TFC has no room for error in playoff battle

Toronto FC will need to make the most of its remaining five games to secure a playoff berth for the first time in the team’s history.

A quick look at the standings shows four wins may be needed to navigate the muddied waters of Major League Soccer’s playoff pool.

“It’s a case of three points, great, because that’s what we needed,” said head coach Chris Cummins after TFC’s 3-2 win over the Colorado Rapids on Saturday. “But we got to start learning from these mistakes.”

The top two teams from each of the East and West conferences clinch playoff spots, and then the four teams with the next most points, regardless of conference, are awarded wild card slots.

FC is currently in 10th, right behind Salt Lake and Chivas USA.

That gap is slim, with ninth place Real leading Toronto on goal differential, and Chivas ahead of both those teams by two points with two games in hand.

For the last three seasons, 39 points have been good enough to guarantee a playoff berth. This year is a much tighter race and no teams have clinched a spot yet.

With the New York Red Bulls and San Jose Earthquakes struggling all season, wins have been plentiful in 2009. As a result, 46 has become the magic number for the postseason.

Toronto does not just need to win, it needs teams like D.C. United, the New England Revolution, the Colorado Rapids, Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake to lose.

Particularly threatening are Chivas and New England who are ahead of Toronto in the standings and both have two games in hand.

Apart from goals for and against, Toronto and Salt Lake have identical records, with nine wins, nine losses and seven draws. They will also close out the year with similar schedules.

Of Toronto’s five remaining games, three are on the road, with FC travelling to Los Angeles, Chicago and New York over the next month. They’ll host the San Jose Earthquakes and Salt Lake at the raucous BMO Field in mid-October.

Toronto’s toughest opponent will be division rival Chicago, who beat FC at home 0-2. Although the Fire have struggled of late, they still hold the second position on the Eastern Conference’s table.

FC will also be in thick when they visit Los Angeles. The Galaxy are currently in second in the Western Conference thanks to a late surge that has won them six of their last ten games.