Welcome to Hudson River Blue’s weekly opponent scouting report. We’ll use this column to preview our upcoming opponents and provide some insight into what to expect.
Last Time We Played
NYC and Toronto met towards the end of the season last year with NYC FC coming into the match with a three game losing streak. In a must-win to preserve their Postseason push, NYC FC took it to Toronto at home, winning the match 2-0. Frank Lampard got his first goal in an NYC shirt, scoring on an awkward volley in the 20th minute. After some back and forth play and several chances for both teams, NYC put the match out of reach with a Patrick Mullins flicked on header from a corner in the 77th minute. The win jumpstarted a three game win streak and gave NYC its second win over Toronto and an unbeaten record against the club.
What's Happened Since Then
After their defeat to New York, Toronto went on to secure the sixth seed in the East and their its Postseason berth in its nine year history. In the first round of MLS Playoffs, the club fell to its northern neighbors Montreal by a score of 3-0.
After the season, the club focused on bolstering a back-line that allowed 58 goals, tying for most conceded with our Blues. The team brought in a new keeper in Clint Irwin, two experienced defenders in CB Drew Moor from Colorado Rapids and Steven Beitashour from Vancouver Whitecaps, and defensive-minded midfielder Will Johnson to play alongside Michael Bradley. The team also added Tsubasa Endoh in the MLS Superdraft and he started his first MLS game last week in the absence of Jozy Altidore.
The preseason was full of ups and downs for Toronto as the team worked on integrating its new players into the squad. The team won three, tied three, and lost three but seemed to have emerged with a solid back-line and a potent attack. In the team’s first match against New York Red Bulls, the defense looked like a polished unit, posting a clean sheet against one of the most formidable attacks in MLS. Offensively, Toronto took its opportunities. Giovinco converted from the spot in the 82nd minute and Marky Delgado put the match away in the 91st, assisted by Giovinco, who looks to have resumed the MVP form he displayed all of last season.
How They Play
Toronto is a goal scoring team. The strength of the team is in the attack, and even without Jozy up top, Giovinco, Lovitz and rookie Tsubasa Endoh are quality players and capable of taking defenders on in space. The midfield has improved dramatically with the addition of Will Johnson, especially defensively. While it's still Bradley that pulls the strings and plays the killer ball, Johnson and Osorio provide the stability the midfield needs to control the play.
Giovinco will start inside but has free reign to move wherever he wants on the field (he's definitely earned it). Lovitz and Endoh will play off of Sebastian's movement to ensure quality spacing and Bradley will provide offensive support up the middle as a true box-to-box midfielder. Away from home, expect the team to play a slightly more direct style as it looks to attack NYC FC on the counter and over the top.
The back-line is brand new, but demonstrated against Red Bulls that it was a cohesive unit. The additions of Moor, Beitashour and Clint Irwin provide the veteran leadership the club badly needed. Irwin especially has the ability in goal and the vocal presence to organize the team at the back. Offensively, Justin Morrow can be dangerous in overlapping situations, while Marky Delgado is a player who is capable of coming off the bench and scoring.
Player to Watch
I promise I wanted to be hipster about this and pick a player that wasn’t Giovinco, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. The 29-year old forward came over from Juventus in his Prime (which was a huge victory for MLS) and took MLS by storm last season en route to winning the league’s MVP. Giovinco led all players in goals with 23 and assists with 13, while creating 62 chances and just generally terrorizing back-lines.
Sebastian is a proper European footballer. Let me clarify - By that I mean he’s not exceptionally athletic and does not rely on strength or speed to score goals. His best attribute is his play on the ball and his immaculate touch, which is truly world class. He’s exceptionally crafty and capable of wriggling away from defenders in traffic to deliver a pass or get his shot off. He’s probably most dangerous out wide, taking defenders on one v one, typically making them look silly in the process. Unlike players with a similar build and skill on the ball, Giovinco has a goal scorer’s mentality and can create goals from nothing in the box.
Giovinco terrorized NYC FC last year in the 4-4 draw the clubs played in New York. The Italian scored a hattrick in nine minutes, the third fastest recorded in MLS history. Surprisingly, NYC FC was able to keep Giovinco off the score sheet in the teams’ other meetings last season. We will need to channel whatever voodoo magic we used last year in those fixtures if we hope to keep him from scoring again.
Toronto FC Fun Facts
Special thanks to James Grossi for his help with these:
-Toronto FC's inaugural season was in 2006
-The team's all-time leading goalscorer is Dwayne De Rosario with 33 goals
-Sunday's win at Red Bull was the team's second all-time in 14 attempts
-Sebastian Giovinco and Andrea Pirlo had breakfast this summer
But he stole the instagram from Pirlo, hopefully he had permission.
When NYC FC and Toronto get together you're bound to get fireworks. In good faith, I can't predict a scoreline that doesn't have a Toronto goal. That being said, I expect NYC FC to control the midfield and convert on the chances they create. Giovinco gets Toronto off on the right foot with a goal, but Shelton equalizes soon thereafter and Villa scores his first of the campaign, a game winner for New York.
But don't take my word for it, here's what some of our best at HRB had to say:
-Alexander Pallotti: "3-1 Toronto is my guess unfortunately. Giovinco will just be too much for a defense that's still learning."
-Calvin Daniel: "3-2 NYC FC. Villa, Shelton and Mac-Attack score."
-Phil Polefrone: "2-2, Villa and Shelton. I think we'll see a 3-4-3."
Have your own prediction? Let us know in the comments section!