TORONTO, Canada—Toronto FC begin their quest to return to the MLS Cup Final against an unfamiliar opponent as they play host to expansion side Nashville SC on Tuesday in East Hartford—a place they will likely remain until the end of their postseason.
The playoff contest will mark the first ever battle between these two clubs, the first instance in the league where two sides’ inaugural meeting comes in the postseason.
TFC come into this one in shaky form, limping out of the regular season with just one win in their final four fixtures. A 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls on Decision Day saw the Reds finish second in the East and runner-up in the Supporters’ Shield race behind the Philadelphia Union.
Conversely, Nashville lost just once in their last eight regular-season games to finish seventh in the Eastern Conference table. Conceding just 22 times in 23 games, they boasted the stingiest defence (goals against per game) for a first-year franchise in league history. Nashville continued their impressive rookie campaign in the play-in round last Friday evening when they comfortably dismissed fellow newcomers Inter Miami 3-0.
One of the few negatives, however, from Nashville’s dominant win at Nissan Stadium last week was the injury suffered by Anibal Godoy. The Panama native has been a fixture in the middle of the park all season but after being forced off late against Miami is expected to be unavailable Tuesday versus TFC.
A pair of attackers in Dominique Badji and Abu Danladi are also likely to miss out for the visitors.
The TFC injury report comes with a lot more questions than answers ahead of Tuesday.
While Jozy Altidore made a cameo appearance off the bench, his first minutes in a month, both Richie Laryea and Jonathan Osorio started but did not finish the Reds final regular season game against the Red Bulls.
Justin Morrow, Marky Delgado, and Pablo Piatti were all entirely unavailable at Red Bull Arena a couple weeks back and as such, questions loom over the fitness of those three, particularly Piatti who’s missed four straight matches with a calf strain.
With two weeks just to train and appropriately recover, TFC are at the very least expected to be healthier than they were down the stretch to close the regular season. For the time being however, Greg Vanney is remaining relatively hush on the specifics of who will be available.
It sounds like #TFCLive will be a healthier squad when they take on Nashville tomorrow, but to what extent still remains to be seen. As expected, Vanney holding his cards close to his chest for this playoff game:— Michael Singh (@MichaelSingh94) November 23, 2020
"Some guys will be involved, while others are on the cusp ..."
Although revisiting tapes of previous match-ups is not an option for Vanney and his staff in this one, the Reds manager is well aware of the strengths this Nashville side have demonstrated in year one.
“This is a team with a lot of veteran MLS experience, they’re guys who know how to win in this league,” Vanney told the media on Saturday. “They know who they are, they know how to go about getting results, they are disciplined and they have those foundations.”
A team known for their defensive structure and stinginess at the back, Nashville added another element to their game when they fired three past Miami in last week’s dominant display.
With the unfamiliarity between the two teams and the uncertainty of just how the Reds XI might look, anticipation for this one is beginning to boil over with kickoff just a day away.
- Nashville are just the second expansion side to win a postseason match in their first MLS season.
- TFC last played a playoff game at a “neutral site” in 2019 at Citi Field against New York City FC where Alejandro Pozuelo’s 90th minute panenka sent them to the Eastern Conference Finals.
HOW TO WATCH
Who: Nashville SC
When: Tuesday, November 24, 6:00 PM ET
Where: Rentschler Field, Connecticut
TV: TSN 1/4/5
Radio: TSN 1050