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Dregs of Society No More: Giovinco Brings Respectability Back to TFC

Light at the end of the tunnel? Toronto FC is in position to end Major League Soccer's longest playoff drought and make the postseason for the first time in franchise history.

by Dhiren Mahiban
Aug 20 2015, 7:05pm

Photo by John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports Canada.

The Blue Jays are getting all the attention across the city, but Toronto's Major League Soccer franchise is embarking on a little history of its own.

Just as the Blue Jays own the longest playoff drought in Major League Baseball, Toronto FC's playoff woes in MLS—eight years and counting—is the longest drought in the league. Toronto FC defender Ashtone Morgan, the longest tenured member of the Reds, believes this is the year the city's soccer club finally reverses its fortunes and makes the postseason. And Morgan has reason to be optimistic.

READ MORE: Toronto, MLS Need to Recognize How Special Sebastian Giovinco Truly Is

Entering Saturday's action with Orlando City SC, Toronto's in fifth place in the Eastern Conference with a 9-10-4 record, and sitting tied for fourth in the league in goals scored.

"You see the Raptors do it recently; the Jays are on their way to doing it," said Morgan. "We're due. The city is due. We are due and we're all excited—that's what we're pushing for."

Part of the Reds' success this season is a result of the play of Italian star Sebastian Giovinco. The 28-year-old has scored 16 of Toronto's 37 goals through 23 games—good for 43 percent of the club's offence. He was rewarded for his strong play in July when he was named the MLS player of the month, becoming the first player in Toronto FC history to receive the honour.

Giovinco, who has blossomed into one of the city's biggest stars during his first TFC season, was also named to the MLS All-Star Game. He's scored two hat tricks this season—the only in the club's history—and trails Columbus' Kei Kamara by two goals for the league lead. In his pursuit of Kamara for the league's Golden Boot, Giovinco has already set a club record for goals scored in a single season.

But Giovinco's exploits alone won't be enough to kick the team to a playoff berth. A big concern the club faces down the stretch is its defensive play, as the Reds have surrendered 22 goals in their last eight games—winning two contests over that stretch.

"Conceding goals is not just about the back four. Conceding goals is about everybody who is on the field, especially when a high number of them come from set pieces or secondary balls on set pieces," coach Greg Vanney recently said after a 3–1 loss to Sporting KC. "We have to take a hard look. Giving up three goals is unacceptable. It's happened way too often."

Toronto followed up the Sporting KC defeat with a 3–0 loss to the New York Bulls. With 11 games remaining in the regular season, fans aren't ready to get too excited just yet—rightfully so after nearly a decade of deplorable play since entering the league in 2007.

"I think there's a quiet confidence," said Phil Tobin, the president of the Red Patch Boys, a Toronto FC supporters club. "Not only last year, with (Jermain) Defoe and everything, but just the whole history of the organization, never making the playoffs.

"Everyone's got a little bit of bated breath to see exactly how it's going to work out. It's lowered expectations."

Despite setting franchise records for wins (11) and points (41) last season, the club missed the playoffs for an eighth consecutive season. After finishing last in the Eastern Conference in 2008, the Reds nearly secured their first playoff spot in 2009, but missed by one point after getting blown out, 5–0, by the last-placed Red Bulls on the final day of the regular season.

Toronto then finished 11 points back of a playoff spot in 2010, second last in the Eastern Conference the following year, last place in 2012, and ranked ninth out of 10 East teams in 2013. There appeared to be no light at the end of the tunnel, but Toronto has seen a steady improvement since, finishing eight points back of Sporting KC last season for the conference's final playoff spot. Now, with a new coach in his first full season and a new star to carry the team, Toronto is attempting to give its fans a taste of playoff action at BMO Field for the first time ever.

Reds General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko made a few minor tweaks to his roster prior to the MLS trade deadline and signed veteran forward Herculez Gomez. The 33-year-old executive believes he has a team capable of competing in the playoffs.

READ MORE: Drogba Signing Puts Buzz Back in Montreal

"MLS is, as we know, about making the playoffs, and then once the playoffs start, anything can happen," said Bezbatchenko. "I think this team is built for... a team that can do a lot of good things in the playoffs, but let's take one game at a time."

With all the noise of the Blue Jays in the hunt to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 1993, Bezbatchenko isn't ready to put the cart before the horse and picture what it'd be like to see his club compete in the MLS playoffs.

But he admits it's on the back of every player's mind. The fans are thinking it, too.The city of Toronto might witness two of its most struggling franchises both crack the postseason in the same month. October could be a fun time in Toronto.