This year has certainly been unlike any other.
That rang true again on Sunday night, but this time in a historic way.
After earning a 1-1 draw at Red Bull Arena to put the Lions’ current Club-record unbeaten run at 12 matches, all in City’s camp turned their attention to East Hartford, Conn., where Toronto FC was taking on Atlanta United at Pratt & Whitney Stadium.
What they saw was an 89th minute game-winner off the head of Pablo Piatti for the Reds, in a play created by former Lion Richie Laryea, that gave Toronto the late victory in the match. The result also served as the official punching of the Lions’ ticket into the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, their first postseason berth in Club history.
“Just to know how much it means to our fans and everyone who has been a supporter since day one that we could finally bring that joy to the city. It’s what everyone has been waiting for, it just shows the steps we’re taking as a Club,’ defender Kamal Miller said after the match.
“We clinched playoffs, but we’re still not happy in the way we clinched playoffs. We feel like we need to start turning these draws into three points. We want three points every time we step onto the field, but overall to be a part of the first group in Orlando that achieved playoffs is an honor because we know how much it means to the fans and the city of Orlando, so it’s for them.”
The displeasure in the manner in which the Lions clinched their berth is reminiscent of the very culture Head Coach Oscar Pareja has worked to create within the Club since his arrival and the belief that he has instilled in each of his players, 24 of which have seen minutes throughout this 12-game unbeaten run.
Despite a number of injuries across his traditional starting lineup, the results have still come, showcasing the depth of the group and the confidence that each player has when they step onto the pitch, no matter the minutes they have seen prior.
“This is a good opportunity for me to recognize the effort and the desire and the passion that the players have for this Club and for their job and their team. I mentioned at the beginning that with some adversity that every team faces at some point, we’re facing it now and the players kept doing a fantastic job going away against a good team like New York Red Bulls,” Pareja said following Sunday’s match.
“Losing two points in the last minute is something that magnifies what they’re doing. The boys are doing a good job, the guys that are coming into the lineup are responding well. The boys are working hard and the best I can say is that the demonstration that they had today again despite the difficulties that we have with some others, the competition is fantastic from our players.”
With a playoff spot officially locked up, the Lions remain focused on accruing as many points as possible throughout their last five matches, with the hopes of securing a home playoff fixture while still eyeing the top-seed in the league.
Their next opportunity to do so comes on Saturday, Oct. 24, when the team makes the quick trip south to take on their intrastate league foes in Inter Miami CF, looking to take three out of four from the 2020 expansion side on the year.
“For Inter Miami, we know what they’ll bring, they know what we’ll bring, so it’s just about raising that intensity, beating them,” Miller said when asked about Saturday’s match. “Beating them in every category, first ball, second balls and just making sure that we’re ready for the fight because we know every time that we play them it’s deeper than just a football match.
“It’s for the bragging rights, the points and now is the time where we need to start racking up these wins leading into the playoffs."