Days removed from a 5-1 win over FC Cincinnati, Toronto FC’s three-match road trip concludes on Wednesday night when they face off against NYCFC in New York City.
Where in Cincinnati TFC were facing a team at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, they now face the side leading the way at the top of the table.
Though the opponent is different, the approach remains the same.
“Different game, different opponent, different setting,” said Greg Vanney on Tuesday. “We’ve got to continue to build off the things we’ve been doing well the last several games.”
“I keep reiterating: staying connected as a group, taking care of the ball – especially on the small field, making sure that we build speed into our attacks. It’s a game of execution,” continued the coach. “The last game we finished our chances and took them well, got on top of the game early. These games with NYCFC are always interesting. We’ve got to stay in the moment, stay in the game, play it out for 90 minutes and trust what we’re doing.”
Unbeaten in five, “nothing” changes for Vanney.
“The formula is the same,” he stressed. “The guys are excited. This is another opportunity on the road to continue to compete, be resilient, be tough and find a way to get a result. We don’t care where anybody is in the standings, we’re here to play for three points.”
Having taken over midway through last season, Domenec Torrent has NYCFC soaring.
Riding a five-game winning streak, his side have shot to the top of the standings after flying under the radar for most of the year with a handful of games in hand always obscuring their true position.
They did suffer a body blow at the end of August when leading-scorer Heber, who has 14 goals in 20 appearances, suffered a quad injury against Vancouver Whitecaps FC that will see him miss Wednesday’s match. And they needed a 96th minute penalty kick to continue their winning ways with a 2-1 victory over the New England Revolution on Saturday, despite playing up a man for more than 80 minutes.
Another key piece, Maxi Moralez (seven goals, 18 assists), will also miss the match as he picked up a fifth yellow card against New England.
Valentin Castellanos (10 goals, five assists) and Alexandru Mitrita (seven goals, three assists), will look to pick up any slack created by those absences.
With playoff positioning in the balance, Drew Moor predicts: “It’s going to be a big match for both sides.”
“We’re coming in with a good mentality, on a good run of form ourselves and we play well at New York City against them. We match up well,” continued the defender. “We have to start game off with a lot of intensity, put a lot into it early, and let it take care of itself as it goes.”
“They have very good players, they’re playing, quietly, as good as anybody else in the league,” added Moor. “It’ll be a big match: good for momentum, good test for us. We’re excited to keep this run going.”
Toronto won the only meeting between the sides earlier this season 4-0 at BMO Field in March, but NYCFC took both encounters last season.
TFC have never won in four regular season visits to Yankee Stadium, but have taken points from two of their last three. And no one, especially not NYCFC, will ever forget what happened in the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs when, having taken a 2-0 lead late in the home leg, TFC won the away leg 5-0 to advance 7-0 on aggregate.
Sebastian Giovinco and David Villa may both be gone, but with league battles between the two clubs averaging nearly four goals per match expect some fireworks.
The unique dimensions of the pitch at Yankee Stadium play a role.
“You have to be a lot more attentive,” warned Vanney. “The game is going to be faster, pressure will come sooner, quicker. The guys are going to have to have their ideas and be in the right spaces for each other. We’ve got to make sure our wide guys maximize the width.”
“Just being really attentive to details like that – our spacing, the speed at which we make things happen,” he added. “When we come here we’ve got to be conscientious.”
Added Moor: “Just be ready for it.”
“It’s different, looks different, feels different,” he continued. “They’re a very good team, so get into it right away; put energy into it from the opening whistle. It’s going to be tight – it’s almost like a fight at first because you’re constantly close to other guys. It sounds weird, but physically you’re always within touching distance, so be ready for the physical battle and enjoy it.”
With five matches remaining on the season, Toronto have thrust themselves above the red line and have their eyes set on moving up into the top four to seal a home playoff match. Tied with the New York Red Bulls on 41 points, D.C. United, who currently hold that fourth spot are just a point ahead having played an additional game.
Moor credits their “mentality” in recent weeks for the uptick in form.
“We’ve had a good mentality all year, but more up and down than we would like,” admitted the veteran. “The last couple weeks there has been a lot of focus, a lot of energy put in to playing well as a team, grinding a little bit, which is something over the course of a long season you forget about MLS.”
“It doesn’t always have to be perfect, in fact it vary rarely will be, and that’s OK,” said Moor. “As long as we’re going in, giving ourselves chances to win games, pick up points whether we’re home or on the road, then that’s huge. And that’s the mentality we have right now.”