David Villa and Sean Okoli hope to have more reasons to celebrate. (Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
There’s no time like the present as New York City FC finds itself in the enviable position to make a statement and even climb atop the Eastern Conference this week.
The Major League Soccer schedule has worked out in a way that City hosts second-place Toronto FC Wednesday and the first-place and revived Chicago Fire Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
If you want to get technical, the team are tied for the conference lead 11-3-5 and 38 points as goal differential separates them (Chicago is plus 18, Toronto plus 15).
Regardless who’s No. 1, playing the two best teams in the league within four days is one tall order.
As good as NYCFC has been this year, it really has yet to be tested by the best in the league. This is as good a time as any.
While the team is midway through the season, NYCFC could make a statement for the playoffs, though they seem so far away (in November).
Regardless where City finishes, there is a good chance it will have to get through one or both of those sides come November and anything toward establishing an upper hand, even in July could go a long way.
With team captain and midfielder Michael Bradley and striker Jozy Altidore on international duty with the U.S. national team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the timing could not be any better for NYCFC to grab a win over Toronto FC, the same Toronto team that crushed them in the playoffs last year, 2-0 and 5-0.
Chicago, the most-improved team in the league, represents the much greater challenge with Nemanja Nikolic, whose 16 goals in 19 matches leads the league. He has been a force that rarely has been contained. Center backs Maxime Chanot and Alex Callens will have their hands, feet and head full with that striker.
The perfect scenario for NYCFC would be to win both matches and Toronto would lose its home game to the Colorado Rapids Saturday.
Now, I realize playing a pair of talented and challenging opponents in such a short period at home is ridiculous and puts much pressure to the team’s preparations — physical and mental.
Of course, it could be worse — City could play both games the road.
Asking for back-to-back wins against two such imposing foes might be just a bit too much.
So, four points out of a possible six is much more reasonable.
Anything less than that would be a great disappointment.
Anything more than that would be the best scenario and a big boost for NYCFC and an opportunity to make the rest of the conference to chase City instead of the other way around.