TORONTO – With his side headed to unfamiliar surroundings, Greg Vanney has been doing some reconnaissance.
On the heels of a big win over D.C. United in Round One, Toronto FC will continue the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs on Wednesday when they travel to New York City for a Conference Semifinals date with New York City FC (7 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes in US; TVAS, TSN1/4 in Canada).
But rather than Yankee Stadium, where the two have met many times, this one will be played at Citi Field.
“Dimensions-wise, they’ll make it the same as Yankee Stadium, pushing for 70 [meters] wide and 110 long,” relayed the TFC coach on Monday. “My understanding is that the stands are a lot closer, so there’s more of an environment.
“The players will like [it]. It’s tighter, more intimate,” he continued. “But I don’t know about the grass or anything like that. We assume it will play very similar to Yankee Stadium.”
Past battles at NYCFC have been thrilling affairs, dominated by David Villa and Sebastian Giovinco. And though neither will be there on Wednesday, the circumstances that led to their high-scoring, open affairs will remain.
“Players are a lot closer together than normal, so it’s imperative that when we have the ball we really, really get all the way to the sidelines and maximize – there is very little space to waste,” said Vanney. “The games happen fast. It doesn’t seem like a lot, eight yards [narrower], but you’re in front of goal faster than you are at BMO [Field]. It entices you to want to finish things, but also you have to protect the goal, so decisions come a little bit faster.”
In preparation, Toronto have set up a similar situation at the BMO Training Ground.
“We’ve made one of our fields out here to the size, so we can be on it and get some sense of it,” added Vanney. “Once the playoff intensity gets going, then you’ve got to adapt on the fly and go with it.”
That is the norm.
“We’ll adapt once more,” said TFC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg. “That’s part of our job, the beauty of it. It’s going to be a neutral field for both teams. Another baseball field, but we’re ready. We’d much rather be worrying about what to expect on Wednesday than being on vacation.”
Though the different dimensions shift some elements, Toronto will approach the match as they always do.
“Maybe managing depth and on crosses, but, all in all, getting into a game thinking it’s going to be different, you overthink it, overplay it, you’re overdoing already,” said the goalkeeper. “It’s just adapting: to the playoff format, to size of the field, to opposition also. It’s going to be a totally different team than D.C., but it’s great to be there. We’re definitely going to give them a battle.”
A further wrinkle is that where one side is well-rested, having not played since Decision Day, the other is battle-tested. Which will be an advantage remains to be seen.
“There’s one school of thought that we’ve now felt the playoff intensity, we’ve been there,” said Vanney. “There’s another: you take bumps and bruises after 120 minutes and you’ve got to turn around and go again. I don’t know which will play out in whose favour in the end.
“Once the game starts, starts to take on the shape it takes on – whatever that looks like – then we’ll start to see whether they look rusty or we look tired. This time of year the enthusiasm, the motivation, the knowing you’re in the playoffs, the adrenaline and all that push you through,” he added. “I believe our guys will be ready to go.”