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Match Preview: Toronto FC look to continue dominance over New York City FC in 2020 home opener

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After last week’s heartbreaking draw, TFC looks to get its first win of 2020 in their home opener.

MLS: MLS Cup Playoffs-Semifinals-Toronto FC at New York City FC
Pozuelo has had some fun against New York City FC since joining the Reds last season.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

TORONTO, Ont.—The Reds are back at home! For the first time in 2020, Toronto FC will take to the field in front of the hometown faithful and look to once again turn BMO field into a fortress.

On the other side of the field will be a familiar foe, New York City FC. Over the last few seasons, this match-up has provided TFC fans with some exciting and memorable moments. As Martyn Bailey mentioned in his By the Number preview piece, Toronto FC have only lost twice in their last 11 matches against NYCFC.

Last season, the Reds secured two wins and a draw in three games against the Blues—and these were certainly matches to remember. Up first was a memorable debut.

Since signing with the Reds in March 2019, Alejandro Pozuelo has had some fun torching our Big Apple rivals. In his first match for TFC, he set the tone: Pozuelo scored two goals—including the goal that he recently told TSN’s Kristian Jack was possibly the best in his career—while also adding a helper en route to a 4-0 win.

Later in the season at Yankee Stadium, Pozuelo found the back of the net once again leading TFC to 1-1 draw.

And who can forget the memorable Eastern Conference Semifinal last year where Pozuelo launched the Reds into the Eastern Conference Final with two goals, including a 90th-minute Panenka from the spot.

Looking ahead to Saturday, there will likely be some changes to the TFC starting XI but those might not come in midfield. Although Liam Fraser was expected to start in the “Bradley” role, Vanney opted for an Osorio/Delgado central midfield in their season opening 2-2 draw. San Jose’s style meant that Vanney didn’t have much of a need for a holding midfielder and instead needed a more mobile midfield which left Fraser on the bench for most of the match.

Greg Vanney told TSN’s Kristian Jack that Fraser was left out of the starting eleven to give the midfielder some rest after a busy pre-season and to match what he expected from San Jose.

On the whole, the defensive structure of the team did work as TFC looked strong for most of the 90 minutes through the middle of the pitch and limited San Jose’s chances. A 2-2 draw, of course, means that there is work still to be done, but it was certainly an encouraging showing on the road for a squad coming off of a 4-6-7 away record in 2019.

Although New York City plays a different brand of soccer compared to San Jose, Vanney might be tempted to leave the starting line up relatively untouched, and pressure the Blues further up the pitch.

Should Vanney decide to go with a more traditional look, however, Fraser would more than likely be the beneficiary of the change and look to make an impression in the holding midfield role.

The attack against San Jose did leave something to be desired. Vanney conceded post-match that the Quakes’ style and it being the first game of the season might have had something to do with it. There were positives last week, but there are certainly spots that this group can improve on against New York City.

“I’ll be honest, San Jose is a tough team to play in your first game,” said Greg Vanney post-match. “The uniqueness of the style means you have to outwork them individually, around the field. For a lot of the game, we did.”

Vanney’s hand was forced with injuries to new signing Pablo Piatti and Erickson Gallardo, who was on the bench but not fit enough to start. This set up an opening for Jacob Shaffelburg, who is a candidate to be TFC’s breakout player of the year. Although he only lasted 45 minutes due to injury, it was a largely forgettable half for the youngster. Shaffelburg’s injury should open up a spot for Gallardo as he gets closer to full fitness and is expected to play a role this weekend.

Standing in the way of TFC’s first victory of the season will be the Blues. While TFC has managed positive results against New York City in the past, this will be a tough test for this Toronto squad. Since entering the league, the Blues have put together strong regular seasons, including finishing first in the Eastern Conference in 2019 before losing to Toronto.

With New York’s involvement in the Concacaf Champions League, they have had an earlier start to the season, playing more competitive games than TFC. After defeating San Carlos 6-3 over two legs in the round of 16, the Blues booked their spot in the quarter-final against Mexican powerhouse Tigres.

In the MLS, however, New York hasn’t had the start they had hoped for. Thanks to an early red card to Maxime Chanot in the season opener, 10-man New York went on to lose 1-0 on the road in Columbus.

With the start of a busy period for New York that will see them play four games in about 10 days, along with Chanot’s suspension, the Blues may be forced into a bit of a rotated squad which could play right into TFC’s hands.

Predicted Starting XI:

Graphic made by Jeffrey P. Nesker and Patrick Ryder

Additional Notes:

  • Last week’s draw meant that Greg Vanney is still sitting on 99 wins. No better place to get your 100th than in front of your home crowd.
  • As mentioned, Pozuelo has scored in all three appearances against New York, netting five times in three matches.
  • For some fun viewing: Reds striker Jozy Altidore co-hosted TSN’s Sportscentre program on Wednesday evening and proved his loyalty to Toronto FC once again.

How to watch:

Kickoff is set for 5:00 p.m. EST on Saturday afternoon, and those in Canada can watch on TSN. Alternatively, you can stream the match using ESPN+ subscription ($), which gives you access to all MLS games this season.

For the first time this year, live from BMO Field, Brady Reid will have your Game Thread up right here before the match, so make sure you come ready to chime in.