Who: NYCFC vs Toronto FC
When: Wednesday, October 23rd @ 7:20pm ET
Line: NYCFC +100 | Draw +260 | Toronto +255
Like a subletting New Yorker, NYCFC has been forced to vacate their “home” – Yankee Stadium – because their landlord needed the place. So back across the RFK/Triboro Bridge to CitiField it is for the Eastern Conference Champions.
New York came to Queens Tuesday morning, one day ahead of Wednesday night’s single elimination playoff match versus Toronto FC, to re-familiarize themselves with the pitch and stadium. They haven’t called this “home” since Decision Day 2016.
For New York manager Dome Torrent, who was not yet with NYCFC when the franchise first played at the home of the New York Mets, the change in venue was a non-issue. Although Torrent noted the “the grass is perfect, it is really good,” Pep Guardiola’s long time lieutenant quickly switched gears, saying “I don’t want to waste time about the stadium because it is what it is.”
Similarly, the New York boss expressed a lack of concern with the pitch dimensions, often a contentious issue at Yankee Stadium. “I think it’s the same size,” Torrent noted when asked about the size of the CitiField surface, before underlining his previous point.
“Believe me, it’s not important for me,” the coach said. “I don’t want to talk about the size because we have to play here, no excuse.” As airplanes roared overhead on their way to LaGuardia Airport, Torrent continued, “we have to be able to win the game, if not, it is not about the stadium.”
NYCFC vs Toronto FC match preview
Although New York finished atop the Eastern Conference, Torrent’s side picked up just one point from Toronto during the season, drawing 1-1 on September 11 in the Bronx and losing 4-0 in the fourth match of the season.
In fact, Toronto could be said to have to NYC’s number. The Canadian club drubbed NYCFC in 2016 by a 7-0 aggregate that included a 5-0 beating at Yankee Stadium.
Toronto’s home win this season is particularly memorable for the stunning MLS debut performance that game by TFC Designated Player Alejandro Pozuelo. The Spaniard scored a brace against NYCFC, although Torrent already knew all about his countryman.
Torrent noted that midfielder Pozuelo played as a “false nine” in the 1-1 draw, when he scored one penalty kick and missed another. He could play there again if striker Jozy Altidore is unavailable.
Regardless of position, “Pozuelo is a good, good player,” Torrent said. “I know this player in Spain, when he played at (Real) Betis and Rayo Vallecano and he is good, good player, everybody knows.” “But,” Torrent said confidently, “we have good players as well.”
Midfield battle will be key
A couple of those players were made available to talk after stretching their legs on the green grass of CitiField including team captain Alex Ring. The versatile midfielder will be on the spot against a TFC midfield led by Pozuelo and former USMNT captain Michael Bradley.
Ever forthright, Ring believes “that the team that wins the midfield has a big chance to win the game.” When asked about playing at CitiField, Ring echoed his manager, stating, “same thing, it’s grass, it’s not artificial, we don’t need to talk about the pitch.”
NYCFC rested and ready
New York is the better rested of the two sides. They’ve been off since the end of the season while Toronto topped DC United 5-1 in extra time, having completed regulation play level at 1-1.
TFC advanced minus striker Jozy Altidore and center back Omar Gonzalez. Both players are listed as questionable while New York has no players on the injury list.
Striker Heber is coming back from a layoff and looked well during training. So are Keaton Parks and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi. Torrent feels all three are ready to go. However, the coach hedged a bit on Heber, who did not play in his sides’ postseason closed door scrimmage versus Chicago Fire.
“Heber is ready to play,” Torrent began before adding, “I don’t know if he starts, maybe he plays, 30 or 40 minutes, I don’t know, but he is ready to play, he’s not injured.”
So, will Toronto add another win over New York to its collection? For Torrent regular season results mean little. Torrent pointed out that in the most recent contest, New York was missing six players, including Heber and Maxi Moralez.
Now in his second year in the league, Torrent sounded like a seasoned MLS coach when he said, “ When you play the playoffs it is a different competition. It is not the same as the league because if you make one mistake, you are out.”