2017 MLS Eastern Semifinal Preview
Toronto FC vs New York Red Bulls Picks
The Red Bulls may have scraped into the playoffs as the number six seed, but proved on Wednesday night that they are a force to be reckoned with after an emphatic 4-0 away victory in Chicago. They will have to be at their best again when they take on Supporter's Shield winners Toronto FC, who are looking practically unbeatable at the moment. We discuss the chances of each team, provide our fearless prediction and an in-depth analysis of each team - make sure you read this before placing a wager!
This is an interesting match up. On one side you have Toronto FC, the deserved MLS Cup favourites who are coming off the back of an amazing season. The Reds broke the record for the most points accumulated in a regular season, and top the charts in terms of both their home and away record. They were MLS Cup finalists last year, and look to have a point to prove as they approach their first postseason match of the season.
Meanwhile New York come into this match after a surprise 4-0 drubbing of the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park, and are playing with the type of freedom associated with a sixth-seed side that has nothing to lose. This might be the perfect recipe for a team who have finished top of the East on four occasions since 2010 yet have not made it to an MLS Cup final in that time.
So who will win this one? You can't go past Toronto FC. Even if they lose the away first leg like they did in the thrilling Conference Final against Montreal last year, you could put your house on them coming back at home at BMO. Our tip is for the Reds to progress - Read on for a full analysis of the upcoming game.
Toronto FC vs New York Red Bulls Preview
While the Vancouver Whitecaps will kick off the MLS semi-final action against neighbours Seattle in the Western Conference, Toronto FC will also feature in a Canada vs USA showdown when they take on the Red Bulls on Monday night in Harrison, New Jersey. Both teams will be confident of progress leading into the two-legged tie, which will wrap up on Sunday, November 5th at BMO Field in Toronto.
It has been a lot of fun covering Toronto FC this year, although it has been hard to find unused superlatives each time we do so. The team finished the regular season with an entertaining 2-2 draw with 2017 surprise package Atlanta, and the point they earned helped the Reds break the MLS record for the most competition points accumulated in a regular season. This is a phenomenal achievement for a club that started out as one of the worst in the league.
The Canadian side have been a class above all season, leading almost every essential statistic and finishing a whopping twelve points ahead of their nearest rivals, New York City FC. The Reds were ranked first in home wins, away wins, goals scored and goal difference, as well as scoring the most goals by any side on the road - a massive plus when you're going into home-and-away playoff ties.
They can thank star forward Sebastian Giovinco for their dominance in 2017 - the Italian maestro notched 16 goals and 6 assists from his 25 appearances, linking up with Jozy Altidore and Victor Vasquez regularly to create the most potent attacking force in the MLS. The Audi Player Index leader for the regular season will be crucial to the progress of his side during the playoffs, and as long as he can stay injury free it is hard to see any side beat Toronto to MLS Cup glory.
Meanwhile, the Red Bulls have been quietly going about their work in a season that has been fairly average by the club's standards. While their sixth-place finish is their worst since 2009, the Eastern Conference has been unusually strong this season; New York's final points tally of 50 betters both their 2011 and 2014 campaigns in which they finished fifth and fourth respectively.
New York's appearance in the playoffs was finally secured with a 3-0 win over Vancouver in the first week of October, after a period of indifferent form that saw them winless in eight matches and looking over their shoulder in fear of missing their first postseason in eight years. But any questions over their ability were put to rest on Wednesday night when they emphatically dispatched Chicago in a 4-0 away win.
So how relevant is the regular season once you make it to the playoffs? New York would be the best team to ask, having finished first in the Eastern Conference standings on four occasions since 2010 and not once making it to the MLS Cup final. It is for this reason that their display against the Fire will have put Toronto FC on notice, and adds to the intrigue surrounding this matchup.
So which team will progress to the Eastern Conference final? The odds on Toronto FC indicate that they are short favourites, although it will be much closer than many are predicting. Below we outline the key statistics relevant to this tie, plus the head-to-head record between the two clubs.
New York Red Bulls
The key statistic for the New York Red Bulls is a player rather than a figure - midfielder Daniel Royer. The Austrian has started 23 matches for the side this season, and the difference he makes is staggering. Since the club began utilising a new 3-3-3-1 formation, Royer has started ten matches, with seven resulting in wins and a cumulative points differential of +17. Conversely, the Red Bulls have played eight matches without him since the change and only managed one victory.
The performances of Bradley Wright-Phillips will also be vital to New York's chances of progression, and it is his away goalscoring record that will be the biggest threat. The Englishman has scored ten of his seventeen regular season goals away from Red Bull Arena, and he added another to his tally on Wednesday in the win over Chicago at Toyota Park. He has now scored eight goals in MLS playoff matches, and this experience will be crucial.
The Red Bulls only lost two matches at home in 2017, and they will need to ensure this record continues to have any chance against Toronto FC. A loss at home would more than certainly end their chances of reaching the conference final considering the Reds' outstanding home performance this season.
If Toronto FC want to win the MLS Cup this season, they will have to buck a historical trend that sees Supporter's Shield winners rarely do the double and pick up the season-ending trophy. It has been six years since the 2011 LA Galaxy finished atop the regular season standings and won the MLS Cup, and while it does not necessarily mean Toronto will fall at the first hurdle, the added pressure of favouritism may be a burden against a sixth-seeded team with nothing to lose.
Statistically, they should have nothing to worry about. They have only been defeated four times in 2017 and just once at home, so even if they are to go down at the Red Bull Arena, there is a huge chance of redemption in front of the Toronto faithful at BMO. Unlike a knockout round fixture, a two-legged playoff makes it much more difficult for an underdog to defy the odds, so it's hard to see anything other than progression for TFC.
Head to Head Record
The two sides have come up against each other on 28 prior occasions, however this will be the first time they meet in a playoff fixture. New York has the better historical record, winning 13 matchups compared with Toronto's 8 since 2007, although it is more fitting to acknowledge the form over the last three seasons when the Reds have been a playoff team; the sides have met seven times since 2015, with Toronto ahead 3 wins to 2.
This season, the teams have met on two occasions. The points were shared back in May at Red Bull Arena; Bradley Wright-Phillips improved upon his good scoring record against the Reds in the 1-1 draw. Toronto came up with a 4-2 victory in the return fixture just under a month ago; Justin Morrow recorded a hat trick in a high-scoring match.
The Red Bulls and Toronto FC will contest over two matches, so there are several different betting options available. You will be able to place a bet on each individual match as you normally would, with all three full-time results (win, loss and draw) available. Most sportsbooks will also allow you to place a wager on which team will progress to the next round - this will be a simple head-to-head bet with only two outcomes.
Make sure you take a look at all of our betting partners and explore the lines on offer. As always, we will keep you up to date with all the latest and provide ongoing support.
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