Patrick Vieira (right) and Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney shake hands after a recent game. (Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
BRONX, N.Y. — Believe it or not, Patrick Vieira has conceded the Eastern Conference title to Toronto FC, even though there are nine games left in the regular season.
The New York City FC head coach doesn’t think any team can catch Toronto, which enjoys a four-point lead over his team.
“It was good to win, because I believe that it’s always good to get close to Toronto, but I believe that Toronto is already the champions,” Vieira said after his team’s 2-1 come-from-behind victory over the New England Revolution Sunday night. “The other teams, we’re going to fight for the second spot. Toronto will win the league because they are really strong and I don’t think anyone will catch them.”
NYCFC (14-7-4, 46) is chasing Toronto (14-3-8, 50).
Rookie Jonathan Lewis, who scored the game-winning goal four minutes into injury time, disagreed with his coach. He felt the Canadian club still can be caught. The top two teams in each conference will get first-round byes in the playoffs.
“It’s not just about catching them,” he said. “At the end of the day, we have to be able to beat them. But we also have to be able to beat who’s the best on that side as well. So we just have to beat whoever’s in front of us. We have to go out and try to get a win every single day.”
Toronto has been City’s No. 1 nemesis the past two seasons.
In the 2016 playoffs, the Canadian side eliminated NYCFC in a 7-0 aggregate win, winning the first at home, 2-0, then embarrassing City at Yankee Stadium.
This season, NYCFC has experienced problems against its foes from the north. Toronto pulled off a 2-2 draw with a stoppage-time score against City at Yankee Stadium July 19 and rolled to a 4-0 result at BMO Field July 30.