On Yonge Street: NYCFC’s first playoff game

From Last Word on Soccer, by Martin Bihl

So now we know who New York City FC will face in their first playoff game. And it’s fitting, isn’t it, that a team with such an international pedigree square off against a team from another country? That a team with players from Inter Milan and Chelsea and Barcelona, face a team with players from Juventus and AS Roma and AZ Alkmaar. Fitting, perhaps, but that’s not why all of MLS is salivating over the match. They’re anticipating Sebastian Giovinco v. Andrea Pirlo. Frank Lampard v. Michael Bradley. Jozy Altidore v. David Villa. So what can we expect in NYCFC’s first playoff game?

What’s Past is Prologue

NYCFC have played Toronto FC five times in their history, and have never lost. Not in New York, not in Toronto. If they maintain that habit over the next two matches, they will undoubtedly see themselves through to the next round. But lets unpack that a little and see what it reveals.

This year, two draws – 2-2 at Yankee Stadium in March, and 1-1 in Toronto in May. You remember those games, don’t you? In the first one NYCFC gave up a two goal lead allowing Toronto to snatch a point, and in the second, the team’s lone goal was scored by Kwadwo Poku, who was promptly shipped off to Miami FC.

And last year? A win for NYCFC in the Bronx AND at BMO Field – but the game you’re more likely to remember is the crazy 4-4 draw in July in which eventual league MVP Sebastian Giovinco missed a penalty kick – one of four awarded during the match.

Let’s hope we don’t see that in NYCFC’s first playoff game.

And Speaking of Goals

I don’t know if you were keeping track of how many goals these teams score when they play each other, but I was. Eighteen goals in five matches, or more than 3.5 per match. Which makes sense since both teams were above the league average for goals scored per match of 1.4 (NYCFC 1.76, TFC 1.45),

No team scored more goals than NYCFC this season, of course – who led the league with 62. Toronto had only 51 – which would have made them second best in the West, but puts them in sixth in the East. But that number may be a bit misleading; how much higher would it have been had Giovinco not sat out five matches with quadriceps and adductor strains? Four? That would have put them in third place in the East behind NYCFC and the New York Red Bulls, and tied with Western Conference leaders L.A. Galaxy.

So we can expect a lot of goals in NYCFC’s first playoff game?

Yes, But I’m Not Done Yet.

Because not only does this series feature last year’s MVP and Golden Boot winner (up against the guy who came in fourth), but let’s not forget that this year, “El Guaje” and “Formica Atomica” finished second and third in the scoring race with 23 and 18 goals respectively. And by the way, do you know who’s number 11 on FIFA’s MLS scoring list? Frank Lampard.

And one more thing about Frank and Pat’s little boy. He’ll have the best goals-per-90-minutes of anyone on the pitch during NYCFC’s first playoff game. Take a look:

Giovinco – .63 goals every 90 minutes (17 goals)

Altidore – .61 goals every 90 minutes (10 goals)

Justin Morrow – .17 goals every 90 minutes (5 goals)

Jordan Hamilton – .30 goals every 90 minutes (3 goals)

Villa – .72 goals every 90 minutes (23 goals)

Lampard – .84 goals every 90 minutes (12 goals)

Thomas McNamara – .20 goals every 90 minutes (5 goals)

Steven Mendoza – .40 goals every 90 minutes (5 goals)

So yeah, don’t leave your seat until that referee whistle blows.

Home Field Advantage, Shmome Field Advantage

Over the past 8 home matches, NYCFC are 7-1-1 and Toronto are 4-3-2. And you would think that would think would be good for both sides in NYCFC’s first playoff game, right? “Defend this house” and all that jazz.

But NYCFC have the best away record in MLS, remember? They shipped 24 points on the road! And you know who has the second best road record? Toronto, who took 23 points away from BMO Field. In fact, over the last 8 away matches, Toronto actually are tops on the road, at 3-3-2, while NYCFC are middle of the table at 2-2-4.

So both teams are monsters on the road and strong of late at home. Okay, but over the course of the season, who’s better at home? Honestly? It’s a wash. Both teams were 7-6-3 at home and the only thing that put Toronto above NYCFC in the final analysis was goal differential (though Toronto scored fewer they also let fewer slip in).

The Final Analysis?

Home field won’t matter, goal-scoring ability won’t matter, history won’t matter – heck, even temperature won’t matter. It’s predicted to be about 40° in Toronto on Sunday and 45° in the Bronx a week later. And sure, that could easily take a toll on Frank Lampard’s techy calf, but it could just as easily wreck havoc on Jozy Altidore’s dodgy hamstrings, so, who knows?

What we do know about NYCFC’s first playoff game is that it’s historic, and something you’ll not want to miss, whether you’re watching it on Jerome Avenue or on Yonge Street.