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New York City FC vs. Toronto FC: What to watch out for

The Reds are back, here’s what you should be watching for.

MLS: Playoffs-Toronto FC at New York City FC Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto FC is back on Wednesday, with a game at Yankee Stadium to return from the international break. This will be the first time TFC has played New York City since the playoffs in the fall, and it’s bound to be a clash of two of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference.

NYCFC hasn’t been hit as hard as TFC by the Gold Cup, with just Miguel Camargo and Rodney Wallace unavailable for this game (compared to Toronto’s six missing players). So, the home side will have the advantage of a largely intact starting XI.

David Villa and youngster Jack Harrison are both extremely dangerous players, and they'll give TFC’s back three plenty to think about. NYCFC are a strong home team, with a 5-1-2 record at Yankee Stadium vaulting them into third in the East on 33 points.

Here’s what to keep an eye on this week as TFC head to the Bronx.

1. Keep Seba going

Sebastian Giovinco was probably the only TFC player who didn’t want the two-week break. His performance against Orlando City was sublime, and it looks like he’s back in form. This is where we’ll see if he can string together a run of games in that vein.

The tiny pitch at Yankee Stadium has worked out well for Giovinco in the past. He has seven goals there in just four games, including a pair of hat-tricks (you may remember one from the 2016 playoffs). We all know how good he can be in tight spaces, and NYCFC’s pitch is nothing if not tight.

Unfortunately, Seba won’t have Jozy Altidore alongside him on Wednesday. He’ll probably line up with Jordan Hamilton, though, and those two have worked well together in the past. They connected for a pretty goal against D.C. United earlier this season.

Giovinco is the only one of Toronto’s designated players available for this game. It’s absolutely crucial that he’s in form this week.

2. Attack through Raheem

The Reds received a gift from the Canadian men’s national team this week, with Raheem Edwards released from Gold Cup duty and sent back to Toronto. The addition of the young wing-back will help Toronto’s attack a lot; things were quite a bit slower with Ashtone Morgan in that role.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at New York City FC Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

NYC has a strong midfield, with players like Alexander Ring able to clog things up through the centre. Ring can get across the small pitch pretty quickly, too, but the best way to go will still be along the flanks for TFC. With a speedster like Edwards back in the mix, it’ll be good if the Reds can play through him going forward. Edwards has the pace to get the ball into the attacking third, especially if he can combine with Victor Vazquez.

City can be exposed on the outside, so if TFC can burn them with Edwards’ pace out wide and get Giovinco and Hamilton in behind the defence, they should be able to find the net.

3. Short passes

With so little space at Yankee Stadium, TFC can’t afford to kick the ball away by opting for long balls. They’ll secure possession if they keep passes short and clean. That could be difficult without Michael Bradley in the mix, but both Benoit Cheyrou and Vazquez are masterful passers.

The game might move a little more slowly in the middle, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Slow things down to crowd the middle of the park, and get it out wide to Edwards for pace.

Defensively, it’s the same strategy. Sit back a little and take away all the space so that NYCFC’s midfielders and wingers can’t find David Villa.

This could turn into a high-scoring game, which is a little dangerous for TFC without Altidore and Bradley, but NYC can definitely be stopped if the Reds don’t give them space to work with.