be ready for the weekend. He previously said Altidore and Piatti may not be back before the playoffs.
Fulllback Justin Morrow, who is coming back from a calf strain, experienced some tightness midweek. Brazilian fullback Auro returns from suspension.
The Dallas defeat saw Miami designated players Gonzalo Higuain, Matias Pellegrini and Rodolfo Pizarro together in the starting lineup for the first time
Miami will be missing three-quarters of its backline with centre backs Andres Reyes and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez suspended and fullback Nico Reyes injured.
"We have to be positive because we're fighting to advance to the playoffs," manager Diego Alonso said through an interpreter. "To be here with a possibility to qualify for the playoffs with two matches left after a very difficult year is very positive."
INTER MIAMI (6-12-3) VS TORONTO FC (12-4-5)
Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET at Pratt and Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field.
TIES: Toronto centre back Omar Gonzalez also played under Inter Miami manager Diego Alonso with Mexico's C.F. Pachuca. Former TFC midfielder Jay Chapman wears Miami colours although he has seen limited action recently (two appearances, 21 minutes played in the last 11 games). Fellow Canadian David Norman Jr. injured his ankle in Miami's pre-season and is done for the year.
HONOURS: Coach Greg Vanney and current Toronto players Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Omar Gonzalez were named among the 134 finalists Friday for the league's "25 Greatest" list which will be announced Dec. 9.
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2020
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press