New York City FC will play Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference semi-final tonight at Citi Field but the feeling by most in the club is that it is more like a first time match-up than another chapter between two Eastern Conference foes. City had yet to figure out their striker situation when the two teams met in Toronto early in 2019 and had major injuries in their second game at Yankee Stadium.
“It’s totally different,” said Torrent about the game. “Remember the last game when we play at Yankee Stadium against Toronto? We missed six players. Heber didn’t play, Maxi Moralez didn’t play… It’s different but when you play the playoff it’s another competition it’s not the same as the regular season because if you make one mistake you’re out.”
City will be mindful of those mistakes especially if they fall to the feet of Alejandro Pozuelo. The 28-year-old Spanish midfielder sliced through City’s defense in both meetings, scoring three goals and taking 10 total shots. They will need to keep a short leash on him if they hope to advance to the next round. More than likely Pozuelo will be the team’s only forward with Jozy Altidore injured. However, his play will more than likely open up opportunities for Sebastian Endoh and Marky Delgado.
“We were a bit sloppy when defending,” said captain Alex Ring about the two teams’ last meeting. “We weren’t as proactive as we’re used to so we didn’t have a good balance. I think that’s why they played a decent game because we let them.”
City has the weight of the world on their shoulders following another disappointing loss by the New York Red Bulls. Five years in and City has mimicked their crosstown rivals with disappointing playoff runs. The pressure of not coming through in the clutch is something that could quickly disenfranchise fans of the club, even after the team took a different approach that produced their most successful regular season to date.
Citi Field will play the backdrop to this meeting, a place that NYCFC isn’t unfamiliar with but haven’t played many times before. Still, it isn’t a concern for the team as they don’t plan on making excuses.
“Playing on this field with our fans in the stadium, it’s going to feel like home,” said goalkeeper Sean Johnson. “Obviously we got to train here today and have gotten a good feel for the pitch. I think the pitch is in great condition going into tomorrow so yeah, we’ll approach it the same way, it’s not going to be any different.”