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NYCFC's loss to Toronto FC in MLS Cup playoffs was so last year

USA's New York City FC Brazilian player Heber

USA's New York City FC Brazilian player Heber Araujo celebrates a goal against Costa Rica's San Carlos during their CONCACAF Champions League match in Alajuela, Costa Rica, on Feb. 20, 2020. Credit: AFP via Getty Images/EZEQUIEL BECERRA

New York City FC midfielder Keaton Parks hasn’t watched the club’s final match of 2019 against Toronto FC. Same for striker Héber.

Neither needs reminding of what went down that October night at Citi Field, when a late Toronto penalty ended the MLS Cup hopes of NYCFC’s best team in its short history.

“I forget that game,” Héber said Wednesday. “It’s a new year, a new season, and we are ready.”

NYCFC has a chance to right those wrongs when the clubs meet at 5 p.m. on Saturday at BMO Field in Toronto for the second matchweek of the MLS season. City failed to win either of the two regular-season matchups last year. In the first match last March, Toronto made easy work of NYCFC to win 4-0 at home. When they met again at Yankee Stadium in September, a Sean Johnson penalty save kept City in it, but a late no-call on a would-be NYCFC penalty helped keep the score at 1-1.

The clubs met in the postseason about six weeks later, only for an ill-advised tackle by Ronald Matarrita to set up the winning penalty by TFC's Alejandro Pozuelo, his third penalty conversion against NYCFC in 2019.

“We're preparing for it just like any other game, but I think in the back of our minds, we all want revenge and want to get a good result,” Parks said. “We know their team a lot, I think they have a lot of returning players as well. And we've been watching their preseason games and their first game of the season and all that to scout them more rather than watching last year's stuff.”

Toronto, which reached the MLS Cup final last year, isn’t off to the strongest of starts in 2020. Longtime captain Michael Bradley is out for the next few months after surgery to repair an ankle injured in the championship loss to Seattle, and teammate Jozy Altidore criticized the club’s handling of the injury during preseason. Altidore wore the captain’s armband in TFC’s season-opening road draw against San Jose. Toronto squandered a 2-0 second-half lead and allowed the tying goal in the 95th minute.

But as it showed late last season, Toronto has the talent and depth to compete with any club in MLS. Spanish star Pozuelo is expected to follow up his 12-goal debut season with another solid effort from the attacking midfield, already converting a penalty.

“They have a very strong midfield, I think that's got to be our key is to keep the ball out of the midfield and hopefully keep it off of Pozuelo's feet, because obviously he's a very quality player,” Parks said. “They have a very strong midfield three, and we want to want to keep the ball on the outside, for sure.”

If City is to pick up just its third-ever win in Toronto on Saturday, Héber believes the players need to stay sharp for the full 90 minutes.

“They have very, very good players, players with quality,” said Héber. “So with this type of players, you cannot sleep a little bit, you have to be focused all the time. Because if you give one chance to them, for sure they will score. So we need to be focused.”

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