2017 MLS Cup Playoffs – Eastern Conference Semfinals
New York Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC (Leg 1)
Red Bull Arena
Oct. 30, 2017 (7pm ET)
(Harrison, NJ)- Perhaps the most highly anticipated conference semifinal match-up, all eyes will be on the New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC on Monday night. The Red Bulls are coming off of a statement victory in the knockout round against the Chicago Fire. They sent a message to the rest of the league that even though they are a six seed, they deserve to be here. As for Toronto, they had a bye through the knockout round, but are fresh off a Supporters’ Shield and record breaking regular season. The best regular season team in MLS history will be looking to prove they can do it in the post season as well, and solidify their legacy.
2017 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals Preview: New York Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC
The two clubs have faced off twice this regular season. The first was at Red Bull Arena in May where the two teams played to a frantic 1-1 draw. Bradley Wright-Phillips scored a gorgeous overhead kick, and Benoit Cheyrou equalized for TFC with a glancing header across the face of goal. More important moments came late, when Luis Robles stopped Jozy Altidore’s penalty kick on in the 82nd minute. Later, in the 87th minute, Tosaint Ricketts thought he had notched the winning goal for the Reds, but it was brought back due to a controversial offside call.
The second meeting, a 4-2 win for Toronto at home, came in late September. It was the win that clinched the well-deserved Supporters’ Shield for the home team and their fans. The match featured a hat-trick from Justin Morrow, and a successful penalty this time from Altidore. Gonzalo Veron and Daniel Royer (on a penalty) each found the net in a brief comeback effort from RBNY.
It is worth noting that TFC star Sebastian Giovinco did not play in either match against the Red Bulls this season. This will be a new challenge for RBNY to deal with against one of the strongest and deepest teams ever.
The Red Bulls were among the best at converting on set pieces a couple of years ago. It is no secret that in 2017, Toronto has RBNY’s number in that department, as well as just about every other team in the league. Especially with Giovinco in the game, Toronto can create offensive magic out of nothing.
The Reds were third in the league with 15 set piece goals, some of them jaw-dropping. After giving up nine such goals in the regular season, RBNY must avoid giving up fouls in dangerous positions to the deadly attack of TFC.
Similarly, the Red Bulls must control how they challenge for the ball in their own box. They gave up eight penalty kick goals this year, the most of any team. New York needs to end this trend if they want to advance, otherwise Toronto will punish them severely.
Battles To Watch
One of the most important battles on the pitch is going to be how Aaron Long can deal with Altidore. In the last meeting, Long did well but struggled at times to match the physicality of the veteran. His struggles included conceding a penalty kick to Altidore who converted to take the lead.
Another important battle will be right wing back Tyler Adams against both left back Justin Morrow and attacking midfielder Victor Vazquez. Adams is known for his energy and poise along the wing, and ability to break up plays defensively. Whoever wins the wing will have a huge advantage in this game. The rookie will have a huge opportunity in the home leg of the semifinals to make his mark.
The Red Bulls will be anxious to make the most of their home leg before they travel to Toronto on Nov. 5. They will come out trying to control the pace, but TFC will be able to match them. It will be a fast-paced battle with many offensive opportunities for both sides. In the end, a 2-2 draw leaves the Red Bulls with work to do in the second leg at BMO Field.