NYCFC expect full "intensity" from Toronto FC, aim to win via midfield dominance

FLUSHING, N.Y. — If six scintillating Round One games, including three decided in extra time, proves anything about the new Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs format, it’s that the past doesn’t matter.

Not the regular-season games, not previous playoff matchups, not even the possibility of fatigue carrying over for teams like Toronto FC, who needed 120 minutes to defeat D.C. United in Round One.

Short rest? On the road? It doesn’t matter.

“Playoffs is playoffs – 180, 120 minutes – they’re going to be ready and so should we,” NYCFC captain Alex Ring said of Toronto ahead of their Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup on Wednesday (7 pm ET | FS1, TVAS, TSN1/4, FOX Deportes). “Sure we were off two weeks, but I think it won't be an issue tomorrow. If you know don't have intensity, then don’t come.”

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By virtue of finishing atop the Eastern Conference, earning the Round One bye and playing at home – although Wednesday’s game was moved from Yankee Stadium to Citi Field because of the Yankees’ advancement in the American League Championship Series – NYCFC should be favorites. And the home teams won five of the six Round One games.

It’s possible, too, that TFC will be without influential players on both sides of field, with Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez listed as game-time decisions after missing the 5-1 win over D.C. Saturday.

If the thought is Toronto are fatigued after 120 high-intensity minutes Saturday and travel on Tuesday, guess again.

“The first opinion when that happens, you think ‘Oh, they are tired.’ But you are confused if you think about that,” NYCFC coach Dome Torrent said. "Don’t relax because it’s the playoffs. It’s a final. A playoff game now, with the rule change, is a final.”

TFC handed the Cityzens their most lopsided defeat of the season, 4-0, at BMO Field on Alejandro Pozuelo’s debut on March 29.

The sides played to a 1-1 draw at Yankee Stadium Sept. 11 with the Reds arguably having the better of play.

But MLS assists leader Maxi Moralez didn’t play in either game: He served a yellow-card accumulation suspension in Toronto and was injured in the Bronx. He was one of six regulars, because of a combination of injuries and international call-ups, who didn’t play in the most recent game.

“When you play the playoffs, it’s another competition,” Torrent said. “It’s not the same as the league. If you make just one mistake, you are out. Maybe the referee makes a mistake, maybe [I] make a mistake and you are out. It’s totally different.”

It’s a game that likely will be decided in the midfield. While the Reds are formidable in the middle of the park with Michael Bradley, potentially Pozuelo and Marky Delgado and Jonathan Osorio, NYCFC midfielder Keaton Parks likes his team’s chances there.

“They have a very strong midfield, but I think that we have a stronger midfield,” Parks said. “We’re just going to play the same way, we’re going to play confident and we’re doing to do what we need to do.”

Added Ring: “Now we have our best XI against theirs, and we’ll see after the game. You can ask me again.”