Another weekend, another game, another test. 

Unbeaten in four, Toronto FC hit the road for a high-profile clash with NYCFC on Sunday at Citi Field in Queens, New York City.

TFC rose to the challenge last weekend at home, defeating the previously undefeated Philadelphia Union 2-1 at BMO Field. 

“The Philadelphia game was a big test for us – they hadn't lost, they're a really good team,” said Bob Bradley during Friday’s pre-match press conference. “Going away and playing NYCFC where they come off a big win, that's another big test.”

“Every time you have the chance to show that you're making progress, show that you can beat a big team, show that you can win an important away game, those are all things that you keep trying to throw out there and see if everybody's ready for the next step,” he added. “Guys are excited.”

Seven matches in, Coach Bob continues to see his side progressing.

“Overall you see the package of ideas getting stronger,” he assessed. “To be a good team, there's different aspects. There's making sure every game that as many of your big players play at as high a level as possible. There's the mentality of the team in terms of the way you compete, the way you deal with how they want to play. If you play teams that that are more direct and fight for loose balls and try to create a little chaos, you have to be able to deal with those moments to then have the moments where you can get a little control.”

“We're getting a little bit better at the balance of all that,” Bradley continued. “I see the overall ideas of the team improving. Against Philadelphia when we did move up the field, the way we organized from the back in many situations was quite good – we pushed up, we were tight, so that we were able, if a ball came loose, to be on top of the next ball and continue with the attack.”

“Those are just small ideas. If those are all getting better, if you see more sharp plays from your best players,” he added. “I see little things that need work every day in training, every game, so it's a process. Improvement, but still a ways to go.”

Toronto has already beaten NYCFC once this season. 

The two met on April 2 at BMO Field, where a goal from Jesús Jiménez and an own goal from Thiago Martins in the first half put TFC ahead. NYCFC would pull one back late through Héber.

But the defending MLS Cup Champions were in the middle of slow start to the league campaign with Concacaf Champions League action drawing focus.

“I know from experience that when you play in the Champions League it’s tough to be good in the league games,” said Chris Mavinga. “But now they’re out, they’re 100% focused for the game. This is going to be a good team, a good opponent, but we faced a good team in Philly, so we’re ready to play against them and hopefully get a good result.”

Their league form suffered, winning just one of their first five outings, as they navigated the Round of 16 and the quarterfinals, advancing past Costa Rican side Santos de Guápiles and Comunicaciones of Guatemala. A 3-1 away loss in the opening leg of their semifinal series against the Seattle Sounders proved too much of an obstacle, despite a much better performance in the second leg at home, a 1-1 draw.

NYCFC returned to league play with a vengeance last weekend, dismantling Real Salt Lake 6-0 at Yankee Stadium with Valentín ‘Taty’ Castellanos scoring four goals, the first strikes of the season for the reigning MLS Golden Boot holder. 

“Their playing style is the same, there are small things that change,” laid out Bradley. “Maxi Moralez has been out for a few games and when he doesn't play, [Santiago] Rodríguez goes more underneath Castellanos, [Thiago] Andrade has been playing. In some ways, they're a little bit more dynamic that way. Andrade brings some speed to that side of the field.”

“So there's little things based on who plays, but they played a very good second half in the second leg against Seattle, had chances to really get back into it, [Stefan] Frei had a big game in the goal for Seattle, and then they come off a big win against Salt Lake.”

Toronto are up for the challenge.

“We know they have a very good team,” said Alejandro Pozuelo. “We like to play against them because they have a similar style: they like to play, they like to have the ball. We like to play against this team. It’s going to be difficult, but it's a challenge to go there and to win the game.”

Their last visit to Citi Field, during the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, was one to remember with Pozuelo and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi trading goals before a dashing run from Richie Laryea in the waning moments won TFC a penalty kick, which Pozuelo coolly deposit for the winner.

“We have good memories. The playoffs, yeah. I remember this game,” smiled Pozuelo. “We go and we try to do the same. It’s going to be a good game.”

Ever since his debut in 2019, where he registered two goals and an assist, Pozuelo has enjoyed playing NYCFC. In nine matches, he has seven goals and two assists. 

“I don’t know,” Pozuelo pondered, asked what it was about these games that brought out the best in him. “I think they play like us, so we have a lot of space. They play attacking football, so they concede some space in behind. Some teams you play against them and you like [it]. I hope I can score again on Sunday, but the most important is the three points.”

Whenever two footballing teams clash, it’s a special one to be sure.

“We know the quality of the players on the field. Toronto and NYCFC have good players,” said Mavinga. “It's always tough to play against them, but our culture in this club, we like to play those games. We know that it's not an easy place to play, but we’ve had good results there, we beat them this season too, we are ready to play against New York.”

Added Bradley: “Two teams that have identities, two teams that when they have the ball have ideas on how they can go forward, create chances, score goals. Over the years there's been so many talented, exciting, smart players for both teams. It always means it's going to be a really good match.”