History and Toronto FC’s sterling record at home are against the New York Red Bulls as they try to recover from a 2-1 deficit in Sunday’s second leg of the MLS Eastern Conference semifinal.
The sixth-seeded Red Bulls need to win and score at least two goals to advance, with a repeat of Monday’s Game 1 score forcing extra time.
It won’t be easy at BMO Field, where top-seeded Toronto posted nine shutouts while going 13-1-3 this season. And given Toronto’s offence — it scored in 31 of 34 games this season and was last blanked at home on March 31 — the visitors may have to find even more goals.
History is also against New York, which finished the regular season 19 points below Toronto.
Home teams are 40-13-13 all-time in the second leg of a playoff series.
Down, not out
And only three times in MLS playoff history has a team hosted the first leg and lost, then won the second leg on the road to advance (Colorado Rapids, 2004; San Jose Earthquakes, 2010; and Los Angeles Galaxy, 2012).
Toronto is also undefeated in its last five home matches against the Red Bulls, who last won at BMO Field in 2013.
The Red Bulls, who held a players-only dinner this week, choose only to see that they are at the halfway mark of the series.
“I think the mood in the team is that we’re down but we’re not out,” said captain Sacha Kljestan.
The first goal Sunday will be huge. Toronto was 19-1-2 during the regular season when scoring first, and adding to its lead would force the Red Bulls to go on all-out attack, further opening themselves up to the counter.
On the other hand, an early New York goal would give the visitors confidence that a comeback is possible.
Vazquez, Moor question-marks
The series winner will face either second-seeded New York City FC or No. 5 Columbus Crew SC in the Eastern Conference final. Columbus leads 4-1 heading into Sunday’s finale at Yankee Stadium and looks a solid shot to move on. No team down three goals after the first leg has ever advanced.
Defender Drew Moor and Spanish playmaker Victor Vazquez, Toronto’s injury question-marks coming out of Game 1, are both said to be on the mend.
“They were involved in training today. So far, so good in terms of potential availability [Sunday],” said coach Greg Vanney.
“Neither of the injuries are ones that will necessarily get worse. It’s just a matter of can they do all the things that are necessary for the amount of time necessary and that will be the decider,” he added.
TFC stand ready
Toronto is preparing for a desperate Red Bulls team.
“I would expect that we’re going to get the most extreme, most committed, most determined version of [the] Red Bulls possible, ” said captain Michael Bradley. “We’ve talked and worked on what that will be like.”
Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch did not pull punches after Monday’s game, saying it took “far too long” for his team to figure out Toronto’s tactics.
“Not a good performance from us. Disappointing in such a big match,” he said.
He said he was caught by surprise by the number of sub-par showings by his players.
“Just not enough belief in our guys and then that led to too many shaky performances.”
“I’m a little perplexed, I’m a little unsure as to why we were so unsure,” he added. “And we’re going to find a way to correct that.”
The game was played on Toronto terms, he argued, with TFC sitting back and waiting for the Red Bulls to turn the ball over so they could counter-attack.
Marsch, who usually plays a 3-3-3-1 formation, could inject Argentine Gonzalo Veron into the starting lineup for more offence.
The forecast calls for 13 degrees and rain at kickoff.