Toronto FC's road to the playoffs is turning into a bumpy struggle of a journey, all too familiar in Ontario's capital.
The road has always gone to a dead-end in the team's underwhelming four-year history. And coming away with only one point from its past four games suggests a similar path in 2010.
Toronto has 27 points, tied for ninth in Major League Soccer. The top eight teams make the playoffs. And with two teams nipping on their heels, TFC's playoff chances look precarious at best.
But don't go calling for heads to roll just yet. TFC is very much still in the post-season mix. Is a playoff spot likely? You decide.
Wednesday's match in Chicago has been circled on the calendar for weeks. The Fire is two points behind TFC with two games in hand.
While a win isn't a must, a draw certainly is.
Even more important than Chicago is Sept. 25, when the San Jose Earthquakes roll into town. San Jose sits in eighth, two points ahead of TFC entering Sunday night's game at Houston. The Earthquakes have another game in hand on Toronto.
TFC has eight games remaining (three home, five away). Considering the Reds' poor road form (one win in 10 games, minus-10 goal differential), the task isn't as ominous as it could be, with two away games against the worst teams in the Western Conference (Houston and Chivas USA). Points are a must in these matches.
More good news for Toronto: It plays the worst team in MLS, DC United, twice. DC United has a pathetic 15 points, has been shut out 15 times and has scored only one goal in its past six games. Six points against DC United is not far-fetched.
Toronto also plays at Seattle, a team battling for playoff position, and is at home against Columbus in the second last game of the season.
Columbus has a seven-point cushion atop the Eastern Conference, so the game may mean little for the Crew.
So, overall, TFC's league schedule doesn't look so bad, but four CONCACAF Champions League games sandwiched into its schedule certainly complicates matters and resting top players, as coach Preki did in Panama, will not be easy this time around under the bright lights of Mexico City. Conventional wisdom dictates Dwayne De Rosario and Julian de Guzman won't be resting come the end of the month.
Defensively, TFC can conceivably do enough to earn hard-fought draws on the road, which will prove crucial down the stretch. Goalkeeper Stefan Frei is the best at his position and can be relied on.
Needless to say, offensively, the Reds need more than 22 goals in 22 league games. Outside of De Rosario and Chad Barrett, no player has scored more than two goals in MLS play.
Adding to the conundrum in front of the goal, Preki has been short-handed after illogically rolling out Barrett as a substitute on a wet day with a bad hamstring, down 3-1 to the New York Red Bulls. Barrett has been out ever since.
TFC needs a healthy Barrett, a healthy Maicon Santos and Mista to hit a good stretch of form to alleviate pressure on De Rosario. A 4-3-3 system could facilitate such, stretching the wings and playing more direct. TFC's failure to use the wings in the midfield gives credence to the shift in tactics.
At the very least, De Rosario has to be played in the midfield. There is absolutely no creative spark or attacking prowess without De Rosario in the middle, and the team is too predictable on attack as a result.