Ismael Tajouri-Shradi - Alejandro Pozuelo - NYCFC - Toronto FC
USA Today Sports

NYCFC "always bring out the best in us," say hungry Toronto FC

TORONTO – Alejandro Pozuelo has quite enjoyed playing against New York City FC.

In two matches Toronto FC’s newest Designated Player has three goals and an assist against the team he will meet again on Wednesday night when the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs resume.

But it is not the two stunning goals from a 4-0 TFC win in March – neither his Panenka from the penalty spot, nor the sumptuous chip in the 78th minute – where he introduced himself to the league that first comes to his mind.

It is something that happened late in the second, a 1-1 draw on Sept. 11, with the game on his foot.

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“I remember my penalty,” recalled Pozuelo. “I missed a penalty there. This I need to change.”

Whether it is the regular season or the 2016 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the same stage at which the clubs will meet once more this week, matches between these two have produced some instant classics. More often than not, there are goals and lots of them.

“It’s two teams that always have good players and always want to play football, want to impose themselves on the other,” said Michael Bradley on Tuesday. “We have respect for them, played them on some big days in the last few years. Tomorrow will be another one.

“They had a lot of good days this year,” continued the TFC captain. “If it weren’t for LAFC maybe they win the Supporters’ Shield, and easily. But the playoffs are different, we know that.”

Pozuelo pointed to the fact that NYCFC coach Dome Torrent, his compatriot, is cut from the same cloth as Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola.

“We know the philosophy they have,” noted the Spaniard. “We have to do what we know how to do on the pitch. We are Toronto. We have a lot of technique, a lot options to win the game. We need to do the maximum.”

Past form against the opposition, a cracking 5-1 extra-time win over D.C. United in Round One, and an unbeaten stretch of 10 league matches that closed the regular season have TFC in good spirits. But they face the daunting task of a one-off playoff match on the road, albeit at Citi Field rather than Yankee Stadium.

“We’ve got to be able to disrupt them. They can’t have the ball for long stretches, we’ve got to have our fair share of possession, be patient, force them to defend, control the tempo,” said Greg Vanney. “They’ve got players that don’t need a lot of opportunities, so we’ve got to be able to shut them down.

“Guys like [Alexander] Ring, who really drives the game,” continued the Toronto coach. “You don’t want him finding little pockets, dividing you up because he delivers a lot of balls to the guys in the front.”

Vanney has always relished the tactical back-and-forths these games present, going back to when Patrick Vieira was at the Cityzens’ helm.

“You’ve got to be able to adapt over the course of the game. That’s always been the joy for me,” he explained. “They’ll put guys into different positions, they’ll rotate different ways; they have since Patrick was there. Your team has to be able to change reference points throughout, recognize who is going where, not get crossed up, communicate. It’s always a game where you have got to have a couple different adaptions through it in order to either control it or gain advantage on the other side.

“I like that, our players like that,” added Vanney with a smile. “That’s something we pride ourselves in: having some flexibility tactically. These games always bring out the best in us. Free our minds and we go out and we play.”

That they may be forced to do so without Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez is a possibility.

“Same as yesterday,” said Vanney when asked for an update. “It’s going to be a game-time decision.

“Everything is going to be tight,” he continued. “At this point you go with what you have, put out the guys who are ready to play. Hopefully they’ll be ready for some portion, but we won’t really know until we get there.”

Either way, it is not to be missed.

“Both teams are playing teams. As a soccer fan myself, I like the styles of these teams: it’s the soccer that I love; the style that I like,” smiled goalkeeper Quentin Westberg. “Let’s make another exciting game happen.”