TFC enters final stretch

STEVEN SANDOR -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:49 AM ET

Last week, I wrote that Toronto FC's strikers had better perform in the final stretch of the MLS season if they wanted to be back in '08.

Well, I've got to alter that a bit. According to coach Mo Johnston after this weekend's 2-1 loss to Columbus, the strikers aren't alone. In fact, there is not one TFC player whose job is guaranteed next season.

When asked what should motivate his players for the final five games of the MLS season, Johnston gave this blunt answer: "They are playing for that jersey -- each and every one of them."

And the final stretch of games would be tough on any one of the league's elite teams, let alone TFC. Here's a breakdown of what's left.

D.C. United (away): After a staggering start, the league's premier franchise in terms of championships is back where it belongs. TFC has two losses in two games vs. D.C. so far this season.

New York (home): TFC has two losses in two games against the Red Bulls. New York has outscored TFC 5-1 in those games.

Colorado (away): TFC dominated the Rapids in a 2-1 win earlier this year, a scoreline that flattered the boys from the Rockies. But the Rapids are in the thick of the chase for the final playoff spot. And will be at home, at altitude.

L.A. Galaxy (away): The league's worst franchise gets TFC at home. Could be points for the Reds in California.

New England (home): New England have outscored TFC 7-0 in two previous wins. It is the final weekend of the season, so the Revolution may have nothing to play for.

Yes, with some long-term contracts on board, it's hard for Johnston to say all jobs are up for grabs. But Johnston has shown he's not afraid to make trades, so guys with long contracts can't get comfortable.

Johnston is also hopeful that the MLS will loosen restrictions on the number of domestic players the team is forced to carry, which would mean that not even a Canadian passport might save a player who ends up on the bubble.

The players understand the message.

"It's important we stay together as a unit and keep fighting out there," said defender Tyrone Marshall. "At the end of the day it's about results and fighting for our jobs."

Yes, this is an expansion team and patience is necessary. But the most recent loss, which saw TFC go ahead by a goal after just one minute played, then throw away a slew of glorious chances to kill the game, is just another example of how this club has left points on the table this season.

"The potential of the team is tremendous," said Marshall. "I think we could have been up right there with those boys at the top of the tables. We could have won a lot of our games."

"Could have" is no longer good enough.

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24 hours sports editor Steven Sandor has written about the Beautiful Game for numerous publications around the globe. The Red Card appears Wednesdays in 24 hours.


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