(NYCFC Head Coach Patrick Vieira looks on – USA Today Sports)
The MLS Cup Eastern Conference Semifinals opened on Sunday, and New York City Football Club lost 2-0 to Toronto FC, while the Red Bulls lost 1-0 to the Montreal Impact.
The second leg of this round is on Sunday, November 6, with NYCFC hosting Toronto at Yankee Stadium and the Red Bulls hosting Montreal at Red Bull Arena.
Toronto FC 2, NYCFC 0
The first leg of this Eastern Conference Semifinal was scoreless until the 84th minute when Jozy Altidore latched onto a loose ball and sent a rocket into the net from seven yards out.
Tousaint Ricketts added a goal on a rebound in the second minute of stoppage time.
That second goal is huge, as it means that NYCFC will have to win the second leg by three goals to move on, and if Toronto gets a road goal, NYCFC would need to score four goals to move on.
NYCFC Head Coach Patrick Vieira said of giving up that second goal making their task much tougher, “It makes it very difficult of course. I think conceding the 2nd goal makes our task very difficult. But I think I have enough experience in the game and when you look at our dressing room and the players around anything can happen in our game of football. We just have to believe in it. We have to give ourselves a chance and we are going to go for it.”
NYCFC’s best scoring chance came in the 81st minute when RJ Allen’s shot from the edge of the 18-yard box was tipped over the bar by Toronto goalkeeper Clint Irwin for a corner kick.
Eirik Johansen made his second consecutive start in goal and he twice denied Toronto FC star Sebastian Giovinco in the first half, lunging to stop his shot from eight yards in the 12th minute and parrying a 28-yard free kick away four minutes from halftime.
Johansen said he found out he was starting in the “team meeting before the game.”
On his first playoff game and first away start, Johansen said, “It’s a bit different than a normal away MLS game. With it being a playoff game and the crowd out there was really good in favour of them. We knew that going into it that it was going to be a tough game and it was.”
Johansen said of Josh Saunders giving him any advice before the game, “Yeah. In training all week he has been really good to me. Us goalkeepers as a group we’re good at sticking together regardless of who is playing. He’s been good to me all week.”
NYCFC had a different lineup, as Andrea Pirlo was out with a calf injury and Mikey Lopez made a rare start. David Villa was pulled in the 78th minute for Khiry Shelton.
Vieira said of when he learned Pirlo would not be able to play, “He didn’t take the full training session. He just did the first part of the training and he didn’t do the end of it. This morning he woke up and the calf was a bit sore so we didn’t want to take any risks.”
Vieira said of the decision to take off Villa in the 2nd half, “I just wanted to bring some fresh legs up front and as well some height because we struggled a bit to hold the ball. So I just wanted to bring more of a physical presence up front.”
Montreal Impact 1, Red Bulls 0
The Montreal Impact pulled out the 1-0 win in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal with a goal a second-half goal from Matteo Mancosu in the 61st minute.
This was the first loss for the Red Bulls since July 3, a stretch that spans 16 MLS games and 20 across all competitions. It was also the first time New York has been shutout against MLS competition since July 10, a 0-0 draw with Portland Timbers. New York was shutout once in Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League play, a scoreless draw at Antigua Guatemala FC on September 27.
Red Bulls Head Coach Jesse Marsch said of the play leading to the goal, “(Marco) Donadel has time, takes a touch, looks up and our line was too high. We let them beat us with one ball over the top and it’s one-zero in a game we had pretty good control of. It’s frustrating we didn’t deal with that well.”
Marsch said of the team’s performance, “In certain areas I think our team played well and was organized. Then it was basically one play that cost us even though we had what I thought was a good control of the match. Even though we had some really good advantages, we couldn’t convert any of them.”
Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles said of the performance, “They definitely had some dangerous moments going forward, but I felt we did a great job neutralizing them and some of their key threats. Unfortunately, one ball over the top caught us, but we’re going to be very mindful going into the next game that we are down and really can’t concede an away goal.”
The Red Bulls return home for the second leg on Sunday, November 6 at 4:30 and they need to win by two goals to advance. The Red Bulls posted a franchise-record 13-2-2 at home this season, the best home record in MLS. They are 27-5-4 at home at under Jesse Marsch in the regular season and playoffs.
Marsch said of the Red Bulls’ confidence going back home, “Given everything, I think we put a lot into it and we know it’s only halftime and there’s a lot more to go in this series. We’ll be excited to go back home.”
Montreal Head Coach Mauro Biello said after getting the win, “The team is coming together in terms of their responsibilities on the field. There’s so much fight in them. What was said after the game is that what I liked most is what they did after they scored and all celebrated together. To me that’s a bond and something very strong.”
Biello said of his team’s performance, “Credit to my players, as for me it was a fantastic performance. When I calculate the emotions of Thursday, the work of doing what we did to go out and win in D.C. and to come back here in front of our fans to win the game against probably the favorites to win MLS Cup was fantastic.”
On what he expected from the Red Bulls, Biello said, “I was expecting just that, them to be a team that applied pressure and a team that was fresh. It was important to manage this game well because we played on Thursday. I started the same lineup and I thought we did an excellent job of managing the game, not giving away anything and to score the goal that we needed.”