NYCFC tries to make up ground versus Toronto (Jul 19, 2017)
The next four days could shed light on whether New York City is a real contender in the Eastern Conference of MLS.
The third-place Blues will host the two teams tied for first in the East -- Toronto FC on Wednesday and the Chicago Fire on Saturday -- at Yankee Stadium, hoping to close what is a five-point gap.
"If we want to win a trophy, if we want a shot at that Supporters Shield, these are the types of games that you need to win," NYCFC defender R.J. Allen told the website Empire of Soccer. "This is what it's all about. If you want to win a trophy, these are the games that you need to perform in and these are the games that we need to get three points -- especially at home."
While Toronto (11-3-5) will be without stars Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, who will play for the U.S. National Team against El Salvador on Wednesday, NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira doesn't anticipate an easier task.
"The biggest mistake that we can make is that because these two players are going to the national team that the game will be easy for us," Vieira said. "There are no easy games in this league, especially against Toronto. I believe that Toronto has one of the best, if not the best, roster in this league so they can allow themselves to lose one or two players."
New York City (10-6-3) lost at Vancouver two weeks ago, ending a four-game win streak.
Toronto FC, which beat Orlando City 3-1 on July 5, defeated New York City 5-0 on its last trip to the Bronx, during last season's Eastern Conference semifinals.
But they are depleted as they face NYCFC this year.
In addition to missing Bradley and Altidore, the Reds will be without three other players on international duty: Canadians Tosaint Ricketts and Jonathan Osorio, Armando Cooper of Panama and the United States' Justin Morrow.
"It's a challenge," Reds coach Greg Vanney told the Toronto Sun. "It's part of the league at this time of year because we've chosen to build our roster with internationals.
"We just deal with it. Sometimes it's frustrating given the opponent, but we prepare the same way we always prepare."
Altidore, Bradley and the Reds' Sebastian Giovanni were added this week to the MLS All-Star roster that will take on Real Madrid, Europe's Champions League winner, on Aug. 2 in Chicago.
Toronto is one of only two teams in MLS with a winning road record (4-3-3), but NYCFC has lost only once at home in the 2017 regular season (6-1-2).
"We'll prepare to deal with New York City's strengths," Vanney said. "That doesn't change. But, for sure, we're going to be asking guys to step up. But guys have done that all year."
Toronto returns home Saturday to take on Colorado.