Reeling, or at least a little sore, from last weekend's 4-0 stomping in Los Angeles, Toronto must brace for another difficult challenge as this round's action sees them travel to New York City for a match against another high-profile challenge.
Matches during the Gold Cup were always going to be tricky; missing four starters is never an easy prospect. Add in a series of road matches against strong competition and it may be best to temper expectations for the month of July.
And in some ways there is a silver-lining to this tough patch, as, when the players return, nearly all of their road trips will be over – after the August 1 match in New England, TFC has four away games remaining, each spaced by a two-week period, so plenty of time in between to sleep in one's own bed; an underrated asset.
But that consideration is for the future and there are matches to be played.
Toronto will have taken some lessons from the crushing loss to the Galaxy, and despite the scoreline, it was hardly such an uneven match. LA seemed to capitalize on every single mistake Toronto made, while the chances for TFC were left squandered.
Heading into Sunday, the goal will be to correct those errors and show some of the style that has Toronto up near the top of the East – they suffered a drop with the defeat, falling to fifth with results elsewhere coming into play. TFC sits on 23 points from sixteen matches, one behind Columbus, Orlando, and New England and level with the Red Bulls, with games, as many as four, in hand.
A win this weekend would go a long way towards making amends for the set-back, though it will not come easy, as New York City themselves are looking to move up into the playoff positions, just three points behind TFC.
As Toronto learned when the two met three weeks ago, it will not be an easy prospect. City are a well-drilled side that have found some form, and recent additions will undoubtedly make them an even more difficult opponent.
Much of what was written then holds true – Parts One and Two – but an updated look at this weekend's enemy, New York City FC, is in order.
City currently find themselves in seventh place in the Eastern Conference on twenty points from eighteen matches with a record of five wins, eight losses, and five draws.
Half of those matches have been played at home, where eleven points have been garnered.
Since that eleven-game winless spell through April and May, New York has won four of their last five matches and have lost just once in their last six, rebounding from a derby loss to earn a hard fought road victory last weekend.
After beating TFC 0-2 on June 20, City entered the second New York derby of the season against the Red Bulls on a three-game winning streak, only to fall 1-3 at home.
Thomas McNamara gave the hosts the lead in the sixth minute, beating Luis Robles with a right-footer after a Mix Diskerud corner kick was flicked on by Andrew Jacobson. That goal would stand alone until the start of the second half, when Bradley Wright-Phillips struck in the 47th minute, meeting a Sacha Kljestan ball from the left on the volley in the middle with a left-footer that sailed high to the right-side of goal.
Chris Duvall would add a second for the Red Bulls five minutes later, smashing a right-footer high into the roof of the net. Mike Grella collected a deep free-kick on the right-side of the box, crossing into the middle where Anatole Abang knocked it down to the near-post for Duvall to finish.
Matt Miazga scored the third in the 73rd minute from another set-piece – more on that later – rising up at the back-post to get on the end of a Kljestan corner, leaping over Jacobson to nod in. The Red Bulls have won both derbies, taking the first 2-1 at home.
Stung at losing, both the match and their winning streak, New York would head to Montreal with a chip on their shoulder, muscling out a 1-2 win on the strength of another David Villa brace – his second of the season; both against Canadian clubs, for what it is worth.
Villa scored his first in the 34th minute following a sweeping attack across the top of the box. McNamara squared to Patrick Mullins, who helped it on the Villa on the left. He glided past Ambroise Oyongo before firing across Evan Bush with a low left-footer from a tight angle.
Ignacio Piatti equalized from the penalty spot in the 77th minute after McNamara was called for a handball, but Villa reinstated New York's lead five minutes later, bending a right-footer around the defensive wall from a free-kick, picking out the right-corner of goal after Oyongo tripped Villa just outside the area.
Buoyed by results, and those acquisitions, New York will be eager to lay another defeat on Toronto come Sunday.
June 20 Toronto FC 0 – New York City FC 2
New York strolled into Toronto, roughed up TFC, scored a pair of goals, and walked out with three points.
Villa grabbed the first in the eighth minute from the penalty spot after a corner kick hopped up on Benoit Cheyrou, catching the Frenchman by surprise on the arm as he sought to balance and clear. Villa easily beat Chris Konopka, sending the keeper diving in the opposite direction as his right-footer went to Konopka's right.
He would add a second in the 58th minute when a pair of poor passes led to a turnover. Konopka rolled to Eriq Zavaleta under pressure, who tried to force a ball forward to Jonathan Osorio. It was picked off by Mix Diskerud and he played McNamara up the right. His pull-back found Mehdi Ballouchy, who in turn unselfishly squared for Villa on the left, beating the recovering Justin Morrow to the bouncing ball to right-foot into the net.
Toronto had chances, both after and before. Zavaleta had a header cleared off the line by McNamara in the 62nd minute, while both Luke Moore and Michael Bradley were denied by fine saves from Josh Saunders.
It was a contentious game. Sebastian Giovinco did not appreciate the physicality with which he was treated, while Damien Perquis would be incensed by his interactions with Jacobson, leading to a post-match fracas.
Expect more of the same in the second encounter.
Heading into the weekend, New York has several question marks looming over their starting lineup.
As of the most recent injury report, most of the same long-term absences remain – George John, Tony Taylor, Connor Brandt, and Josh Williams, while Jason Hernandez, who was vital to the win in Toronto is currently struggling with gastroc (sic – gastric?) soreness, whatever that is.
Further complicating the projection, the new arrivals are now technically available. Frank Lampard joined training on July 1, while defenders Andoni Iraola and Angelino, as well as Andrea Pirlo have all officially joined the roster.
Mix Diskerud is, however, unavailable, as he is at the Gold Cup with the American squad.
Their projected lineup is as follows: Josh Saunders in goal; from right to left – RJ Allen, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Shea Facey, and Chris Wingert across the back; Andrew Jacobson and Ned Grabavoy will sit deep in the midfield, with Mehdi Ballouchy, Frank Lampard, and Tommy McNamara further afield; David Villa will top the formation.
Addressing the obvious change, a home match against a weakened Toronto side with Diskerud away is as good a time as any to give Lampard his first run out in the middle of the pitch.
Jason Kreis recently, as reported on June 25, stated, when discussing the progress the side has made since the last New York derby, "This group has discovered a little bit about itself and I think we’re starting to develop an identity – who exactly we are and are going to be for the rest of the season. We have now just come to the point where we’ve spent the requisite amount of time together, so the players can understand how each other plays and where each of them are going to be when we have the ball and we don’t."
While inserting Lampard will be a change, it is a modest one. New York has trotted out a 4-2-3-1 on several occasions this season – in two of their last three matches in fact (in preparation?).
It does however mean that Poku will not be in the starting lineup and robs Villa of a strike partner, but Lampard and Pirlo will not be held out of the eleven for very long.
As far as other changes, if Hernandez is fit, he will slot back in for Watson-Siriboe, or Wingert could move into the middle and open the left-back spot for another defender. Iraola is reportedly a right-back, but perhaps Angelino could get the run out if needed.
Moving Grabavoy back alongside Jacobson would create an active, defensive platform on which for Lampard to operate; Poku could take up one of those central positions to add a little more forward thrust, if Kreis decides it is required.
The likes of Sebastian Velasquez, Javier Calle, and Pablo Alvarez have found minutes in short supply with both Ballouchy and McNamara in very good form of late, but Grabavoy can play on either side of the midfield should either Ballouchy or McNamara not start, while Khiry Shelton, the second-overall pick, is again fit and could be used out wide, or up top, if Kreis opts to maintain a two-striker system by sacrificing one in the middle.
Mullins too has been a solid foil for Villa up front, Adam Nemec less so, though he does offer a physical dimension that would occupy the Toronto back-line.
Toronto will have to watch David Villa very closely. The Spanish veteran has eight goals and three assists through fifteen appearances – five of those goals have come in the last four matches.
What makes Villa so deadly in the box is his expert geometry; he may well be the best player in the league at utilizing distance, spacing and angles. It is stunning to watch.
Consider his first goal against Montreal on the weekend.
Poku rides the challenge of Marco Donadel to get the ball to McNamara on the right. He moves in-field, playing across the top of the box to Mullins, who in turn finds Villa wide left, one-on-one against Oyongo.
Though at 33 Villa may not have the same spring that made him one of the best in the world, he is still a constant threat. Watch how, having backed off of the defender to craft a gap, Villa makes the slightest of moves towards the end-line before placing a wonderful low shot across the keeper.
Bush would love to have that one back, but the point stands: if Villa is given space and the ball, he will cause trouble. Toronto would be wise to constantly be aware of his positioning and stay as close as possible.
He's pretty good from free-kicks too.
Even without the services of Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, Toronto – read Giovinco - can expect the same physical treatment he received in the first meeting.
New York loves to swarm the ball-carrier, putting them into an awkward position and then receiving the benefits. Recall the Wandrille Lefevre slip from the last review, or an example from the Toronto match, where Zavaleta was somewhat isolated under pressure, his only options – Ashtone Morgan and Osorio - partially covered.
He opted to go for a ball to Osorio with McNamara chasing, which Diskerud intercepted, leading to New York's second, all but killing off the match.
Toronto has done well with their play-it-out-of-the-back mentality, but as the match in LA showed, sometimes, for the sake of caution, it is better to concede possession than play a poor pass – Morrow learned that lesson from his underhit back-pass.
One of the questions heading into the game is whether City will use the same delay and foul tactics as in the first meeting. They were lucky to escape with eleven men on the pitch come game's end, and depending on the official, such a tact could prove costly.
Add to that, when at home there will be a certain impetus to attack and get the game moving in front of their home fans. It is all well and good to kill a game away, such play was on display on the road in Montreal, but dare they do so at home?
Expect Giovinco to be riled up, eager to find some revenge, and at least one confrontation between Perquis and Jacobson – this one could get serious.
Defensively, a few frailties came to light against the Red Bulls.
Wright-Phillips' goal highlighted that in their zest to defend, New York, the City one, can be a little too prepared to drop deep.
A long ball for Wright-Phillips into the left-corner sends them racing back to provide cover, while the presence of Abang gives them a concern to focus upon. This allows Wright-Phillips to move to the top of the box after touching back to Kljestan.
When the attention turns to Kljestan down the left, every one forgets about Wright-Phillips, who then ghosts to the penalty spot, where he is met by the cross for an equalizing volley:
New York will be watching Giovinco closely, at least as close as they did Wright-Phillips, but there will come times when he finds that inch of space; he needs to make those moments count. And around him, other players need to make City pay for whatever they neglect in their haste to stay with Giovinco. Cheyrou in particular can make those late runs, while Jay Chapman and Marky Delgado should make those efforts as well.
City also struggled with dealing with aerial balls, both Abang's knockdown for Duvall's goal and Miazga's header from a free-kick showed a certain inability to handle big targets in the box.
Jacobson was the guilty party on Miazga's goal, while Facey was beat on the first; aside from Watson-Siriboe, none of that back-line is overly sizable – Hernandez is fantastic in the area and Facey has shown some quality, but neither is going to dominate on every ball.
The knockdown from Abang, in the above clip, is one that Toronto should look to study. A free-kick is cut out, but with numbers committed already, New York collects the rebound and puts it back in - note: at height. Abang wins it and Duvall is on hand to hammer in.
With Bright Dike back from his loan, he could be the perfect mix of target and battering ram to combat New York's aggressive play, while winning a few headers. Luke Moore is back as well, giving Toronto some added dimension, both in the air and in the box.
The Miazga header was more a chance the likes of which Nick Hagglund made good use last season. Given Warren Creavalle's continued struggles at right-back, this could be a good chance to bring Hagglund into the side; though he too is vulnerable as an outside back and that attacking left is where Villa lurks; Hagglund would require some help.
This is the second meeting of the season between the clubs and the second all-time. New York has won the only one.
A third meeting between the two clubs this regular season will be played in New York on September 16.