HARRISON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The New York Red Bulls have their work cut out for them in the MLS Eastern Conference semifinals as they take on one of the best teams statistically in league history.
Toronto FC (20-5-9) broke the MLS record this season with 69 points, tied for second in league history with 74 goals and had the the second-best goal differential ever (plus-37).
The Red Bulls (14-12-8) were 0-1-1 this season against Toronto — a 1-1 tie at home and a 4-2 loss on the road.
“The reason why we haven’t beaten them is because they’re a good team,” New York coach Jesse Marsch said. “And they played very well against us at Red Bull Arena. We were lucky to get out of there with a draw. And then actually up in Toronto, I thought we played very well and were a little bit unlucky to give up two late goals the way we did.
“We know them well. We respect them massively.”
The two-legged semifinal kicks off at 7:25 p.m. Monday at Red Bull Arena before moving to Toronto on Sunday. The team that scores the most goals in the two matches will advance to the conference semifinals to face the NYCFC-Columbus winner. If the number of goals is tied after the series, the team with the most goals scored on the road would win the series.
The Red Bulls entered the playoffs as the sixth seed in the East and then whipped the third-seeded Chicago Fire on the road, 4-0, in last week’s knockout round.
When Marsch was asked last if the victory was validation for leaning toward a younger lineup this sesaon, he said: “We haven’t really achieved anything yet. I don’t want to talk about validations or anything. There’s a lot more work to be done.”
Against Chicago, the Red Bulls struck twice in the first 11 minutes on goals by Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan.
That start certainly caught Toronto’s attention.
“They’ll come out with intensity, with fire; they’re going to work hard, try to tilt the bar in their favor,” Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney said of the Red Bulls, according to MLSSoccer.com. “It’s not in Jesse’s nature to be passive or to sit back. There are going to be a fair share of bumps and kicks to be disruptive.
“You can’t make mistakes, give them opportunities. They are quick to capitalize. In a transition, one-, two-, three-passes tops, they can be in on your goal.”
While the matchup is a tough one, the good news for the Red Bulls is they are playing arguably their best soccer of the season lately, as they are unbeaten in their last four matches (3-0-1), outscoring opponents 9-1 over that span.
New York is led by Wright-Phillips, who had 17 goals and an assist in the regular season, and Daniel Royer, who had 12 goals and three assists.
Toronto’s top scoring threats are Italian midfielder Sebastian Giovinco (16 goals, six assists) and former Red Bull Jozy Altidore (15 goals, six assists).
Toronto, last season’s MLS runner-up, is trying to become the first side in six years to win both the Supporters’ Shield — awarded to the team with the best regular season record — and the MLS Cup. The last team to do it was the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2011.
The Red Bulls know as well as anyone that the Supporters’ Shield does not guarantee postseason success. They won the award in 2013 and 2015, but failed to reach the MLS Cup final either year.