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Toronto FC players hoping to build off the playoff buzz in the city

TORONTO - Toronto FC players have noticed the energy that has swept the city since the NBA's Toronto Raptors returned to the post-season.

They'd like to experience the same playoff buzz later this year and reach the MLS post-season for the first time in franchise history.

"It's a very exciting time to be in the city," Toronto FC captain Steven Caldwell said. "The support behind the Raptors is incredible. We need to put ourselves in a position come October, November time that we can have that kind of support in the playoffs."

Toronto FC will play four of their next five games at BMO Field, beginning Saturday against the New England Revolution.

Sports fans in the Ontario capital are not used to the playoff experience. The NHL's Maple Leafs have reached the playoffs once in the last decade, the Blue Jays haven't reached the baseball post-season in over 20 years and the Raptors are in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Hundreds of fans have packed Maple Leaf Square outside Air Canada Centre for the Raptors' first-round games against the Brooklyn Nets. Toronto FC players are hoping their fans can feed off the energy created by Canada's lone NBA club.

"I've been wearing my Raptors shirt, singlet, whatever they call it," Toronto FC coach Ryan Nelsen said. "It's been fantastic for the city and for MLSE (Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment), even us. We're a part of that family. It's a big carrot in front of us, to try to duplicate what the Raptors have done because it's brought the city to life."

Nelsen confirmed Jermaine Defoe would be in the lineup Saturday after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. Defoe scored three goals in his first two games before leaving in the 61st minute of Toronto's 3-0 loss to Real Salt Lake on March 29. In his absence, Toronto FC went 1-2-0.

Additionally, defender Doneil Henry will return for the match against New England (3-3-2). Henry, who has missed the past three games due to a knee injury, doesn't expect to miss a beat Saturday.

"Took a month on fully recovering and getting back to my match fitness," he said. "I feel right now I'm really strong and healthy and ready for tomorrow's game."

Added Nelsen: "The guys are eager to getting back. Really looking forward to the game Saturday. We've obviously got a few more bodies back now so looking forward to it."

Toronto's lone MLS game away from BMO Field in the next five matches is May 23 at Sporting Kansas City. Toronto (3-3-0) doesn't travel for a league game following that until June 27 when they visit the New York Red Bulls.

"All in all you have to say that we've had a good start (to the season)," said defender Michael Bradley. "Now is a good chance for us to put some points on the board and really establish what we're going to be about at home."

Toronto had a 1-1-1 mark against the Revolution last season. New England currently sits fourth in the Eastern Conference standings, two points up on Toronto. The Revolution enter play on a three-game undefeated streak following a 2-0 home win against Sporting Kansas City last weekend.

"They've got some lovely midfield players who are technically very good and feel comfortable when they have the ball," Nelsen said. "But, then they feel very uncomfortable in other areas. We've got to look at their weaknesses and try to win the game.

"Hopefully they'll be more worried about us than we are of them,"

Toronto enters the match off a bye week and is looking to avoid a third straight loss. The two sides played to a 1-1 draw in their lone meeting at BMO Field last August.

"New England is a good team," said Bradley. "They have some talented attacking players who can cause you trouble if you're not organized or committed enough to close them down and making the game hard on them. Having said that, we're confident in who we are and what we're about.

"We've learned a lot about ourselves through these first six games and as we move into the next phase in the season, we feel ready."

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