ST.JOHN’S, Canada— Two teams with identical records and goal differential face-off Tuesday morning when Toronto FC and the New England Revolution conclude their group stage schedules with a shot at Group C supremacy on the line.
“It's not been perfect; there's still a lot that needs to improve and needs to get better, but four points from the first two games is still a good start. We want to finish the group off with another win against New England.”#MLSisBack | #TFCLive— Toronto FC (@TorontoFC) July 18, 2020
TFC comes in fresh off a high-flying victory in the latest chapter of the ‘401 Derby’ where they topped the Montreal Impact 4-3 Thursday evening thanks in large in part to hat-trick hero Ayo Akinola.
The Revs looked ready to follow up their tournament-opening 1-0 result over the Impact with another three points on Friday night until D.C. United and Federico Higuaín once again snatched a point at the death, as New England ultimately had to settle for a 1-1 draw.
Both clubs sit on four points through two games played and clinching a spot in the round of 16 feels but a formality with four of the six third-place teams earning a place in the knockout stages.
Toronto FC up to four points & effectively through to the last 16. Only team to score 4 points in this format (5 World Cups, Euros & AFCON) & not qualify was Norway in 1994 who finished bottom of a group where all four teams got four points which can’t happen in this group.— Kristian Jack (@KristianJack) July 17, 2020
With that sense of security in mind, Greg Vanney has plenty of options in how his team might look in their third and final group stage game.
Playing the kids and a couple of depth players who have yet to feature extensively is an option TFC’s head coach is pondering ahead of Tuesday.
“We’ll see what’s in store for us, Vanney told James Grossi of MLSSoccer.com. “But hopefully we can get some guys in, whether that’s starting or through the five substitutions, that haven’t seen some action.”
Vanney could also have some major reinforcements in the form of both Jozy Altidore and Jonathan Osorio against the Revs.
Neither Altidore nor Osorio have featured in this tournament thanks to injury/fitness concerns but could be available, at least off the bench, in TFC’s third match in eight days.
The dominance of Akinola upfront and the magic of Alejandro Pozuelo behind him in the No. 10 role, however, should have the Reds in no rush to hurry either of the aforementioned veterans back into the lineup before they are fully ready to return.
For Bruce Arena and New England, rotation has been far from priority number one so far in this competition.
New England went with the same starting XI in both of their first two matches, while making just a single substitution before the hour mark in the two contests. With plenty left to play for against Toronto, expect the Revs to send out a similar lineup barring any injury concerns.
Since Arena took over from Brad Friedel last May, the Revolution have been nothing short of a revelation. NE crawled out of the basement of the Eastern conference to steal the seventh and final playoff spot last season, losing just three of their final 21 matches down the stretch with a record of 8W-10D-3L in their new coach’s first season.
One of those draws came at Gillette Stadium back on August 31st, 2019 where New England and Toronto FC played to a 1-1 stalemate.
With Toronto fielding a front three consisting of Erickson Gallardo, Patrick Mullins, and Nicolas Benezet that night, it’s hard to read too far into the result.
Benezet has since joined the Colorado Rapids, while the Gallardo-Mullins pairing has combined to play just seventeen minutes off the bench so far in Toronto’s two ‘MLS is Back’ matches.
While the squads may look slightly different, the difference between the two sides remains as marginal as it was last summer. The biggest stats separating the two so far in this tournament comes in the goals scored and conceded columns.
Both owning a +1 GD in the competition, Toronto has scored six times and allowed five in the process, while New England has picked up a pair of goals in their two games, giving up just one in their own end.
Only Bob Bradley’s ruthless LAFC squad has scored more goals than TFC in this tournament so far. Conversely, just the Columbus Crew and Real Salt Lake boast a better defensive record than the Revs in the competition, with both of those sides yet to concede.
In the battle between a relentless Reds offense and a stingy, well-organized Revs side comes an intriguing tactical match-up where both teams can secure top spot in Group C with a victory.
- The winner of Group C will face one of the three ‘wild-card’ teams (the top four teams finishing third in their group) in the round of 16, while the 2nd place team from Group C will face the second ranked side from Group A.
- The Reds currently have the joint top scorer in the tournament with Akinola’s five goals (tied with LAFC’s Diego Rossi) as well as the most assists by a single player through Pozuelo’s five in just two matches played.
- A point in this game would extend Toronto’s regular-season unbeaten run to 15 matches spanning across 353 days.