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Toronto FC head into the back end of the MLS season in good shape. They are joint-top of the table with the Chicago Fire and have, it seems fair to say, the easier schedule of the two clubs from here on in.
The Reds will also hope to be able to name their strongest XI on a more regular basis soon, with the end of the Gold Cup in a week’s time leaving them with just one injury to contend with.
As the schedule gods would have it, though, one of the two most difficult games left for Toronto - the other being the trip to Chicago in August - comes just before Greg Vanney gets a fullish squad back at his disposal.
New York City FC have not been able to string together a winning run of the kind that both Toronto and Chicago have managed this season, and sit five points back in third place in the Eastern Conference as a result. They would be top of the West, though, were they to swap conferences and have a slightly better points-per-game mark than FC Dallas.
They’re good, and not going to be beaten 7-0 on aggregate again (and definitely not in one game). Toronto were able to use their 3-5-2 formation to overwhelm a shaky back line and an ageing midfield in last season’s playoff match at Yankee Stadium, but both of those issues have now been addressed by Patrick Vieira and his technical staff.
Alexander Callens arrived in the winter transfer window to partner Maxime Chanot at centre-back, while Ben Sweat - who signed after a pre-season trial - has ensured the long-term injury to starting left-back Ronald Matarrita has not proven too costly. Sean Johnson is a clear upgrade on the error-prone Eirik Johansen in goal.
In midfield, New York lost Frank Lampard’s goals but have gained a far more creative, dynamic player in Maxi Moralez, while Andrea Pirlo has been sidelined for Manchester City loanee Yangel Herrera. Alexander Ring, perhaps MLS’ top tackler, may be the most notable addition of the lot, providing a much more assured defensive presence at the base of the three than converted right-back Andoni Iraola could offer.
They are faster, much younger and built to suit Vieira’s high-pressing style rather than the need to lure fans in the gates with European stars.
New York City aren’t perfect; their defence, despite its improvement, is probably still not a top-five unit in the league and Pirlo isn’t worth targeted allocation money at this point, let alone a designated-player tag. There is also not much on the bench.
At their best they can play some dazzling stuff, though, and the combination of that potential and the absences TFC are dealing with makes this yet another ‘hardest game of the season so far’.
Kick-off: 7.30pm ET
Venue: Yankee Stadium, New York City
TV channel & live stream
TV: TSN 4 (Canada), YES (New York)
Stream: TSN Go (Canada), MLS Live (out of market)
Radio: TSN 1050 (Toronto), WFAN (New York)
Toronto are without Gold Cup absentees Jonathan Osorio, Tosaint Ricketts, Armando Cooper, Justin Morrow, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, but Raheem Edwards has returned from the tournament.
Steven Beitashour remains sidelined and though Nick Hagglund is back in full training, he is unlikely to feature. New signing Nicolas Hasler is in contention.
New York City have Rodney Wallace and Miguel Camargo at the Gold Cup, while left-back Ronald Matarrita and forward Khiry Shelton are injured.
New York City: Johnson; Allen, Chanot, Callens, Sweat; Herrera, Ring, Moralez; Harrison, Villa, McNamara.
Toronto: Bono; Zavaleta, Moor, Mavinga; Alseth, Delgado, Cheyrou, Vazquez, Edwards; Giovinco, Hamilton.