September 30, 2016 - 3:01 PM
Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley is urging feuding fans to get behind the MLS club in the stretch drive of the regular season.
Some of Toronto's supporters groups joined forces in going silent during Wednesday's home game against Orlando to protest recent sanctions against the Inebriatti group.
The club has been at odds with Inebriatti most recently over an obscene banner that was raised in its section during an August loss against visiting Montreal. TFC called the banner "an embarrassment'' to the club and its supporters.
Bradley, whose team welcomes D.C. United to BMO Field on Saturday, says he hopes the club and fans can work out their differences.
"My message to the fans is we need them, more than maybe they even realize," he told reporters when asked about the conflict.
"On behalf of the players I really hope that there can be a solution that is found as quickly as possible so that our fans are happy and feel like they are valued and realize what an important part of the club they play," he added. "And I hope the people upstairs in our club get the reassurances that they need and we can all continue to move forward together.
"A club is everybody. It's not just the players, it's not just the front office, it's not just the fans. It's everybody all together ... As we go into the most important games of the season, we need our best and most supportive fans behind us in the biggest way."
Wednesday' protest was noticeable despite an announced crowd of 23,805. The normally raucous south stand, home to loud gyrating, flag-waving fans, was silent and prop-less. The drum-beating that usually echoes around the stadium was also absent.
The two people deemed responsible for the offensive sign have been suspended by the club, which has asked Inebriatti members to sign a code of conduct. Until they do, they will have to do without their flags, banners and drums.
In a Facebook post, Inebriatti said its silence is a protest against sanctions "excessively punitive in nature, and far-reaching in their negative implications."
"To the players: We love you. We are with you, even in silence, and it pains us not to sing for you. We hope that you understand that silence is our sole leverage against draconian sanctions. As we support you, we now ask for your support and understanding in return."
The group has said the offensive sign was "not painted by a member of Inebriatti."
"We are saddened that this message is being associated with our group and are taking steps to ensure that something like this never happens again," it said in an earlier post.
Inebriatti was sanctioned for misbehaviour in Montreal in the final game of the 2015 regular season after Toronto fans lit flares and damaged Saputo Stadium.
Star striker Sebastian Giovinco, who has been out since Aug. 27 with strains in his quadriceps and abductor, trained Friday but is questionable. Given Toronto does not play again until Oct. 16 due to the international break, it is likely the team will hold Giovinco back until then, rather than risk him.
Midfielder Will Johnson has a slight medial collateral ligament sprain in his knee. Clint Irwin is expected to return in goal.
Toronto (13-8-10) held a one-point lead over the two New York teams heading into this round of play. New York City FC played at Houston on Friday while the Red Bulls host the Philadelphia Union on Saturday.
The top two teams in each conference get a first-round bye and a berth in the conference semifinals.
D.C. United (9-9-13) holds the sixth and last playoff spot in the East and is looking to solidify its playoff position. Ben Olsen's team has a four-point lead over seventh-place New England and is just one point back of fifth-place Montreal and two off fourth-place Philadelphia.
Saturday's matchup features two teams on fine runs.
Toronto is unbeaten in four games (1-0-3) and has lost just once in its last 12 outings (7-1-4) since beating D.C. United 4-1 at BMO Field on July 23. Giovinco scored three times that day.
D.C. United is unbeaten in four (3-0-1) and has lost just once in its last 11 (4-1-6) since that defeat in Toronto.
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News from © The Canadian Press, 2016