We continue our Three Questions series, hitting up TFC beat reporter Kurtis Larson to see what's going on with the Reds ahead of Saturday's match...
Jeff Crandall: For the seventh straight season, Toronto FC once again find themselves without a postseason berth. What is the mood around this club in Ontario and is there more hope that under the leadership of Tim Leiweke TFC will begin to realize its potential on the field?
Kurtis Larson: I think there's a bit of cautious optimism circulating the city. Fans have been through this song and dance before. The difference this time around is that TFC has been granted a budget of $26 million to spend on a pair of Designated Players this off-season. Head Coach Ryan Nelsen and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke returned from a European scouting trip this week where they met with agents and clubs.
For once, the team has its salary cap under control after offloading a number of big contracts. During the off-season, you'll see big-money guys like Danny Koevermans and Stefan Frei leave as well. That's a huge turn of events for a team that's always had a ton of guys on cap-killing salaries who have been injured or underperformed.
As a result, fans are optimistic Nelsen has the tools he needs to bring in new talent. And that, combined with the club signing new GM Tim Bezbatchenko, has some fans thinking TFC might turn a corner next year and at least push for a playoff spot.
JC: Stefan Frei hasn’t played an MLS match in two years but with Joe Bendik suspended, the Swiss ‘keeper finds himself in the ironic spot of making his return between the sticks and quite possibly his last appearance for TFC Saturday. How has he approached this week and what is his form like, i.e. how has he performed in reserve matches?
KL: No one is more respected at this club than Stefan Frei, who was arguably one of the top three 'keepers in the league from 2009-10. Had it not been for a horrible spell of injuries -- a broken leg in 2012 and a broken nose this preseason -- he'd likely still have a job.
That said, that was then, this is now and Frei's form is somewhat of an unknown seeing as TFC has only played a handful of reserve games at home this season.
- TACTICAL: Keep up the high pressure vs. TFC
It's imperative that Chicago tests Frei early in this one and makes him work. I'm not entirely confident he'll be able to shake off the cobwebs as quickly as most think.
Don't forget, Frei and Toronto FC were shelled 6-0 the last time the Swiss-born 'keeper was in goal when the Montreal Impact laid waste to TFC in a Canadian Cup match. That couldn't have been good for his confidence.
JC: No matter what they do in their final two matches, Toronto FC will finish ninth in the Eastern Conference. With their first round draft pick sent to Vancouver in the Eric Hassli trade, Toronto has virtually nothing to play for. Still, is the team still approaching Saturday’s game vs. Chicago and the season finale vs. Montreal with something to prove?
KL: I think most of the players will be delighted if they can spoil a few playoff dreams over the next two weeks. Toronto knows Chicago is desperate for three points and will be looking to do what it can to prevent the Fire from walking into the playoffs.
Ironically, if TFC somehow takes all three points at Toyota Park Saturday, they'll be doing rivals the Montreal Impact a great service. As a result, fans are in a catch-22, similar to what we saw during the Panama-U.S. game this week.
The bigger prize for most TFC fans is knocking off Montreal at BMO Field on the final day of the season to hurt the Impact's post-season chances.
Thanks for your time Kurtis!
Follow him on Twitter @KurtLarSUN.