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To win the MLS Cup, NYCFC must erase the demons of their past

The Playoff Pigeons must get through the pesky Toronto in a different stadium if they wish to continue their quest towards a championship

MLS: New York City FC at Toronto FC John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

When I was doing my write-up for New York City FC’s upcoming Eastern Conference Semifinal against Toronto FC, I mentioned that for NYCFC to continue their march towards MLS supremacy they must first exorcise the demons of playoffs past against a Toronto team that seems to have their number in big games. And not just the ones TFC have summoned against us in the past. Pretty much every NYCFC playoff stint has been marred by misery and shortcomings.

For those of you in need a short history lesson, 2016 saw the second-year NYCFC defy the odds and finish second place in the Eastern Conference after a pretty terrible inaugural year. Despite having beaten Toronto more often than not at that point, the eventual MLS champion Reds decimated the Blues by way of an aggregate scoreline of 7-0 in the two-legged Eastern Conference Semifinals.

The playoff woes don’t stop there, though.

In 2017, NYCFC once again finished second in the East and were then bounced out by way of a 4-3 aggregate against the Columbus Crew. The following year saw City finish third, forcing them to play a knockout game against the Philadelphia Union to move forward. The Blues took care of business by defeating Philly 3-1, but then were trounced by eventual champions Atlanta United in the conference semi’s.

If you’re starting to see a pattern here, that’s because there is.

For three straight seasons, NYCFC put together respectable seasons that could’ve seen them compete for silverware. And three straight times, they have faltered early.

And with 2019 sporting a new single-elimination system to the postseason, there is absolutely zero margin for error.

Toronto drew D.C. United in the opening round of the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs to see who would advance to face NYCFC in the Eastern semi’s. And for a majority of the game, most fans of City probably weren’t worried about the result judging by the performances we were seeing. For almost the duration, both clubs looked sloppy and disjointed with Toronto holding a narrow 1-0 advantage.

That was until DCU’s Lucas Rodriguez knotted the game up in the third minute of second half stoppage time, forcing the game into extra time.

And from there, NYCFC fans’ nightmares were showcased for the world to see.

In a game where Toronto couldn’t find any significant momentum in the 90 minutes of regulation, they found four goals in just the first 15 minutes of extra time. All of a sudden, that confidence of “we can take anyone” immediately turned to “shit, we have to face these guys!?”

The final score? 5-1, Toronto — a four-goal victory without the help of Jozy Altidore. A haunting number for City fans for sure, considering the Pigeons suffered their first loss of the 2019 season at BMO Field against TFC and a debuting Alejandro Pozuelo in a 4-0 rout.

Worth adding is the fact that NYCFC and TFC later drew 1-1 at Yankee Stadium in a game that, if we’re being honest, Toronto should have won. Jozy Altidore had a shockingly bad performance both in and around the box all game and Sean Johnson was forced into saving a penalty to keep the draw intact.

Yes, NYCFC’s playoff hopes hang on whether or not they can dispatch of a team they couldn’t beat this season. As a matter of fact, Toronto is the only Eastern Conference team City couldn’t beat this year.

Not a fun task by any means.

For NYCFC to continue on their quest towards a first-ever championship, they have to beat a team they literally couldn’t beat this season. And to further complicate matters, they will have to do it in a game that isn’t really a home game. At least, not in the traditional sense.

Because of the New York Yankees getting our hopes up (and then fucking it all up) by making it to the American League Championship Series, NYCFC will have to play their first “home” playoff game at Citi Field in Flushing, Queens — clear across town from their usual home of Yankee Stadium in the South Bronx.

Look, I don’t care if Citi Field is in New York City. I don’t care if they make the dimensions the same. Because at the end of the day, you can dress the New York Mets’ in anything you want — bring your banners, your flags, your advertisements, etc. Hell, bring a bigger crowd.

No matter what you do, Citi Field is not Yankee Stadium; and it never will be. And for NYCFC to advance against a tough opponent, it’s gonna take an effort of 150% and a road-game mentality.

But never mind my “negativity.” There is a silver lining. Should NYCFC be able to dig deep and pull off a win against Toronto, Yankee Stadium will be waiting in the wings for any further playoff matchup.

With that said, for NYCFC to have any hopes of lifting that elusive first trophy in MLS, they must kill the demons they have been haunted with for over three years now. There are no second chances here; you get one, and that’s it. It’s win or go home from here on out.

We need Domé Torrent to complete his redemption arc from being on the hot seat to bringing City to their best ever finish. We need Keaton Parks to be that complete No. 8. We need Maxi Moralez to keep showing us his MVP caliber. We need Héber to continue scoring for fun.

And above all else, we need New York City FC to prove that they can make it to the dance, not just get lost in the limo ride there.

It’s not playoff time. It’s time to wash away the memories of 2016. It’s time to wash our mouths of that bitter Atlanta defeat last year.

It’s demon killing time!