The coronation of the MLS king is already set in motion.
Based off Monday’s first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal, it’s not wrong to pencil Toronto FC into the East final, but the reality is there’s still 90 minutes left to play.
The New York Red Bulls haven’t been completely cast off, but they’ll need to benefit from all sorts of luck.
First Leg Recap
Victor Vazquez scored an eighth-minute goal that turned the series on its head fast.
Daniel Royer converted on a penalty kick right before halftime, but Sebastian Giovinco delivered a piece of free kick brilliance to hand the Reds a 2-1 lead heading into Sunday.
Players to Watch
Toronto FC: Justin Morrow
With all the superstars on the Toronto FC roster, Justin Morrow’s contributions have fallen under the radar.
The Defender of the Year finalist will be important on Sunday as the Red Bulls try to produce an onslaught of offensive pressure.
The push from Kemar Lawrence, Daniel Royer and others on the wing will be intense, but Morrow’s shown he can handle it.
Red Bulls: Bradley Wright-Phillips
It seems almost too easy to name Bradley Wright-Phillips as the key player to watch for the Red Bulls, but he has to step up in order for Jesse Marsch’s men to pull off the ultimate upset.
Wright-Phillips has eight goals in 14 career postseason games, but half of them came during the 2014 playoffs.
Breaking down the Toronto defense will be tough, but few are better at finding space when there isn’t any than Wright-Phillips.
Matchup to Watch
Felipe vs. Michael Bradley
There are few central midfielders better at their job than Felipe and Michael Bradley.
Both bring a different skill set and style of play to their respective teams, but they’re also vital to the success on the field.
Felipe is going to make all the bruising tackles, and he’s not afraid to get a little dirty. He’ll have to move a little further forward than usual given the scoreline, which leads him straight into Bradley’s crossfire.
Bradley, no matter how much his critics want to knock him, is one of the best players at his position and is the engine room for the Reds. If he can connect between himself, Victor Vazquez and the attack, it will be game over quick for the Red Bulls.
Toronto: Marky Delgado
The young midfielders on the Red Bulls roster have received a ton of praise, but Marky Delgado is deserving of the same accolades.
Alongside Bradley and Vazquez, Delgado will be tasked with breaking up plays in the center of the park and he could be a vital asset moving forward if the Red Bulls leave a ton of space.
Red Bulls: Aaron Long
Why is a defender an X-Factor is a game where the Red Bulls priority is to score goals? It’s simple: Aaron Long has to try and help contain Giovinco and Jozy Altidore for 90 minutes.
In order for the Red Bulls to even have a fighting chance, their defense must be in perfect form. Long has been thrown into the fire this season, and if he wants to play another game past Sunday, he’ll need to turn in his best performance of the season.
Make no mistake about it, this is Toronto FC’s game to lose.
The Reds are one of the best teams in MLS history, and they have a one-goal advantage with two away goals in the bank entering Sunday.
If the Red Bulls are to have any chance, they have to pounce early and often. If not, they’ll be in for another long day and another early exit.
The strategy for Greg Vanney’s side is incredibly simple. All the Reds have to do is play their game and they’ll be headed to the East final.