Short-handed due to international commitments but having the chance to take the lead in the Eastern Conference, New York City FC looks to continue their season-long home dominance Saturday when they face the still-rampaging New England Revolution.
The Bronx Blues (14-8-5) are one point behind the Philadelphia Union for first but have two matches in hand on the conference front-runners. This also serves as their match in hand on reigning MLS Cup champion Atlanta United, who lurk two points behind them in the third.
As one of the few league teams playing in this international window, NYCFC boss Dome Torrent is without a slew of regulars, including keeper Sean Johnson (United States), defenders Alex Callens (Peru) and Ronald Matarrita (Costa Rica) and midfielder Tony Rocha (U.S.). Among those not toiling for country, first-choice striker and leading goal-scorer Heber will miss out in this contest due to an injury suffered shortly after he scored the first goal in New York City’s 3-1 victory at Vancouver last Saturday.
On the positive side, defender Maxime Chanot delayed his trip to join the Luxembourg team to be available for this contest, giving the backline some cover as it is also missing center back James Sands through injury.
“He decided to stay,” Torrent said at his media availability Thursday regarding Chanot. “I am very happy with his commitment to have for our team. Maxime is a captain, he’s an important player for Luxembourg, and it’s a friendly. These are playoff games but it’s very important to finish in the first, second or third positions. He’s an example for the other players.”
The change to a single-elimination format for the playoffs has weighed on Torrent, who has opted to field a first-choice side for as many matches as possible despite NYCFC’s congested schedule. The Bronx Blues have seven matches in the final month, including three in the next seven days.
“My experience in the last 11 years with Pep (Guardiola) is you can rotate if a player has discomfort and you can rotate in the last four months,” Torrent told ProSocerUSA. “But not in the last two months.”
New England (10-9-9) continues to find ways to pick up points as its disastrous start is long beyond the rear-view mirror. The Revolution are unbeaten in their last four games (1-3-0) after nicking a late point off Toronto FC last Saturday in a 1-1 draw.
Gustavo Bou continued his purple patch of scoring since his mid-season arrival, with the Argentine bagging the equalizer in the 86th minute with a low 20-yard shot that snuck underneath TFC keeper Quentin Westberg.
“I never celebrate another keeper’s error,” Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner told the club’s official website after making five saves – including a double in the first half to keep the game scoreless. “But it was nice to get the point.”
Bou carries a four-match goal-scoring streak into this contest and has tallied in six of eight league matches since joining the Revs from LigaMX side Tijuana. Turner, who improved to 7-6-2 since taking over between the sticks, is eager to get to the Bronx – where NYCFC have lost just once in 13 matches (8-4-1) and were dealt a 1-0 loss by the Revolution last season.
“We’re going to go to New York (next weekend), and hopefully we can do what we did last year and get three points there,” Turner said. “Then we’ll worry about Orlando. We’re just going to take it one game at a time. That’s all we can do.”
New England has taken points in four of its six trips to NYCFC (2-2-2).
(Matt Turner photo courtesy Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)