Toronto FC's season may not be going as planned so far, but goalkeeper Alex Bono has a message for anyone careless enough to overlook the defending MLS Cup champions.
"The fact that teams seem to have forgotten the form we can have as a side is ridiculous to me," he said. "Any team that's looking down on us and thinks that we don't quite have it or we're not as good as we were last year, screw that because we are."
Toronto (6-11-5) seems poised to back up the claims of its United States international goalkeeper. The Reds will have a chance to build on a six-game unbeaten streak in all competitions Sunday when they host New York City FC.
Though New York is currently third in the Eastern Conference with 44 points, 21 more than TFC down in ninth, it has won just one of its last eight road games, conceding two or more goals in seven of those matches.
For Bono, Toronto's current run of success is starting to bear the hallmarks of last summer, when the team put together an 11-game unbeaten run over six weeks on its way to winning the Supporters' Shield as the regular season's top team.
"I think it was about this time last year or maybe earlier we went on a crazy run so I think maybe it's time for something like that to happen again," he said.
Toronto has started to show crucial signs of resilience in its past couple of games. In both Saturday's 2-2 draw at league-leading Atlanta United, and again in Wednesday's 2-2 Canadian Championship final draw at Vancouver, TFC relied on late, injury-time goals to grab a share of the spoils.
TFC is finally getting the benefit of Lady Luck as well, Bono said.
"As those games are winding down you're like, 'Oh man, we want to keep this run going and maybe it's just not going to work out,'" he said.
"Things seem to have bounced our way the last couple of games and that's something that hasn't happened for us all year, so we were due for a couple bounces."
While nobody in the TFC locker room is getting ahead of themselves just yet, the goal for the team remains a third straight appearance in the MLS Cup final. Currently six points shy of the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference with 16 games to play, veteran defender Justin Morrow says that he and his teammates aren't backing down.
"No one in this locker room thinks it's over," he said. "We all know that once we get on a roll that we have good a chance as any to win the MLS Cup."
The team also received good news on the injury front, as head coach Greg Vanney said veteran defender Drew Moor may be available Sunday. The centre-back has been sidelined since April with first a quad tear and then a calf injury, but has been taking part in full training this week.
Chris Mavinga will miss Sunday's match and the following weekend's clash with the San Jose Earthquakes after the defender was hit with an extra one-match ban by the league's disciplinary committee. That follows on from his red card for his involvement in a post-match skirmish following the draw in Atlanta.
Vanney is pleased with how his team seems to have turned the corner on its season, but stressed that plenty of work is still to be done.
"I think we're getting there," he said. "Are we at our maximum ability yet? I don't think we're there yet and that's why these performances are also important, not just the results."
NEW YORK CITY (14-6-2) AT TORONTO (6-11-5)
Sunday, BMO Field
HONOURS EVEN: Through 10 meetings, Toronto and New York City have three wins apiece and four draws. While two of Toronto's victories came in their 2016 playoff meeting, the last time NYCFC beat Toronto at BMO was in June, 2015, a 2-0 win for the visitors in the teams' first-ever meeting.
MAGNIFICENT SEVEN: Despite missing his team's last seven games through injury and suspension, NYC forward David Villa could play a role Sunday and certainly seems to enjoy games against Toronto, with seven goals in seven regular-season appearances.
WAITING GAME: Despite signing Argentine forward Lucas Janson on loan this week, TFC is still waiting for him to arrive and is busy trying to wrap up the necessary paperwork. The 23-year-old is expected to be in town next week.
MISSING PIECE: Though suspended for Sunday's match, Chris Mavinga has proved a vital presence, with Toronto averaging 1.7 points per game with him in the starting lineup, and just 0.8 when he doesn't start.
Paul Attfield, The Canadian Press