Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley has lambasted Major League Soccer and the Canadian Soccer Association for an overloaded schedule that sees TFC play six games in 19 days.
The logjam is due in part to the two-legged Canadian Championship final with Montreal, which also felt the star midfielder's ire.
"(A) total joke," Bradley said after practice Friday. "What more can you say?
"You're trying to grow a league, you're trying to raise the quality across the board. You're trying to give the Canadian Championship the respect that it deserves, because it's a trophy and we want to win it. And how ultimately you get put in a position where you have to play two games in three days (in Montreal next Wednesday and then at home Friday against New England), it's beyond me. Laughable."
The unforgiving schedule starts Saturday at home to D.C. United. Toronto then plays in Montreal on Wednesday, at home to New England and Montreal on Friday and Tuesday, and away in Dallas on Saturday and Orlando on Wednesday.
"Across the board, the Canadian Soccer Association, Montreal Impact, how this gets allowed, you can't help but shake your head," said Bradley, who has criticized the league's schedule-making in the past.
Toronto coach Greg Vanney says there were "many, many discussions" about trying to ease the calendar. But nothing came of it.
Next week's game in Montreal was originally set for Tuesday but was pushed back to Wednesday. Montreal plays at Orlando this Saturday so likely would not be keen on the original Tuesday date, given the travel.
Toronto, meanwhile, could not move its MLS game next Friday to Saturday because the CFL Argonauts play Sunday and there wouldn't be enough time to make the necessary stadium changes.
Vanney also noted there was pressure to get the Canadian Championship done before domestic talent was needed for next month's Gold Cup.
"Our motto is one play at a time, one game at a time. Don't get too caught up in six games in 19 days. Let's just play one game at a time and everybody needs to be ready to get called upon."
As coach, Vanney has to think about it though.
He said he would have "a very difficult time" fielding a player in games Wednesday and Friday.
In the past, he has dipped deep into his roster for the Canadian Championship. He will be forced to do the same this time, even with a trophy at stake given an MLS game is wedged in the middle of the five-day period between the two Montreal contests.
At least Vanney's team is well-rested, apart from those on international duty. League-leading Toronto (8-2-5) has not played since a 3-0 loss in New England on June 3 that snapped an eight-game unbeaten streak.
D.C. United (4-7-3) arrives with a league-worst offence, averaging just 0.71 goals a game. It has found the net just once in its last six league outings (1-4-1).
Ben Olsen's team is coming off a 4-1 win over Christos F.C., the last remaining amateur team in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. D.C. United went down 1-0 in the 23rd minute Tuesday and did not pull ahead until the 81st.
"We go from Christos to Toronto, (a) bit of a gap inbetween," Olsen told reporters. "The best team in the league right now, it's pretty simple."
"They've played very well but you can also go there and get points," he added. "And we've done that before against them. And we expect to be able to do that if we have a good night, enough guys show up and we play to our capabilities."
Saturday's game marks Bradley's 100th in all competitions for Toronto.
Tosaint Ricketts (hamstring) and Nick Hagglund (knee) are TFC's only injury absences. Vanney can field his trio of designated players — Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Sebastian Giovinco — for the first time since May 3.
D.C. United is missing Nick DeLeon, Sean Franklin, Patrick Mullins and Rob Vincent.
Toronto is unbeaten in its last eight regular-season home games (6-0-2). The franchise record for going unbeaten at home in a single season is 10 matches (6-0-4) from April 15 to Aug. 7, 2010.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press