TORONTO — As league-leading Toronto FC continues its impressive march towards the Supporters Shield, it looks to take time out Wednesday to kick rival Montreal when it's down.
The slumping Impact (10-12-6), six points out of the playoffs with six games remaining, have lost four straight — starting with a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Toronto on Aug. 27.
In stark contrast, Toronto (18-3-8) is on a monster roll — winners of six straight, undefeated in 11 games (8-0-3) dating back to July 5, and unbeaten at home all season.
The good news for Montreal is that Toronto will be without Jozy Altidore (hamstring), with question marks over fellow striker Sebastian Giovinco (quadriceps) and star playmaker Victor Vazquez (slight fever).
The three have combined for 37 goals and 27 assists this season.
Altidore is being kept out for a second game in a row as a precautionary move. As for Giovinco, the club was awaiting word on scan results Wednesday.
Both were substituted in the Sept. 9 win over San Jose, complaining of lower body tightness.
Vazquez, meanwhile, was sent to the doctor after reporting to work Tuesday feeling under the weather.
"He's already called and said he's feeling better and turning the corner so we feel good about where he'll be," said head coach Greg Vanney.
Good news from the doctor and Giovinco could play a factor against Montreal. Otherwise, he will be given more time to get right.
Given Toronto's position in the standings and its deep roster, Vanney feels no urge to risk his stars. With Saturday's game in New England on artificial turf, it's possible both Altidore and Giovinco could sit out the week.
Still their absence did little to slow Toronto down Saturday in Los Angeles with backup forward Tosaint Ricketts scoring twice in a commanding 4-0 win. Vazquez scored once and had a hand in two other goals.
Toronto's winning ways have made for a team playing with confidence and freedom, with players exchanging positions and attacking in waves.
"We've reached a point where the guys understand the principles by which we're expected to play — the things that we're trying to do in the game on both sides of the ball," said Vanney.
The Impact are going the other way, coughing up an 89th-minute goal in a painful 3-2 defeat at the hands of visiting Minnesota United FC last Saturday. The four-game losing streak, which started with a 3-1 loss to Toronto in Montreal, is the club's longest since a franchise-record seven-game slide July 5-Aug. 9, 2014.
The Minnesota loss prompted a statement from owner Joey Saputo saying "our team's latest performance has clearly fallen short of our expectations and those of our members, supporters and city. Rest assured that this message has been conveyed to the technical staff and the players."
The Impact still believe they can turn things around.
"We aren't where we wanted to be but we have six games (left)," said captain Patrice Bernier. "The possibility is there.
"It's up to us to show we're not that team that we were the last game or the last few games. The beauty of sports is that there's always the next game to show that you are better than before."
Vanney has warned his players to be ready for an intense Impact side.
"They're going to come out and they'll play hard ... They're going to be fighting for every ball, every inch on the field," he said.
"If we can get possession of the ball, if we can get the first goal, if we can move them around, frustrate them in one way, shape or form, not allow them to gain any momentum in the game, then I think that's where you can get a team to waiver a little bit."
Toronto won the first meeting between the two this season on two goals by Giovinco and one by Altidore. TFC also beat Montreal in the final of the Canadian Championship.
Montreal defender Hassoun Camara still believes the playoffs are possible.
"Of course we believe," he said. "It's going to be difficult, but we have to take our responsibilities and stand up to all this negativity and work hard to prove that we can do something."
With files from Bill Beacon in Montreal
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