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Herdman looks forward to first visit to Yankee Stadium with resurgent Toronto FC

Toronto FC John Herdman - The Canadian Press

As someone who has coached around the world, John Herdman is no stranger to different venues.

But Saturday marks his visit to the narrow confines of Yankee Stadium, where his unbeaten and resurgent Toronto FC side takes on winless New York City FC.

"I'm excited. It's bringing us back to the narrow field of Hamilton (Tim Hortons Field) or Edmonton (Commonwealth Stadium)," the former Canada coach, referencing CFL stadiums where the Canadian men hosted World Cup qualifying games before Qatar, said with a laugh.

"We purposefully narrowed fields for certain matches (in the past) so I've had some experience on how to get the best out of your team on 64 metres (width). But apparently it's even smaller that it's quoted as."

Herdman got a scouting report from Portland Timbers coach Phil Neville, who was briefly part of his Canadian coaching staff last year while between jobs.

"He said the pitch is beautiful, It'll play well," Herdman related. "But you've just got to be ready. Like one pass, (the ball) seems to be in your (penalty) box. We narrowed all the (practice) fields in this week and have been training with that philosophy."

Toronto has growing injury concerns with captain Jonathan Osorio (hip), goalkeeper Sean Johnson (hamstring), fullback Richie Laryea (hamstring) and defender Nicksoen Gomis (wrist) all out. Defenders Kevin Long (foot) and Raul Petretta (groin) and midfielder Deybi Flores (groin) were listed as questionable.

The good news is forward Deandre Kerr, who sat out the first three games with a calf issue, could make the bench.

NYCFC has stumbled coming out of the gate, with losses at Charlotte FC (1-0) and St Louis City SC (2-0) and, last time out, to visiting Portland (2-1) in a game that saw it concede in the 85th and 97th minute.

New York coach Nick Cushing reported there was "a lot of anger" in his team's dressing room after the Portland loss.

But he said that emotion led to productive sessions early this week "on developing who we want to be and how we move forward to get results."

"There are 31 more games left and there are really positive elements of our performance that will really help us to get results," added Cushing, who reckons his team should have four points from a draw at Charlotte and win over Portland.

New York has attempted 30 shots in its first three games with its 10 shots on target producing just one goal, from Santi Rodriguez in the Portland loss.

Toronto opened with a scoreless draw at FC Cincinnati before winning 1-0 at New England and 1-0 over visiting Charlotte FC in last Saturday's home opener at BMO Field. But its record at NYCFC is 1-4-5.

TFC, which gave up 59 goals last season to rank second-worst in the league, is the only team yet to concede this season.

"It's going to be a difficult Toronto team … They're incredibly compact, but we have the ability to unlock that," Cushing said. "We have the ability to disorganize them."

Herdman says NYCFC is normally an intricate "surgeon's knife team" but showed it could play direct in the first half against Portland when it led 1-0.

"It sort of blew away everyone that watched just how direct they were," he said. "So I think the coach is willing to come away from his identity to get the outcome he needs and they played well (for the) first 45 minutes, I thought."

"We've got to be ready for them not being New York, given they just need to win," he added.

Italian star Lorenzo Insigne, who managed just four goals in 20 league appearances last year, has two goals for TFC already — both honoured as the MLS goal of the week. TFC has managed 28 shots (eight on target) in its first three games.

Defensive midfielder James Sands returns for New York after serving a one-game red card suspension. Brazilian forward Talles Magno, a young designated player, is dealing with knee pain.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 15, 2024