NEW YORK CITY, NY – For the first time since a miserable 0-5 defeat in the 2016 Conference Semi-finals, New York City FC will host Toronto FC at Yankee Stadium. Perhaps the most valuable three points of NYCFC’s season to date hang in the balance.
Tale of the Tape
Toronto FC currently sit in second place in the East with 38 points from 19 matches (11-3-5). They are tied on points with East-leaders Chicago, behind by only a three goal margin. The Reds have taken a total of 15 points on the road so far this season, including their most recent match – a 3-1 victory in Orlando that featured a brace by Sebastian Giovinco. While Toronto did sweep NYCFC when it mattered most, they remain winless against the Boys in Blue in the regular season. In three regular season matches at Yankee Stadium, TFC has scored six goals but are 0-1-2. Overall in the regular season, TFC is 0-2-3 against City.
New York City FC comes out of the Gold Cup break with 33 points from 19 matches (10-6-3). In third place in the East for the moment, only three points separate them from Atlanta United who have won three in a row and four of their last five. City has taken the vast majority of the points from Yankee Stadium – 20 of a possible 27 – with only one loss (to Montreal early in the season). The Pigeons are coming off a disappointing loss in Vancouver – a match they had in hand and let get away – but are returning to league play mostly healthy and with their most important stretch of matches ahead of them.
The story of this game is a different tournament entirely. The Gold Cup has seen many players come and go from their club teams in the last few weeks. For NYCFC, it was starting goalkeeper Sean Johnson departing for the Group Stage. Johnson didn’t get to see any time between the sticks, and with Bruce Arena beefing up his squad for the Quarterfinals, the City newcomer was replaced by the likes of Tim Howard and Jesse Gonzalez.
Toronto has had the opposite fortune. Though they’ve been dealing without Justin Morrow, Armando Cooper, Jonathan Osorio, Raheem Edwards and Tosaint Ricketts for the duration of the Group Stages, Arena has brought in the big guns for the USMNT. Both Jozy Altidore and TFC/USMNT Captain Michael Bradley have joined the Yanks for the knockout rounds of the Gold Cup. The last time TFC was without Bradley and Altidore, they lost 3-0 to New England.
Don’t be fooled, however. The Reds still have two of the most capable attackers in MLS in Sebastian Giovinco (9 goals) and Victor Vasquez – who leads the league in assists with 10.
New York City will have to commit an awful lot to stopping just that duo. With Yangel Herrera and Maxi Moralez healthy and able to once again combine with Alex Ring, control of the midfield should go relatively smoothly against an extraordinarily depleted Toronto side. The City trio will have to overcome numbers, however, as TFC have generally played a 3-5-2 formation this season. Jack Harrison and – in the absence of now-injured Rodney Wallace – Tommy McNamara (though Jon Lewis may get a look here) will also have to commit to sitting a little deeper in the midfield than usual to give the midfield the outlets they need to get the attack going. Look for David Villa to also drop deep and try to create some magic going forward as well.
Toronto FC (3-5-2): Bono; Mavinga, Moor, Zavaleta; Edwards, Vazquez, Cheyrou, Delgado, Alseth; Giovinco, Hamilton
Greg Vanney did go with a 4-4-2 against Orlando, and it seemed to work. But given the personnel exchanges that have happened in the last week, a 3-5-2 seems more likely.
New York City FC (4-3-3): Johnson; Sweat, Callens, Chanot, White; Herrera, Moralez, Ring; McNamara, Villa, Harrison
As stated before, Lewis could conceivably get a start tonight, but these three points are incredibly important, and Patrick Vieira may not want to experiment too much. Considering how packed the TFC midfield may be and the defensive responsibility that will entail, McNamara may be the better choice of the two to start. Don’t be surprised to see Lewis late, though.