TFC remain on the bubble

Steven Sandor, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:06 PM ET

Professional sports circuits in North America, outside of baseball that is, are continually looking for ways to revamp the playoff races. The goal? To keep as many teams alive as possible, as late as possible. That means fewer teams out of the race, and more bums in seats as mediocre clubs still have dreams of glory with just weeks left in their campaigns.

So, a lot of them must be looking at the MLS formula this season with envy.

With just over a month left in the season, only three teams — FC Dallas, Kansas City and New York — are playing out the string. This season, the MLS decided to open up the races — eight teams make the playoffs; the top two teams in each conference get guaranteed spots. After that, the next four teams come from the best remaining records in the league, regardless if the teams come from the East or the West.

Toronto FC is tied for ninth position with Real Salt Lake, with both teams on 34 points with five left on the schedule. They are two points out of the last playoff spot. And three teams, Chivas USA, Colorado and D.C. United are all out there to be caught, each on 36 points. And New England is a point behind both RSL and TFC, with two games in hand. With such an open race for the four final Wild Card slots, the race shifts from weekend to weekend.

But, for TFC, who crept up from 11th to ninth thanks to a 3-2 win over the Colorado Rapids Saturday, the trick is not to get too caught up in what the other teams are doing. With so many teams in the mix, pretty well every out-of-town score has some impact on the Reds’ playoff hopes. Despite the fact that every team in the race save Real Salt Lake and D.C. United have games in hand on TFC, the Reds players maintain that their fate is still in their hands with just five games left on the sked.

“It’s best to get three points of of every game, and them see how it all adds up,” said rookie keeper Stefan Frei.

TFC defender Nick Garcia, an MLS veteran, has seen pretty well every playoff format that the MLS has rolled out, from deadlocked playoff series being decided by “minigames” to an ever-changing postseason seeding system. Garcia said while he is definitely paying attention to the other teams’ results, he’s not obsessive.

“It’s not like I am sitting at a computer biting my nails, getting out the Ouija board and the voodoo dolls. For the most part, I could care less. It’s all up to us.”

Garcia said that the commissioner and the owners have dreamed up a wide-open system fans love — but “coaches don’t.”

In his final year with the Kansas City Wizards, the 2007 season his team was in a dogfight with New York, Chicago and Columbus for the three final spots. Columbus lost out, while all four of those teams finished within six points of each other. Remember, this is soccer, where you get three points for a win, not a measly two, so a six-point spread isn't big.

This season could be the same for TFC — who finish the season in New York, er, New Jersey against the Red Bulls. When that day comes, coach Chris Cummins hopes he can focus on the game, not the scoreboard.

“I don't want it to come down to the last game and need somebody to lose or somebody to draw.”

Dwaye De Rosario, who on Saturday became the first TFC player to hit the double-digit mark in scoring in a single season, said the thought of missing the playoffs hasn't even crossed his mind. In his MLS career with San Jose and Houston, he's never missed the post-season and he's not about to begin the trend playing in his hometown.

“If you have any doubt, people are playing the wrong sport.”


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