Sports / Sports

Toronto FC has first place wrapped up, say MLS rivals

'I believe Toronto’s already the champions,' says New York City coach Patrick Vieira as Reds prepare for stretch run with Philly in town

Toronto FC hosts the Philadelphia Union Wednesday night at BMO Field.

The Associated Press

Toronto FC hosts the Philadelphia Union Wednesday night at BMO Field.

With Toronto FC flying high, the rest of Major League Soccer is fighting for second place — even the Reds’ closest rivals think so.

New York City FC coach Patrick Vieira had this to say about Toronto FC after a weekend win over New England that moved his club up to 46 points, four back of the MLS-leading Reds.

“It was important to win because I believe it’s always good to get close to Toronto, but I believe Toronto’s already the champions. I think all the other teams are going to fight for the second spot and Toronto will win the league . . . They are really quite strong and I don’t think anybody will catch them.”

He might have a point. Five of the Reds’ final nine games will be played against teams currently sitting outside playoff contention: A late September match against the New York Red Bulls and three games against rivals Montreal Impact are the exceptions.

On paper, that schedule favours TFC. But on the rare occasions the Reds have struggled this season, it’s the league’s minnows that have done the damage.

More than half of the 25 points Toronto has dropped so far have come against teams currently staring down an extra long off-season, a scenario the Reds are hoping to avoid Wednesday night when the Philadelphia Union arrive at BMO Field (8 p.m., TSN).

“If you don’t play with the right intensity every game and execute in the key moments of the game, any team in this league can stick around and any team in this league can come away with one point or three points,” Reds coach Greg Vanney said.

Philadelphia and the Reds played to a 2-2 tie in the early weeks of the season. Now, the Union are six points out of a playoff spot.

Vanney expects to meet a team desperate for points.

Allow Philadelphia the space and it has all the pieces necessary to put together a win, Vanney said. Striker C.J. Sapong can be a handful upfront. Midfielder Fafa Picault is quick and elusive off the wings. Haris Medunjanin can divide the field and spread the ball around with ease, while Alejandro Bedoya, who banged a penalty off the crossbar in that March match, can run with the best of them.

“It’s important for us on the day that we don’t allow them to find rhythm or to find these transition moments or counter-attack moments where they can play into C.J., off of C.J., bring guys into the attack and create things,” Vanney said.

At the other end, Vanney is hoping his lineup can take advantage of Philadelphia’s relatively inexperienced defence and add another three points to their bottom line — and inch ever closer to that first Supporters’ Shield title.

“It’s important for us at home that we put attacking pressure on that back group and make them come up with plays and make them as uncomfortable as we can,” Vanney said. “If you don’t execute and you’re careless with the ball then you’re setting yourself up for trouble.”

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