With six matches remaining, this weekend sees a daunting trip to the New York Red Bulls on Saturday night (5 pm ET | TSN — Full TV & streaming Info), a team they have grown quite familiar with over the years.
“We have to almost win every game,” said TFC forward Jozy Altidore on Thursday. “Only three points will do.”
The two sides have played some rollicking matches in the recent past. New York took the meeting earlier this year on an early Kemar Lawrence strike from distance and rode some excellent goalkeeping from Luis Robles, including a penalty save on Sebastian Giovinco, to a 1-0 victory in Toronto.
And who can forget the Eastern Conference Semifinal clash in the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs that featured Altidore and Michael Bradley mercilessly booed throughout the first leg at Red Bull Arena and come the second leg the tussle in the BMO Field tunnel that saw Altidore and Sacha Kljestan red carded at halftime.
But given the stakes – with TFC in must-win mode and Red Bull challenging for the Supporters' Shield – that burgeoning rivalry will be forced to the backburner.
“It's probably not front and center given the importance of the result,” said Toronto coach Greg Vanney. “It's probably there, but so small in the grand scheme of what we need to accomplish right now that it's not worth any energy.”
Toronto have found some form of late, scoring seven goals in their last two matches, including first-half strikes from Altidore, Giovinco, and Victor Vazquez against the LA Galaxy in a 5-3 win last weekend, but they have conceded an equal amount over that stretch, leaving little solace to be had.
“Even if we score six, we might give up seven,” quipped Altidore. Vanney stressed that defending would be key.
In their last two matches, New York has conceded six, leading Toronto defender Eriq Zavaleta to state, “They're more vulnerable now than in weeks past, we're going to try to beat them on the other end.”
And with Bradley Wright-Phillips in the form he is in, expect there to be a goal or two in this one.
“He unlocks teams, provides a little that they didn't have: making something out of nothing, passes to split defenses,” detailed Altidore. “It's nice to see. I always felt like Red Bull was a player or two away.”
This too will be the first meeting with New York under Chris Armas, which not only removes Jesse Marsch, an always fiery character in the middle of the fray, from the touchlines, but changes the Red Bulls slightly.
“They look the same, but they're better with the ball. They have one or two more ideas than they did with Jesse,” suggested Altidore. “It's a team we know very well.”
Regardless of who is at the helm, Toronto expect what they always do from New York.
“It's going to be the same Red Bull game as always: a dogfight,” said Zavaleta. “You've got to handle their pressure, especially early, see if the game can settle down and we can show our quality.”