The New York Red Bulls were nothing short of phenomenal against the Chicago Fire in the first round of MLS playoffs. A dominating 4-0 performance saw goals from the usual suspects, with Bradley Wright-Phillips, Daniel Royer and Sacha Kljestan scoring in the match. Gonzalo Veron also added to the party with a sublime chip over the onrushing keeper.
Transferring that momentum and form to the next round of matches will be crucial, especially when facing the Supporters Shield winners, Toronto FC. Toronto got a bye from the first round of the playoffs, so they will have had plenty of time to both rest and perfect their system.
Toronto had a monstrous season, finishing 12 points above second place NYCFC while scoring 74 goals total. They had the second best defensive record in MLS and won 20 matches total, four more than any other team in the league. Their dominance the entire season was something to marvel at, with plenty of quality all around the pitch.
The Canadian club ended their season with a bang as their top goal scorer Sebastian Giovinco unhinged an absolute screamer of a free kick in the 84th minute to level the score against Atlanta United. Combined with Jozy Altidore and Victor Vazquez, Toronto has more than enough power going forward to cause problems for the Red Bulls. Toronto will look to their last meeting with New York for inspiration, as they outlasted the Red Bulls in a 4-2 at BMO Field.
Toronto also has a wealth of forward options off the bench should they end up needing a goal late in the match. Tosaint Ricketts and Jonathan Osorio have combined for nine goals on the season and are very viable options to bring on in the second half. An away goal could put a lot of pressure on the Red Bulls, so expect manager Greg Vanney to play aggressively if his team is struggling to score.
Jesse Marsch should be fairly straight forward with his team heading into this match. Though this is the first of two legs in the matchup, New York will not want to go into Toronto with the odds against them. This means Tyler Adams, who has been so influential going forward in recent weeks, may have to track back more often.
The 3511 formation the Red Bulls used against Chicago was perfect, but it may resemble more of a back five system against a team like Toronto. Adams and Kemar Lawrence will still be asked to overlap every now and again, but stopping Giovinco and company from getting a vital away goal should be priority number one for the wingbacks.
Both teams play similar formations, with Toronto frequenting a 352 system that also has a big emphasis on the wingbacks. Defender/midfielder Justin Morrow is the perfect player for Toronto to start at left wingback, and the Red Bulls will need to limit the space Morrow creates when he decides to bomb forward.
The obvious focus is on the forwards for Toronto. The household names of Giovinco and Altidore are enough alone to make any MLS fan nervous. The added firepower the team has in midfield makes them all the more dangerous, and winning the second ball will be crucial for the Red Bulls in stopping the counter attack.
Starting the tie off at home does put the Red Bulls at a slight disadvantage, but keeping a clean sheet will be just as important as winning the match. Luis Robles will be called into action a lot during this match, so he will need his defenders to be at their best to keep the Toronto attack at bay. Wright-Phillips will also need to be alert to the quick distribution from Robles and New York should look to catch Toronto out on the counter.