The vitriol after Toronto FC beat New York City FC was instant, intense, and pretty all inclusive. Everyone came in for attack. Andrea Pirlo, Tommy McNamara, Patrick Vieira, Jack Harrison, me (yeah, that last one surprised me too). And if I have learned anything these 3+ years of writing about soccer (though it’s clear from some of you that you don’t think I have learned anything), it’s that sometimes fans need a little help getting perspective on the shit show – I mean, loss – they just witnessed. So herewith, a few things to keep in mind.
Toronto FC are really good. No, really.
Back in June, after NYCFC beat Seattle Sounders FC I ran into former USMNT player and current soccer commentator Janusz Michallik in the NYCFC locker room. We talked about the team and the waterlogged win, and I asked Janusz about NYCFC’s prospects. He thought the team looked good, thought they had really improved over last season, but warned me about Toronto. Toronto, he felt, were the class of the league. And he was right. Toronto are really good. They’ve got depth, they’ve got a strong back line and they’ve got three top level players who are not only firing on all cylinders, but they’re working well together. Which is probably why they are the top team in the league right now.
And which is why losing to them, while disappointing, is not something to be ashamed of. Losing to Real Salt Lake or D.C. United? Sure. But to a team that looks the odds-on favorite to win the Supporter’s Shield? Yeah, I can live with that, and you should too.
No Maxime Chanot. No Yangel Hererra. No Rodney Wallace. No Ronald Matarrita. No wonder they lost.
When Toronto FC beat NYCFC at BMO Field, who did they have on the pitch? Sebastian Giovinco? Check. Jozy Altidore? Check. Michael Bradley? Check. Justin Morrow? Check. Drew Moor? Check. In other words, basically the Starting XI that has put them at the top of the table. And NYCFC? Chanot was out with an injury. As were Wallace and Matarrita. And of course Hererra was out with the red card from the Chicago match. Now, that’s not just four solid starters; that’s four guys who can change the game for NYCFC. Think about the way Chanot manages the back line. And about how Hererra runs the midfield with Maxi Moralaz and Alex Ring. Or how Rodney Wallace changes the attacking dynamic at the top of the formation. Or about the speed of Ronald Matarrita on the wing.
All four are impact players, all four capable of making a game-changing play, and none of them were available to NYCFC – against, as we just explained, the best team in the league.
There are still 12 games left in the season.
My god people, you’d think this was a single-elimination wildcard playoff game. The season has roughly a third of the games yet to play. They still face the Montreal Impact and LA Galaxy (both of whom are in ninth place in their respective conferences), the eleventh place Colorado Rapids, and two matches against the tenth place New England Revolution. That’s five matches against clubs in the bottom third of the league. If NYCFC won only those matches and lost the other seven, they would still make the playoffs. How likely is it that they win those matches? As you know, I’m not a naturally optimistic person, but I like the team’s chances. And how likely is it that they take no points whatsoever from any of the other matches? Pretty unlikely.
So relax, friends. Even though Toronto FC beat NYCFC, City are still likely to make the playoffs. (And if you don’t want to take my word for it, check out Sportsclubstats.com which gives NYCFC a 96.3% chance of a post-season appearance.)
And speaking of the playoffs…
Remember last season when NYCFC had that string of 12 games where they lost only twice? Wasn’t that great? Really organized the side into the league’s top goal scoring team. Was probably instrumental in earning them a week off and then two matches against Toronto – in which they failed to score another goal. Who did score goals? Toronto, who got hot as the season wound down. Who else? Seattle, who, by the way, finished the season in fourth place. You remember Seattle, don’t you? They won the MLS Cup last year. And who won it in 2015? Portland, who finished in third that season. How? By getting hot at the right time.
The point is, sure, beating Toronto FC in July would have been nice. It would have been pay back for the draw at Yankee Stadium and would have taken a little bit of the sting out of the playoff losses. But I’ll trade a loss now for a win in November. And the way you get wins in November is by getting hot at the end of the season. By letting injured players get healthy so you can beat Columbus and New England and Montreal and build some momentum. By providing your best efforts, your best strategy and your best teamwork for those matches to give yourself your best shot at a sustainable playoff run.
Because if they don’t, I am certain NYCFC fans will let them hear about it.