TORONTO — Time and the MLS schedule are not on Toronto FC's side as Bob Bradley's retooled team looks to make a late-season charge. And CF Montreal would no doubt like nothing more than to derail TFC's playoff bid.
The two Canadian rivals meet Sunday at BMO Field with second-place Montreal (15-9-4) 15 points and eight places ahead of Toronto (9-13-7) in the Eastern Conference.
"Montreal has been in good form lately, but they also deserve credit for being a good team most of the year," Toronto coach Bob Bradley said after training Friday. "They have a clear idea on how they want to play. (They) have some different options that fit into their system. So that gives them different looks."
Both teams had disappointing midweek home outings, with Montreal losing 1-0 to the New York Red Bulls and Toronto having to settle for a 2-2 draw with the Los Angeles Galaxy after conceding a 89th-minute goal that negated a two-goal rally.
TFC was outgunned in the midfield with Jonathan Osorio and Mark-Anthony Kaye both out.
But Wednesday results apart, both Montreal and Toronto have been on a roll of late.
Prior to the Red Bulls setback, Montreal had gone unbeaten in eight games (6-0-2) — a run that started with a 1-0 win over Toronto on July 16 at Saputo Stadium and featured four clean sheets.
And with an 8-4-2 record away from home this season, Montreal has travelled well. It has won a franchise-record four straight on the road and its away record is tied for second in the league (with Austin FC) behind the Red Bulls (9-3-3).
Toronto has been a different side since the mid-season arrival of Italians Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi and Domenico Criscito. TFC has lost just one of eight games (4-1-3) since Insigne and Bernardeschi made their MLS debuts July 23 in a 4-0 win over visiting Charlotte.
During that run, TFC has outscored the opposition 18-10 and posted its first three shutouts of the MLS season.
Bernardeschi (six goals and three assists), Insigne (four goals, two assists) and Criscito (one goal) have been involved in 14 of Toronto's last 17 goals in MLS action, including eight of the last nine.
But the clock is ticking on TFC. While Toronto is just two games out of the seventh and last playoff position, it has just five outings left — all against Eastern opposition. And while eighth-place FC Cincinnati (8-8-11) and ninth-place New England (8-9-11) are just one point ahead of TFC, they both have games in hand (two for Cincinnati and one for New England).
After Montreal, three of Toronto's four remaining games are on the road — against No. 11 Atlanta, No. 5 Orlando and No. 1 Philadelphia. And TFC is 2-8-4 away from home this season.
The lone home game after Sunday is Sept. 30 against No. 7 Miami.
Toronto fullback Richie Laryea still sees a way into the post-season.
"If we take care of these next couple of matches, I think (getting above) the playoff line is very doable for us," he said. "We have the team to do it."
Osorio, who missed the last two games with a non-COVID illness, trained with the team Friday. Kaye, who has missed the last seven outings with a lower-body injury, and forward Deandre Kerr worked out on their own in the portion of practice open to the media.
All three were listed as questionable.
"Fingers crossed, we'll see," Bradley said when asked if Osorio will be available on the weekend.
Kaye and Kerr were making "positive" steps, he added.
Montreal midfielder Ismael Kone was linked to a move to England's Sheffield United, but the transfer window closed Thursday without the 20-year-old Canadian international making the move.
Toronto blanked Montreal 4-0 in their other meeting this season, in the Canadian Championship semifinal June 22 at BMO Field.
While TFC holds a 14-11-5 edge in the all-time series between the two, Montreal is unbeaten in the last four meetings (3-0-1).
"It's a game you want to win," Laryea said of facing Montreal. "It's a big one for us."
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 2, 2022.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press