Toronto FC v New York City FC: They’re ba-aaack.
These guys again. For whatever reason MLS seems to have scheduled a bunch of teams to play each other twice in quick succession round about now, Columbus-Philly, Orlando-Atlanta, probably others I’m too lazy to track down right now. For TFC, we get the joy of playing against the Pizza Rats again on Sunday, a mere 11 days after taking them on in the garish, sponsor filled, weirdly shaped nightmare that is the soccer version of legendary historic Yankee stadium (How’s that permanent soccer specific stadium coming along guys? Oh).
That one ended 2-2, TFC playing better than expected without many of their regular starters, but falling behind anyway before snatching a late draw, a result that felt like a victory and a defeat, we got a point it looked like we wouldn’t, but we didn’t get the 3 points that the performance arguably deserved.
It’s not really worth looking too hard at that game to try and figure out what’ll happen in the next one given that the space oddities of that sized pitch won’t be replicated, and TFC’s lineup will look dramatically different with many of those that had a big impact on that game unlikely to play, whether due to injury (to Benny Balls, but thankfully not to Seba) or due to returning players (Ashtone, Jay, thanks for the goals and all that but sit back down now, we don’t want to have to keep going with this whole playing Canadians thing now the Americans are back, do we?). Probably the only obvious carryover will be that David Villa will score, he seems to do a lot of that against TFC.
Anyway, yes the big development heading into this game is that the conquering American heroes are back with their Gold Cup winners medals and more than likely they’ll all be thrown back into the lineup. And for all my mutterings in the previous paragraph, that’s a good thing. Justin Morrow has had a very good season, thriving in the advanced wing back role. The Bradley, Delgado and Vazquez combination has been by far the best looking midfield TFC has put out this year, Delgado the ideal water carrying complement to the higher profile stars and their individual strengths.
As for Jozy Altidore, I’d say he’s been TFC’s best player over the last calendar year, anyone who doubts that can look at last week’s frustrating effort against a poor Rapids team which was a fantastic advertisement for the something different that Altidore’s size and skills bring. Without him, and with Giovinco as the lone striker, TFC played a very one dimensional game, all intricate short passing, usually quite pretty stuff, and to be fair they do it quite well, dominating the possession stats. But Colorado knew exactly what was happening and how they should defend against it, and for all their talents, TFC aren’t good enough to simply play one way and beat an organised team set up to stop them playing that way often enough to create the necessary chances. Altidore offers something different with his size and skills, whether it’s as a spearhead of the attack, able to push central defenders around and stretch a defence that way, or acting as a pivot, providing a target for the occasional longer ball, holding them up, allowing Giovinco, Morrow or whoever to find space behind him. He’ll be a welcome addition, and hey, did you see what he did in the Gold Cup final, scoring from a free kick, wouldn’t it be nice to think he might get a chance to try and do that for TFC? Now I’m just being silly.
So yeah, bring all those guys back in, get the proper first team back out there, the only other question there is who makes up the 3 central defenders now that Nick Hagglund’s back? Drew Moor still seems the obvious organising force in the middle, Chris Mavinga’s had a very good couple of months since Hagglund’s injury and Eriq Zavaleta’s done nothing to warrant being dropped either, giving all 4 of them enough playing time to keep them at 100% will be a challenge for Greg Vanney through the rest of the season. At Right Back, well I guess It’ll probably be Tsubasa Endoh again, though maybe Raheem Edwards might get a chance until Steven Beitashour returns.
As for the opposition, pay attention to David Villa is probably the main key to it all, but one very encouraging development for TFC is the suspension of Yangel Herrera who’s been very good for them in central midfield. One can only hope his absence means Andrea Pirlo will get the start, as I think that would lead to a lot of space lazily made available for Vazquez to exploit. The next best option would be for Pirlo to remain as an unused substitute, frustrating again any Italians making the trip out to see ‘Il Maestro’, the booing Patric Vieira’s 3rd non Pirlo sub received is still one of my favourite parts of last season.
Given their excellent record this season, games have generally been missing the usual ‘we need these points to try and make the playoffs’ urgency that regular season games used to have back in the old days, they’ve been nice to watch but have often felt a bit pointless really. As the season moves towards it’s closing stretch, there will hopefully be a ‘we need these points for the supporters shield’ urgency that develops, and as far as that goes, this is a big game, as City certainly look like being one of the teams that will contend for that, I believe in them more than I do Chicago.
I’ll predict another frustrating game, with TFC struggling to blend the returning players back into the team, and New York bringing the physically disrupting game they usually bring to BMO Field, and the whole thing just never really quite coming together properly. My podcast prediction was 2-2, more of a gut estimate, but writing out a preview makes me think a bit more and makes me think 0-0, let’s split the difference and say 1-1.