After Toronto FC crashed out of Major League Soccer’s playoffs last season — following a lopsided knockout-round loss to the rival Impact in Montreal — newly-minted president Bill Manning went public with lofty goals for the 2016 season.
He wanted more than 50 points from a team that collected a franchise-record 49 in 2015. He wanted the Reds’ porous defence, which conceded a league-worst 58 goals last season, to get that number below 45. When it was later announced that Toronto FC would play its first eight games on the road, Manning said he wanted at least eight points from that stretch.
The book is now closed on that regular season. Toronto kicks off its playoff run against the Philadelphia Union at BMO Field Wednesday night, with the winner advancing to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Reds exceeded all of Manning’s expectations. They managed a 53-point season — 11 of them in that early extended road trip — and conceded just 39 goals along the way.
Mathematically, it’s their best-ever season. Manning himself said Tuesday it was a good year. But the club also knows that fans largely judge success by playoff performance.
“We’d all be disappointed if we were one and out,” Manning said.
The collective spirit, he said, is that the club hasn’t done anything yet.
“It shows a bit how we have changed the culture here at TFC and we’re expecting more. We’re expecting more of our players; we’re expecting more of ourselves and the organization as a whole. We’re really looking forward to treading new ground.”
General manager Tim Bezbatchenko says it was brave of the club to make its season-long goals public, and hopes the Reds won’t have to sit down and evaluate the year until after a shot at the MLS Cup on Dec. 10. But if that time comes sooner, there will be disappointment.
“There’s more for us to do and I don’t think anyone will be satisfied, fully satisfied, unless we pick up a win on Wednesday and then make a run,” Bezbatchenko said.
That drive is why coach Greg Vanney and his players are intent on putting their best foot forward come Wednesday.
“The margins in these (knockout) games are so small, things can go either way,” he said. “I think we need to go out and perform at our best, step up as a group and ultimately make the plays to get it going in our favour.
“We’ve definitely made progress. Now we need to go out there and do the business to try to bring some excitement to this city, and try to bring a trophy here. That’s what this next stretch is about.”
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