A pair of clubs looking to build on the momentum of derby victories collide Wednesday night when the visiting New York Red Bulls look to consolidate their top-three status in the Eastern Conference and prevent Toronto FC from tightening the table.
The Red Bulls (9-4-7) have looked more like the side that won the 2018 Supporters’ Shield over the past two-plus months with eight wins in 13 matches (8-2-3) after downing New York City FC 2-1 on Sunday. Daniel Royer had a brace on either side of halftime, converting a penalty right before intermission that swung the momentum of the match after the Red Bulls were second-best most of the 45 minutes, and adding a hotly debated winner via a well-placed header on the hour.
A play that was supposed to be a corner kick turned into a quick throw-in by Alex Muyl, which eventually led to Cristian Casseres supplying a cross Royer headed home from close range. The victory vaulted New York three places into third in the East, five points behind Philadelphia with two matches in hand.
“It’s always important, the table is always close,” Royer said when asked about the importance of this match. “Teams are doing well. Teams you didn’t expect to do that well are doing well … the league is improving and you want to get as many points as quickly as possible.”
New York has nine points in as many road matches (2-3-4) but is winless in the last three after scraping out a 3-3 draw at Atlanta on July 7.
Toronto FC (7-5-8) maintained its hold on the seventh and final playoff spot in the East, posting a 2-0 victory at Montreal on Saturday. It was just the second win in 12 league matches (2-4-6) for the Reds, who got second-half goals from Alejandro Pozuelo and Jozy Altidore.
The game marked the first time in a lengthy spell Toronto FC was at full strength, with Altidore and Michael Bradley back from international duty with the U.S. at the Gold Cup and compatriot Omar Gonzalez making his debut after signing last month. Reds coach Greg Vanney could hand a debut to winger Erickson Gallardo, who was added last week from Venezuelan side Zamora FC.
“In training, we need to have more quality and with these guys, for sure the team is better,” Pozuelo told the Toronto Sun after scoring his eighth goal. “If we continue like this, I think the next 15-14 games, we can do something good.”
Despite being limited to seven starts and 10 appearances between injuries and international duty, Altidore is second on the team with six goals. Toronto FC is also 3-1-1 when he finds the back of the net. Altidore, who broke into MLS with the Red Bulls as a 16-year-old in 2006, has failed to score a goal in his last five matchups with New York.
The Red Bulls have won the last three meetings between the teams and carry a 288-minute shutout streak into the contest. Kaku and Derrick Etienne provided the offense in the most recent meeting, a 2-0 home win Sept. 22, and New York is 5-6-5 all-time in Toronto.
(Alejandro Pozuelo photo courtesy Alejandro Pozuelo official Twitter account)