Frustration has been a constant companion for Toronto FC this season. So has disappointment.
And there could be more of both in Harrison, N.J., on Saturday unless Toronto can dispatch the New York Red Bulls to keep its slender playoff hopes alive.
"Only three points will do it for us at this point," said forward Jozy Altidore.
The numbers are unforgiving for the MLS champions. With six games remaining, Toronto (8-14-6) is nine points out of the sixth and last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
No one is fading in the home stretch and Toronto continues to sputter as its tries to catch up.
"It's been that kind of year," said defender Eriq Zavaleta. "But we're going to fight until we have no mathematical chance left. Right now our goal is to win every game that's in front of us. If we can do that, we can at least hold our head high and say we gave everything we had. We're certainly not giving up any time soon."
The MLS champions have had problems moving the needle all season.
In late July, Toronto was nine points out of the playoffs with 14 games remaining. Coach Greg Vanney said nine wins were likely needed to make the post-season.
"We need to take care of our business and if we do so, then I think we're OK," he said at the time. I think if we can come up with nine wins out of the 14, we’ll probably be in a pretty good position."
Toronto has gone 3-3-2 in league play in the two months since and remains nine points back. It will need to win out to reach that target of nine wins — and hope that sixth-place Montreal (12-14-3), seventh-place D.C. United (9-11-8) and eighth-place New England (8-10-10) fall by the wayside.
The Red Bulls, one victory away from tying the franchise record for most wins in a season (18), will be a tough nut to crack.
Comfortably nestled in second spot in the East, New York (17-7-5) is 26 points ahead of Toronto. The Red Bulls have lost just one of their last eight matches (4-1-3). And they lead the league with an 11-2-1 record at home.
In comparison, Toronto has won just two of its last seven league matches (2-3-3). Most recently, it lost 3-1 to Mexico's Tigres UANL in Wednesday's Campeones Cup.
Vanney expects to field Victor Vazquez after resting the Spanish playmaker for the midweek game with the Mexicans. Striker Sebastian Giovinco, however, is a question-mark after leaving the midweek game with calf cramps.
Drew Moor is also a doubt with a calf strain. But fellow defender Chris Mavinga could see action after being sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Moor and Mavinga, Toronto's two most influential defenders, have yet to start together in league play this season. And it speaks volumes about both captain Michael Bradley and the other defenders available that Vanney has elected to start Bradley at centre back the last two games as he did earlier this season during the worst of the injury crisis.
Bottom line, the Toronto defence has been unreliable. "Because even if we score six, we might give up seven," said Altidore.
Woeful defence (55 goals conceded and counting) is just another feature of a Toronto season marred by injuries, penalty shootout pain, scheduling woes, turf issues, travel turmoil, fan misbehaviour and more injuries.
TORONTO FC (8-14-6) AT NEW YORK RED BULLS (17-7-5)
Saturday at Red Bull Arena
BAD BEHAVIOUR: Toronto complained to the league about the fan abuse directed at Jozy Altidore the last time the teams met, in the 2017 playoffs. Altidore says he never heard back from the league on the incident.
WATCH OUT: Altidore and Toronto skipper Michael Bradley are one yellow card away from a suspension.
HISTORY SAYS: TFC is just 2-10-2 visiting the Red Bulls. But Toronto won last time out, 2-1 in the 2017 Eastern Conference semifinals.
BWP ALERT: Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips is coming off his fifth career hat trick. The 33-year-old English striker, who has 105 career MLS goals, is one goal away from becoming the first MLS player to score 20-or-more goals in three seasons.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press