NOW OR NEVER: Toronto FC kick off crucial stretch against rival Montreal Impact

TORONTO – Now or never.

For Toronto FC, Saturday’s Rivalry Week match against the Montreal Impact at BMO Field (8 pm ET | TSN 4/5 – full TV & streaming info) takes on an added dimension; not just because it will be played under the midway lights of the Canadian National Exhibition.

With 10 matches remaining in the 2018 MLS regular season, TFC, the defending MLS Cup champions, find themselves on the outside looking in, nine points off the pace of the final playoff berths in the Eastern Conference.

Several weeks ago, Greg Vanney projected that Toronto would need to win nine of their last 14 matches to seal a spot. They have won one of the four games since, drawing twice.

“I don’t think we need to win 10 games to get ourselves into the playoffs,” said Vanney on Tuesday of the narrowing room for error. “The minimum number is probably seven. [The margin] is slim; very slim.”

That Montreal, along with the Philadelphia Union, hold onto one of those final two places in the East turns this match into a true six-pointer. A win would not only secure the three points, but deny them of the opponent as well.

“They’re our rival, one of the teams we’re chasing,” explained Vanney. “This game is a little more emotional than just another game. Our fans, the city; everybody always checks off this game when you look at your season.

“And towards the end of the year, the table is starting to play itself out, [the] rivalry matches with Montreal are always going to be a little more competitive,” continued Vanney. “That’s what rivalries are about; why the league puts these towards the end of the year and in these situations: teams are going to be battling it out. It makes for good TV; for the fans, good atmosphere.”

The teams will meet again on October 21 in Montreal.

Vanney agreed that the top four places are “more-or-less” secured by the quartet of Atlanta United, the New York Red BullsNYCFC, and Columbus Crew SC.

“There is always room for somebody to fall of a cliff; really go into funk,” allowed Vanney. “They’re probably pretty solid and there are two spots which five teams are still capable of achieving.”

Toronto, D.C. United, the New England Revolution, and the two current holders, Montreal and Philadelphia, are separated by nine points with between eight and 12 matches remaining.

“The one thing about Montreal is they have [played more] games, that leaves them a little vulnerable, potentially,” explained Vanney. “Philly is a team that is in a pretty good spot, but they’ve got a lot of tough games and travel in front of them. D.C. is surging and they’ve got a lot of home games. And New England is there as well. We’ll see.

“There is a lot to play for. I looked through everybody’s remaining schedule: a lot of teams play each other, a lot of things [can] still happen.

“For me, the final 10 games are vital to anything that happens at the latter part of the MLS season,” continued Vanney. “Not to say that the ones before weren’t, but everything is set up in these last 10. For us, even more so, because they’re the only way that we’re getting into the playoffs: to hit an incredible form and run through this stretch.”