The long-shot prospect of Toronto FC making the 2014 MLS playoffs represents one glorious opportunity for those that control this club from up high. No, it is not to reward the most beaten-down of all MLS supporters - it is justification.
Already, many fans have come to loathe the four-week "must-win" campaign that has devolved into the "we're still mathematically possible" reality we have today but as annoying as the internal club promotion may be - TFC is still in with a tiny chance. The best-case playoff scenario would see The Reds flail backwards into the fifth spot in the East and a shot in the wildcard "play-in" match. The question is: should we want them to?
The refrain that "anything is possible once you're in the playoffs" isn't completely hollow. There have been a few instances in the past where an unlikely club battles their way deep into the semi-finals or even finals but these are mostly the exception to the rule. For the most part, the cream rises to the top and it would be hard to find too many TFC supporters who would put their money on the line to back the locals in a one-match do-or-die, away to either New York or Sporting KC.
"But why would that be bad?" you may ask. "Don't we deserve a crumb of the post-season?" Yes. We all do… but the problem comes afterwards. The problem becomes how ownership may use that potential future and the most likely answer is again: justification.
Tim Leiweke & Co. made bold statements that the playoffs were the goal this year. No asterisks involved. Nothing about how far in the playoffs they would travel - just the playoffs. TFC's eight-year Valhalla realized. It is not difficult to imagine TFC squeaking into that wildcard match and - even if they re-produce an effort not unlike Saturday night's miserable display at Red Bull Arena - being trumpeted as a successful completion of the stated pre-season goal. Your first-ever post-season TFC! "We gave you what we promised! Now we need to talk..."
A mere appearance in the league's post-season will give MLSE the ammunition to go forward in two ways. On a team level, the so-far greatly underwhelming Greg Vanney and his inexperienced staff who lead a squad rife with imbalance and shallow depth may no longer seem to require an urgent fix. “Surely if this young(ish) squad made fifth this season then better can be achieved with the experience and a transfer window that Vanney has gained” will be the likely refrain. The cracks, and there are more than we'd like to believe, will not necessarily receive the care they require this off-season. However, the real justification that MLSE seeks from a post-season appearance may be more personal to you, the supporter.
After rolling back season ticket prices to 2007 levels and having to then freeze those prices, the owners must be bursting at the seams to put things right in their eyes. Giving you the absolute bare minimum on the pitch so they can squeeze the bare maximum out of your wallet is the trophy that they seek most. On a raft of promotions and slow motion videos of The Reds "historic post season march", your 2015 tickets will undoubtedly reflect this grand "achievement". Leiweke has told fans in the past that they would not ask for a raise until they did what they said they'd do. No matter how brief an appearance - this would be trotted out as proof.
Seeing The Reds in the post-season is nearly a decade-long wish for all supporters. The sweet, unknown experience of the playoffs is such a tempting prospect that it is easy to say we will worry about the future when it happens. Unfortunately that will most likely all happen very quickly. This club is not currently built for a run at the Cup. Does the potential of 90 extra minutes resembling this past Saturday suit the expected reward the club will ask of you in return?
Despite "how close" the current manager likes to tell us this club is to succeeding, it is increasingly difficult to see this. TFC, as is, can't compete on a consistent basis with the better clubs in this league. Without an off-season where the club's feet are held to the fire because of their failures this year, this potential playoff blip could simply usher in another long barren spell.
This club is not yet good enough. There are holes now and more to open up over winter with the imminent departures. Having the club emboldened by the absolute minimum modicum of success - and raising prices to watch it in 2015 - could be a far worse long-term hindrance than missing the playoffs again this year.
Yes, anything can happen in the playoffs. The reality points to TFC's possible appearance producing little more of the same on the pitch followed by an off-season of indifference, reinforced by the corporate jewel of being a "playoff team". Any TFC fan can be forgiven for not caring about that right now just to get a taste of what we have deserved for so long. However, is this incarnation of TFC, one which would be justified in its own mind to pursue the status quo albeit at a much higher expense to you, worth 90 more minutes of your time?