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However, the Reds’ arsenal has been boosted with off-season trades for four MLS stand-outs in goalkeeper Clint Irwin, midfielder Will Johnson and defenders Steven Beitashour and Drew Moor. All are expected to start against New York’s team in red. A revamped defence will be complemented once again by 2015 MVP and Golden Boot winner, Sebastian Giovinco. The diminutive Italian scored four goals in a preseason schedule that saw TFC post a 1-1-1 record in matchups with full MLS sides. The game at Red Bull Arena will be the first of eight consecutive road games for TFC, as renovations are completed at BMO Field in Toronto, ready for a curtain raising on May 7 against FC Dallas. When asked Wednesday about the chances of U.S. National Team striker Altidore being ready for Sunday’s opener, Toronto FC Coach Greg Vanney said “We’re not going to risk him in a situation where we don’t feel he’s 100 percent ready. We want to be cautious at this point,” Lead by top scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips, Red Bulls are among the favourites to win the east. They were 2015 Supporters Shield winners and Eastern Conference Finalists, where they lost out to the Columbus Crew. Despite losing star centre-half Matt Miazga to Chelsea, Luis Robles, Lloyd Sam and Dax McCarty all signed new contracts in the off-season and Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch will hope that stability will make up for any lack of headline grabbing signings. "We’ve made a concerted effort to keep this team together," Marsch said preseason. "Everybody feels that the group that we have is a good one and that is the main emphasis of where we are as a team and as a club. Projected Line-ups Toronto: C.Irwin, D.Moor, D.Perquis, S.Beitashour, J.Morrow, B.Cheyrou, W.Johnson, M.Bradley, J.Osorio, S.Giovinco, T.Endoh New York Red Bulls: L.Robles, S.Zizzo, G.Baah, R.Zubar, K.Lawrence, M.Grella, D.McCarty, F.Martins, S.Kljestan, L.Sam, B.Wright Phillips Broadcast: TSN4
Which brings up an interesting question: should Toronto FC fans even want their team to win tonight? Incredibly, even after the seemingly devastating loss to Houston, the Reds still control their own destiny. The chance of actually hosting a first ever playoff game at BMO Field was diminished substantially, but the route to at least getting a foot in the playoffs is still within their absolute control. It’s easy to see what would happen too. A win in New York would have TFC right back on the Red Bulls heels, and maybe even back over the red line depending on Columbus’ result in Philadelphia. The PR machine would go into overdrive again ahead of the final home game of the season versus Montreal. It’d be a truly meaningful final game of the season at BMO Field for only the second time in the club’s history. As I’ve written all summer, it’s what we said we wanted. But is that really a rollercoaster we want to climb back on board? After the long, slow post-World Cup decline, and the newest incidence of self-inflicted management turmoil, how many Reds supporters, among those still paying attention, can state with no equivocation that they believe this team even deserves to be in the playoffs? Consider: this is the same team that started the season by beating the (for now) Supporter’s Shield leading Seattle Sounders, and Eastern Conference leading DC United. It’s worth remembering that the victory over United didn’t even seem impressive at the time. Heading to New York, the obvious allusion is to the most famous disaster in TFC history, the infamous final day 5-0 loss in 2009. If I’m being honest, however, this doesn’t remind me of that time at all. Back then, there was no equivocation about the desire to win, or doubt that the Reds could do it. New York were having a historically awful season, and with the preceding win over Real Salt Lake it seemed like Toronto had all the momentum. Part of why that loss was so devastating was that it destroyed the narrative that TFC was, however slowly, at least going in the right direction. Now, five years later, failure has come to define the TFC experience. So, rather than New York ’09, the feeling I’m reminded of as we head into the last few weeks of the regular season is the depths of the awful in early 2012. By losing their first 9 games of the season Toronto FC did something historic. It’s a record that is likely to stand for years, and may never be eclipsed. And the truth is that, once it got started, it became more interesting to see how bad it could get. When I was in really dark moods I even enjoyed seeing the implicit hubris of Aron Winter’s project punished. Warped as it may have been, there was a morality to watching team after team defeat TFC. Toronto’s other big record is not having made the playoffs for seven straight years. It’s a foundational element of what people understand the club to be. At this point, with the way 2014 has gone, would barely scraping into the playoffs really be more satisfying than adding an eighth consecutive year to that record? Frankly, it just wouldn’t feel very TFC. That’s not how you’re supposed to feel about your team, but it’s honest. Toronto FC aren’t “loveable losers” like the Chicago Cubs, or plucky underdogs toiling against superior opponents. They’re the arrogant rich kid who is the stubborn architect of their own demise. The ancient Greeks would have understood: TFC aren’t a comedy, they’re a tragedy. Of course, having said all that, Toronto FC could win tonight. New York will be missing players, and are hardly invincible. A successful three game run-in to the playoffs would be out of character (and out of nowhere) but it would certainly be exciting. I’m sure I, along with every other TFC supporter, would be swept along with it. It is a chance to redefine the TFC experience. But if, as is more likely, it doesn’t end up happening? I’m not sure it’s fair to call what I’ll feel disappointment.