Sean Johnson dejected after 2019 playoff loss to Toronto FC

NEW YORK — The loss was five months ago, but it might as well have been five minutes ago for Alex Callens.

The pain of a playoff defeat to Toronto FC is that fresh for the New York City FC defender.

“It hurt us, but it’s time to lift our heads from that, to look forward,” Callens said through a translator. “I don't know what's going to happen this year. But we're gonna go there looking at that game as a rivalry game, as a revenge game.”

Additional scarring came from watching the Reds make the run to MLS Cup that many NYCFC players believed could have, and perhaps should have, been their march.

“It hurt a lot,” the Peruvian international added. “It hurt me a lot because we could have done a lot more.”

Revenge is on the minds of several of Callens teammates. And if it truly is a dish best served cold, there’s no better place than BMO Field Saturday (5 pm ET | TSN 1/4, ESPN+ in US) where NYCFC meet their rivals for the first time since last year’s MLS Cup Playoffs ouster at Citi Field.

“We still feel what happened to us last year,” added Taty Castellanos. “We’re waiting for Saturday to come up. We’re looking forward to it.”

Even Sean Johnson, who offers up the most calculated of responses to the media, talked about looking forward to facing Toronto FC, though in the context of taking each game as they come.

Certainly there’s been important games to occupy the free space in their minds to start 2020, most notably the club’s first foray into the Concacaf Champions League.

But next up are Toronto FC.

“It's going to be a match that I know that a lot of teammates have marked the calendars and said we really want to make amends for what happened last year. … it's going to be something that everybody gets up for, for sure,” Johnson said.

For Keaton Parks, payback isn’t just about the postseason defeat, as gutting as that was. It’s also for the team’s most lopsided loss of the regular season in 2019 — 4-0 at BMO Field last March 29. It was the rare blemish in the club’s most successful season to date.

“Of course we want revenge for the playoffs last year, but also for our result that we had early in the season last year in Toronto,” Parks said. “We’re definitely going into this same preparation, but definitely the back of our minds that we want to get revenge for last year.”

While Callens, Castellanos, Johnson and Parks are using last year’s playoff defeat to Toronto FC as added motivation, Heber is taking a different tact.

“I forget the past, I forget everything. Now it’s a new year, new season,” the Brazilian forward said. “We have a new coach and everything is new, it's a new game. So, I don't think and I think my teammates also don't think about the playoffs last year. I need to forget that.”