Tuesday's soccer news starts with the kind of question that's becoming easier to answer. The top six teams in the Eastern Conference are level on games played with eight. As ridiculous as that number seems on the first day of September, it's Toronto FC at the top of the East with 18 points. Their lead over Columbus is all of a point, but it's worth stressing a significant difference between Toronto and everybody else. Toronto has yet to lose a game.
In a season of caveats, we have to stick another one in here. Due to travel restrictions between the United States and its northern neighbors, the Canadian MLS teams can only play each other. For now, that's giving Toronto an opportunity to take points from Montreal and Vancouver. The uniqueness of the situation aside, we've seen other potential contenders stumble in the new regionalized version of MLS.
Atlanta United lost to Orlando over the weekend. LAFC couldn't get a point against the Galaxy or the Sounders. Meanwhile, Toronto continues to play the games in front of them. They're at the top of the Supporters' Shield table as well, putting together a season that will likely run into yet another interesting scenario.
When the league opens up at least a little following this stage of six games, the Canadian border may still be a problem. That would have Toronto and the other Canadian teams needing to relocated to a US stadium for home games. We've already seen that with baseball's Toronto Blue Jays playing in Buffalo, the pragmatic response to keeping home markets in the middle of a pandemic. What that means for Toronto playing all of its games away from home is the question.
NYCFC is already in that situation, moving to Red Bull Arena. Some early reports linked Toronto and Montreal with that stadium, though how four teams would use the same building is certainly worth asking. Regardless, Toronto seems likely to end up needing an alternative venue as MLS gets enough games in to justify a playoff field.
In this strange season, that may or may not matter for Toronto's. After losing their first game back in home markets as the away team to the Red Bulls, NYCFC is on a two-game winning streak. That includes a win over Columbus, with the Crew now on a two-game slide without a point. Columbus's 0-0 draw at Cincinnati is the kind of thing Toronto is avoiding. The regionalized MLS obviously favors some teams in some regions, but that's not playing out on the field.
When Toronto kicks off against Montreal tonight, there are multiple things in play. These games also count towards the Canadian Championship and its Concacaf Champions League spot. There's the league points in play as Toronto attempts to become the Eastern Conference contender taking the most advantage of its situation. For all MLS teams, there's also the now familiar concept that right now is all they really have.
Situations have changed so often and so quickly this season, no team can take anything as a given. That list starts with games on the schedule. Right now, it's Toronto taking the most advantage.
MLSsoccer's Matthew Doyle on what we saw over the MLS weekend. In his Substack newsletter, Jon Arnold reports on rumblings from other Concacaf nations over the likliehood of the October and November international windows. SI.com's Brian Straus picks up the Real Salt Lake investor/operator story with different expectations in American soccer.
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