Facing a congested schedule, a growing injury list and the prospect of back-to-back games on artificial turf, the degree of difficulty facing Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney continues to grow.
On the plus side, his team is on a roll.
Toronto (9-2-4) has won three straight against elite opposition in New York City FC, Columbus and Philadelphia and is unbeaten in five outings (4-0-1) heading into Wednesday's match at the New England Revolution.
New England (5-3-7) is undefeated in four games (2-0-2) -- and well aware of Toronto's threat.
"Toronto's a team that no matter if they're playing well or not well, they have the talent to punish you," said veteran Revs defender Andrew Farrell. "They're playing really well right now so it's going to be a dangerous game."
Toronto has climbed to the top of the MLS standings, separated from league-leading Columbus only by goal difference.
TFC has lost just two of 25 regular-season matches (13-2-10) since a 2-0 defeat at the New York Red Bulls on Aug. 3, 2019. Those two setbacks came four days apart last month, in one-goal losses to Montreal and Vancouver, respectively. A July defeat against New York City FC in the round of 16 at the MLS is Back Tournament did not count in the regular-season standings.
"Everyone's hot right now. Everyone has the hunger to continue getting good results," said midfielder Marky Delgado.
Part of that comes from having to play south of the border, like Montreal and Vancouver, due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. Toronto has made East Hartford, Conn., its home away from home.
"The circumstances are what they are. We've got to make the best of it," said Delgado. "And getting results is the way to do it ... Being stuck away from home and not getting results doesn't sit well."
New England stands sixth in the East, nine points below Toronto. But Vanney eyes the Revs warily under veteran coach Bruce Arena.
"They're a team I'd put in the category of difficult to play against," said Vanney. "Especially at home ... They're high-pressing. They're a committed group of hard-working guys who want to make the game difficult. They're athletic, they're big in a lot of places. Well organized. And they make the game tough."
Vanney is without two more veterans for Wednesday's game, the second of five in a 16-day period.
Star striker Jozy Altidore (hamstring) and veteran fullback Justin Morrow (calf) are out after exiting Saturday's 2-1 win over Philadelphia. While there was no immediate word on how long Altidore might be out, Vanney said Morrow could be sidelined for "a week to a couple of weeks."
Captain Michael Bradley continues to work his way back from a knee sprain.
Brazilian fullback Auro has recovered from an ankle bone bruise and should be available Wednesday. But going on Vanney's track record, the Brazilian is more likely to return to the bench than start, which could mean Richie Laryea and Tony Gallacher at fullback.
Squad rotation became more complicated with TFC facing another outing on turf Sunday at FC Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium.
"We can't exactly rest everybody on turf for two games in a row," said Vanney. "This league, one of the things that's really really important and can't be underestimated is just momentum. We've built up some solid momentum over the last several games playing well. We don't want to lose momentum but at the same time we want to be smart."
Ayo Akinola, who has started the last three games alongside Altidore, and Patrick Mullins are options up top.
Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo has orchestrated the Toronto offence again this season, scoring in each of the last four games and notching the winner in three of them.
Pozuelo leads the league in assists with nine and is tied for the lead in game -winners with four.
"He's a great player obviously," said Farrell. "A lot of Toronto's game plays through him. He can shoot from outside. He creates a lot of chances. He's been scoring some goals in the (penalty) box ... So he can do it all -- right foot left foot, header."
Added Arena: "He's clearly their playmaker. But he's a guy that can also score goals."
Goals can be an issue for the Revs, who rank 22nd in the league averaging 1.00 a game. In contrast, TFC is tied for seventh at 1.73 per game.
The Revs are having to make do without their Spanish playmaker with Carles Gil recovering from Achilles tendon surgery.
New England attempted 17 shots -- with Canadian forward Tajon Buchanan accounting for seven of them -- with six on target but failed to score in a 0-0 tie with Nashville last time out. The Revs totalled five goals in wins over Montreal and D.C. United prior to that.
New England is more than solid on defence, tied for second in the league at 0.80 goals a game. The team has allowed just one goal over the past four games and has not conceded a goal in the last 184 minutes.
Toronto is tied for seventh, giving up 1.07 goals a game.
TORONTO FC (9-2-4) AT NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (5-3-7)
Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. ET at Gillette Stadium.
LAST MEETING: The teams tied 0-0 July 21 at the MLS is Back Tournament, their only other meeting this season.
SHOT-MAKER: New England striker Gustavo Bou leads the lead in shots (57) and shots on goal (28). The designated player from Argentina has five goals this season. Bou also leads the league in offside calls, with 19.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct, 6, 2020
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press