TORONTO – Another long international break in the books, action finally returns to BMO Field.
Toronto FC are set to face NYCFC on Friday night at BMO Field as regular season play resumes.
Nearly a month in, this will only be TFC's third match of 2019. That stop-start nature will come to an end as four matches are scheduled for April before a busy May that sees the side play some seven times.
“A little strange,” admitted Drew Moor of the intermittent kickoff to the campaign. “I don't like the big long breaks, especially when we're getting good results. It will be good for us in the long run to get some rest. You have to take these, heal up physically and mentally again, but be sure we refocus and are ready to go.”
Toronto enters on the back of two straight wins – 3-1 on opening day against the Philadelphia Union and 3-2 in the home opener against the New England Revolution – taking all six points on offer.
And Greg Vanney was able utter a seldom used phrase before knocking on the nearest available wood: “Everyone is available... haven't said that in a while.”
Standing in the way of a third-straight victory will be NYCFC, who are both winless and unbeaten on the season, having drawn all three of their matches this year.
They opened the season with a 2-2 draw away to Orlando City SC, returned home for a scoreless contest against D.C. United, and went into the break with another 2-2 draw at home against LAFC.
Domenec Torrent, who took over the coaching reins from Patrick Vieira midseason in 2018, enters his first full season in charge and overseen a handful of changes to the side – most notably the departure of David Villa who had captained NYCFC for their entire history – but regardless, they pose a familiar challenge.
Many of the mainstays of recent seasons – Maxi Moralez, Alexander Ring, Maxime Chanot, Alexander Callens, Ronald Matarrita, Sean Johnson – remain.
“It's not hugely different,” said Vanney. “Their concepts and philosophy haven't changed. There will be nuances that are different: they're playing [teenager James] Sands at defensive midfield, they've pushed Ring higher, those are slightly different personalities.”
Ring has two goals through the opening three matches from that more advanced position, while the diminutive Moralez, normally more of an attacking midfielder, has led the line at times.
“That may adjust now that they have [another] striker, they may want to drop Moralez [deeper] and Ring falls back into that position,” mused Vanney. “They continue to hone in what it is they do.”
That new signing, Brazilian forward Heber, will not travel, according to reports, as he awaits receipt of his visa.
One major addition in the offseason was Romanian forward Alexandru Mitriță, who signed as a designated player and introduced himself with a screamer against LAFC.
“Very talented, a guy who comes off the wing, can move with and without the ball. He's a dangerous player, a nice addition to their group,” said Vanney. “We have to be aware of him, both in possession and more importantly in the transition moments. In open space he can do some things.”
NYCFC have won the last two encounters between the sides, most recently 3-2 in Toronto last August where Ismael Tajouri-Shardi scored the late winner in the 88th minute.
“They're a team that hasn't gotten the results they would have felt they deserved,” suggested Moor of the three draws. “Very systematic in what they try to do: they want to play the ball, pull you apart, stretch you out defensively. They almost invite pressure, try to play through it, get in behind and unbalance [the opponent].”
“They've got some very good players that can play in tight spaces: their new signing Mitriță; Moralez hasn't quite got going this season, but we know he can be dangerous, and Ring is one of the better two-way midfielders in the league, to name a couple,” continued Moor. “We'll have to be focused for 90-plus minutes. They're a team that can lull you to sleep and then pounce. While we want to take the game to them, do what we do and take our chances; a professional, concentrated effort could be the difference.”
Vanney will have several decision to make in selecting his side. Jordan Hamilton, Ayo Akinola, and Jay Chapman all did very well in the win over New England, as did Jozy Altidore in his return from injury. Marky Delgado is available once more and newcomer Alejandro Pozuelo is eager to make his TFC debut as well.
Regardless of who is selected, they know how they must go about their business.
“[NYCFC] are a good team, their coach has a lot of experience,” said TFC Captain Michael Bradley, fresh off international duty. "We feel like we have a good grip on them,”
“For us, it's stepping on the field in a strong way for a big match at home, respecting and understanding what the opponent is all about, but knowing that we're going to go after things in a strong way.”