Toronto FC came up just short in the bid for the Supporters’ Shield as Philadelphia clinched the regular-season Major League Soccer title on Sunday.
However, there is another trophy that the team will start focusing on. Toronto earned the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, meaning Toronto will be able to play at least one more match at Rentschler Field.
Toronto will play host to the highest remaining seed in the two Eastern Conference play-in games. Either Nashville SC, New England or Montreal will be coming to East Hartford on Nov. 24 for a 6 p.m. game in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
It’s been a wild season for the 2017 MLS Cup champions and 2019 finalists. With restrictions placed on U.S. teams flying in and out of Canada due to COVID-19 concerns, Toronto played six home matches at Rentschler Field. The 4-1-1 mark in games played in Connecticut played a key role in Toronto being in position to earn the Supporters’ Shield going into the final day of the regular season.
Philadelphia and Toronto came into the regular-season finale tied for the best record. Philadelphia owned the tiebreaker based on a better goal differential. Toronto needed to have a better result than Philadelphia on Sunday but that didn’t happen as Toronto’s 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls went final just before Philadelphia’s 2-0 win over New England wrapped up.
Toronto has not only dealt with training and playing home games about 500 miles from Toronto but also dealt with a series of injuries to key players as only MVP candidate Alejandro Pozuelo played in all 23 matches in this phase of play. U.S. national team veterans Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley combined to miss 21 games. Bradley played the last five games while Altidore came on as a substitute Sunday after missing seven consecutive games with a hamstring injury.
Even with all the challenges, Toronto finished with a 13-5-5 record even while coach Greg Vanney was limiting the minutes of some key players in the last couple of weeks in an attempt to stay healthy heading into the playoffs.
“I’m extremely proud of the way they have handled this season,” Vanney said. “It’s been a challenging year and in many ways for everybody around the world but just as it relates to our team, the challenges of Orlando [‘MLS is Back’ phase of play] and trying to get ourselves restarted. Coming back from Orlando and being quarantined for 14 days and having to get started up again and then move away from home. Our guys, every single day came out to training and didn’t complain, didn’t moan. They just got to work. They found ways to support each other and to get on with it.”
If Toronto wins its playoff opener, Rentschler Field would host at least one more match. There’s a chance that Toronto could play all of its playoff games in Connecticut, including the MLS Cup if Philadelphia were to lose in either its first or second playoff game.
Photo: Jessica Hill / Associated Press
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Although Rentschler Field is not typically a site of MLS games, the league has no issue having the MLS Cup in East Hartford if Toronto emerges out of the Eastern Conference.
“Rentschler Field at Pratt & Whitney Stadium is a terrific soccer stadium that has hosted the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams along with the Concacaf Gold Cup,” MLS Executive Vice President, Communications Dan Courtemanche wrote in an email to Hearst Connecticut Media. “We’ll follow up with our group that oversees MLS Cup and follow up with additional details.”
The first five games at Rentschler Field were held without fans before 5,000 were allowed in for the last home game of the regular season against Inter Miami CF. It remains to be seen if fans will be allowed at the playoff contests at Rentschler Field.
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