TORONTO — Coming off a two-week break, Toronto FC returns to action Sunday primed for the coming playoffs with Italian striker Sebastian Giovinco expected back in the lineup for a date with perennial rival Montreal.
While league-leading Toronto (19-5-8) is gearing up for its post-season push, the Impact (11-15-6) are limping into the off-season. Montreal has lost three straight and seven of its last eight, a slide that started with a 3-1 loss to Toronto at Saputo Stadium on Aug. 27.
The lone win during that run, however, was a 5-3 victory on Sept. 20 at BMO Field that ended TFC's season-long undefeated streak at home.
"If Montreal coming back to our place not long after what happened last time doesn't motivate us then we shouldn't be out here," said veteran defender Drew Moor.
Toronto will celebrate securing the Supporters Shield as the team with the best regular-season record at a ceremony before Sunday's game. With two games remaining including an Oct. 22 date in Atlanta, TFC is three points from tying the 1998 Los Angeles Galaxy's league record of 68 points.
Coach Greg Vanney, who was part of that Galaxy side, says his team is now in playoff mode.
"It's about the mentality of arriving in the playoffs and not being caught by the shift in intensity and the shift in urgency when you get there," said Vanney.
"For us, we've managed through good results on the year to enable ourselves to really kind of look a little bit ahead without looking past our games, but to use these two (remaining) games to also work on some things that we need to prepare ourselves maybe for the playoffs."
It has also allowed the team to let Giovinco recover from the quad tightness that has kept him out of the last four games.
Toronto defeated the Red Bulls 4-2 before the international break, snapping a rare two-game losing streak.
Vanney says everyone is healthy. Captain Michael Bradley and striker Jozy Altidore are back from their disappointing World Cup qualifying campaign with the U.S.
The TFC coach is not taking Montreal lightly despite its recent wretched run.
"In fairness I think Montreal is a playoff-calibre team ... They're a difficult opponent," said Vanney. "I don't pretend to know where the mindset of their camp is right now given all that's been going on. But in terms of quality they are a quality opponent that you have to play well or else they can do what they did to us last time. We make mistakes, they're going to hurt us."
Toronto may be facing a different Montreal lineup, however.
Star attacker Ignacio Piatti, who injured his knee last time out, is a question-mark. The good news for the Impact is that the elegant Argentine signed a new contract this week.
"You play for pride," coach Mauro Biello said of his team this week. "For sure there'll be some changes in the lineup.
"We can get a good look at some of the younger guys and see what they can do in that type of environment, against a very good team, and take in that experience because now you're in building mode for 2018. It's not about points on the board, it's about developing for the following year. If some guys can get some vital minutes that can help their development for next year, I think it's important."
Backup Maxime Crepeau is expected to start in goal. Others who could get a look-see are defender Kyle Fisher, midfielders Louis Beland-Goyette and Ballou Tabla and forward Michael Salazar.
Fullback Daniel Lovitz, a former TFC player, is suspended after being red-carded in a 2-1 loss to Colorado. Jamaican international Shaun Francis is his likely replacement.
The Impact, who also had the international break off, ended a 280-minute goal drought break with Matteo Mancosu's goal in Colorado.
Montreal wraps up its season at home to New England on Oct. 22 when captain Patrice Bernier will be feted in his final game.
With files from CP sportswriter Bill Beacon in Montreal
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