Toronto FC might be a few wins away from history, but coach Greg Vanney cautions his team can't get ahead of itself.
Toronto's quest for the best record in Major League Soccer history remains firmly intact after a 3-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday. But in the moments after the thrilling win, Vanney and his Reds spoke about the importance of the process.
"I want them to embrace (the goal) one game at a time," Vanney said. "They're very much aware of the possibilities, but it's a mature group and they're very much aware that you only get to actually see those things if you can make one play at a time, play one game at a time.
"We all know what's out there, we don't really talk about it too much as a group."
Sebastian Giovinco, newcomer Nicolas Hasler, and Jozy Altidore scored as league-leading Toronto stretched its unbeaten run to eight games, and remained undefeated this season at BMO Field.
With eight games to go in the regular season, the Reds, who haven't lost since a 3-1 setback in Dallas on July 1, remain on pace for the finest record in MLS history. The 1998 L.A. Galaxy boast the best record in history — 68 points. Toronto currently has 53 points, already tying their regular-season best.
Coming off a sizzling 3-1 road win over Eastern Conference rival Chicago last weekend, Vanney's message to his Reds was clear: do not let a letdown against the struggling Union get in the way of their chase for the team's first-ever Supporters' Shield, which is presented to the MLS squad with the best regular-season record.
Team captain Michael Bradley echoed Vanney's message, saying every game from here on in is "the biggest game of the season."
"You get to this time of the year and it's what it's all about," Bradley said. "Every weekend is a final. Every team is playing for something, whether it's Supporters' Shield, or positioning, or to get into the playoffs, the weather starts to cool down, the games start to pick up in tempo and intensity.
"We feel really good about everything that's gone into this season. . . but we understand that we have not done anything yet. The biggest games are still to come. The trophies haven't been passed out yet. And as long as that's the case we're going to keep going and going."
Giovinco recorded goal No. 13 of the season on a free kick from just outside the 18-yard box in the 10th minute, curling a beautiful ball over the defensive wall and into the top right corner that Union 'keeper Andre Blake had almost no hope of stopping.
Hasler doubled Toronto's lead in the 30th minute off a corner kick from Victor Vasquez. The 26-year-old from Liechtenstein, who now has two goals in four appearances since signing with TFC last month, sprinted into the box unchallenged, heading the ball past Blake.
Hasler, whose pair of goals for Toronto mark the first two he's ever scored on headers, called the team's historic chase "Just perfect. I heard the coach speaking about this, that we can do the best results ever in MLS. . . If we keep going like this, I think we can reach it."
Altidore, who'd had a goal waved off as offside earlier in the night, made good in the 57th minute. Fighting off a pair of Union defenders, Altidore passed to Vasquez, then scored on the give-and-go, chipping a left-footed shot past Blake from inside the six-yard box.
Toronto, which began the night four points ahead of New York City FC, improved to 15-3-8 and 10-0-3 at home.
Playing in front of a capacity crowd of 28,645 fans, and set against a backdrop of neon lights from the surrounding annual Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto FC had several other scoring chances. Giovinco missed an excellent chance for his second goal of the night when Marky Delgado sent a beautiful cross that breezed just by the Italian striker's feet in the 51st minute.
In the 65th minute, Giovinco fired a hard shot that sailed just over the top of the Union's net.
Sandwiched between the Chicago match and this Sunday's game against Canadian rival Montreal Impact at Saputo Stadium, there might have been the tendency to overlook the Union (8-12-6). But Bradley said his teammates never have trouble getting fired up at home.
"Playing here is amazing, playing in this stadium in front of our fans, in this city, there's so much energy, the atmosphere, the field, everything, we love playing here, we have such an advantage playing here," he said.
The Union's best scoring chance came in the 62nd minute, when Brazilian striker Ilsinho launched a long bomb that Toronto 'keeper Alex Bono deflected off the post.
"It's huge," Bono said on his team's sparkling home record. "We talked about it before the season about trying to make BMO a fortress, and so far I think we've done a good job at that."