Well, we are one day removed from when New York City FC and the visiting Toronto FC are to face off in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs. I can feel the nerves already.
The question on everyone’s mind is this; can NYCFC pull out a huge victory at Citi Field so they can continue their journey towards MLS supremacy?
Here are the biggest questions regarding game day.
For NYCFC to advance, they must get past Toronto who looked mightily impressive against D.C. United in their 5-1 win in the opening round. Was that surge in the first half of extra time a true display of their form or was it a product of momentum?
Rafael Nobea y Rivera: More momentum than form. This isn’t the Toronto of 2016 and 2017 and early 2018, which was the best team in MLS history. This is a shadow of that team. They didn’t make the playoffs last season, and they were pretty woeful this season before finally rallying in the second half of the year. Do they have the capacity to beat New York City? Sure. I think an upset is especially possible because Wednesday’s game isn’t at Yankee Stadium, so the Pigeons are working without that particular advantage.
Calvin Daniel: I would call it a product of momentum, but I also wouldn’t take that be a dismissive comment on their performance. Success in the MLS Cup playoffs is fundamentally built on momentum you are able to create for yourself. So Toronto’s surging form is well timed for their title chances.
Robert Bourne: Neither. DC United’s defense, a shambles throughout the game, kicked it down a notch in extended time and literally looked like a mid-table D2 side. First goal, extra period: Steven Birnbaum was caught playing high, and was absolutely pretzeled by DeLeon’s inlet to Laryea. Error DC, 2-1. Second goal: Jonathan Osorio walked in for the tap-in while DC’s entire back line (particularly our old friend, Frederic Brillant) watched passively, rooted to the ground, completely flat-footed and inert. Error DC, 3-1. Third goal: even worse. Osorio, waving his arms like a wind sock and making himself more than obvious, took the pass at the virtual midpoint between the post markers, punched it at the far post… and not one DC defender was covering that entire half of the goal. Not one. DC’s Russell Canouse looked like he was waiting for a volleyball serve. Error DC, 4-1. Last goal: the moment DeLeon lined up his shot, DC goalie Bill Hamid stunted to his right and was caught the wrong way out on a decent — but blockable — shot.
In other words, a complete defensive meltdown. NYCFC’s back corps don’t tend to make those kinds of mistakes. I mean, for Pete’s sake — my son’s U-10 team doesn’t make mental errors like that. But DC’s stalwart fullbacks did. Just awful, top to bottom.
I don’t think that Toronto looked mighty impressive at all; without Altidore, they’re an extremely average side. DC played like they were beaten from the opening whistle, Rooney looked like his mind was already at Derby, and notwithstanding all of that Toronto couldn’t put them away until extra periods.
It all bodes well for NYCFC this week.
Kris Chen: Toronto clearly has the form (remembering our own difficult games against them this season) and at same time, DC was gassed.
General consensus: Though Toronto’s extra time surge shouldn’t be overlooked, it was more so the product of fortunate circumstance rather than tactical genius.
Despite the fact that Jozy Altidore should be available for the Eastern Conference Semifinals, will Toronto be feeling the effects from playing 120 minutes on Saturday?
Rafael: Yes. That makes it critical for New York City to get off to a fast start. Toronto’s obviously going to be up for the game, but one reason they’ve declined so far is the age and mileage on players like Altidore (whom I suspect is still injured) and Michael Bradley. Even their latest star acquisition, Omar Gonzalez, is on the wrong side of 30, and he’s always been prone to defensive miscues (most infamously down Trinidad way two years ago).
Conversely, the Pigeons have been resting, having benefited not just from the international break but from the first-round bye. Nearly everyone dealing with nagging injuries should be in far better condition. This is the point of winning the bye. I think that combination will ultimately prove lethal.
Calvin: There will obviously be some fatigue on their players. That’s the benefit of having that bye. NYCFC will have a well rested lineup. At the same time, however, although fatigued Toronto come into this match in form due to these recent matches.
Robert: It’s inevitable that they will. Michael Bradley, in particularly, looked vanquished by the end of 90 minutes the other night; even his spin move that initiated the 2-1 goal was executed as if he were wearing leg weights. He’s not the whole team, of course, but if your primary build-up distributor is that weary, and 32 years old, he won’t recover by mid-week.
Altidore will help to allay those effects, however. If there’s one thing he’s still good at (very good), it’s receiving the long ball with his back to the goal, and holding it until his supporting cavalry arrives. No one in MLS does that quite as well, I think, and certainly that’s his abiding value to the (mostly much younger) USMNT as well — at least until Josh Sargent gains those skills. Altidore can also force a physical response in the box, and that can expose our center backs to fouls and penalty calls unless we’re unusually careful. So he’s an important factor in offsetting what will be a fatigued TFC. Look for Toronto to lob in a busload of long balls — especially if they’re tired — and look for Altidore to take it from there, as he does so well.
Kris: TFC played 120 minutes, on their own ground with 3 full days of recovery and a short flight to NY plus the euphoria of having won like that... Toronto will be flying high to start on psychological energy.
General consensus: Altidore could surely make a difference, but TFC will be feeling the effects of a long shift this past weekend.
How should NYCFC line up on Wednesday?
Raf: They switch between a 4-3-3 and 3-4-2-1 pretty seamlessly. My guess is they’ll start with the former, and if Toronto FC try to squeeze the midfield, they’ll flip to the 3-4-2-1, spring the wingbacks, and crash the box. Barring injury, Dome Torrent should play his best XI.
My lineup: http://lineupbuilder.com/?sk=hy7n5
Calvin: With Sands back on the pitch, this is the perfect time (in my opinion) for Torrent to deploy his flexible 3 man backline of Chanot - Sands - Callens, with Tinnerholm and Mattarita pushed up as wingbacks. With Sands able to push up as a defensive mid, or stay back as a center back in the back 3, it allows Torrent a tactical advantage to adapt to whatever Toronto may throw at them. Hopefully Heber can go in this one, with Mitrita and Castellanos flanking him in the attack, Maxi pulling the strings.
Robert: Depends on Sands’ fitness. If he’s 100%, then without a question, 4-3-3:
Callens / Sands / Chanot / Tinnerholm
Ring / Maxi / Parks
Mitrita / Heber / ITS
Callens Sands Chanot
Matarrita Parks Ring Moralez Tinnerholm -
General consensus: NYCFC switches between a 3-4-3 and a 4-3-3. If Sands is healthy, look for him to get some playing time.
What are your final score predictions?
Raf: While I’d love to see a NYCFC blowout, I don’t think it’s likely. I think it ends New York City 3, Toronto FC 1. NYC scores early to put the Reds under pressure. Toronto draws even around the 30 minute mark, but the Pigeons notch a second either just before or after halftime. They add the third around the 70 minute mark, courtesy of a Gonzalez defensive lapse. Toronto try to get back in the game, but exhaustion and age work against them.
Calvin: 3-1 NYCFC
Robert: NYCFC 2-1 Toronto
Kris: We win 3-1 because the fatigue does eventually kick in for TFC, although I see Jozy scoring first.
General consensus: The game is fought in the trenches and is close in the first half. Fatigue and tactical disadvantages, however, kick in come the second half and NYCFC runs away with it 3-1 in front of a raucous crowd at Citi Field.
What are your predictions for this game? Do we think we got it right, or do we have it all wrong? Let us know in the comments!