A weekend of club matches featuring MNT players squaring off against each other culminates Sunday when Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Toronto FC play host to Sacha Kljestan and New York Red Bulls at 5 p.m. ET on FOX.
Here are Five Things to Know about Sunday’s top-of-the-table matchup:
A Battle for First in the East
Having only lost two matches in a row once this season, Toronto FC has been pretty consistent all year and at times they’ve be downright scary for teams across MLS. The Reds have ridden the form of Sebastian Giovinco through much of the campaign, including the early summer injury absence of Jozy Altidore, and the MNT attacker’s return to the lineup combined with Michael Bradley’s steady play have contributed to Toronto staying right around the top of the East all season.
With just 29 goals conceded, TFC has the second-best defensive record in Major League Soccer and comes into the match having lost only one of its last nine games.
While Toronto has floated around the top all season, it took a while for defending Supporters Shield champion New York Red Bulls to make their way up the Eastern Conference table. Jesse Marsch’s side lost five of its first six matches as it adjusted to life at the back following the transfer of defender Matt Miazga to Chelsea during the winter.
Thanks in large part to Sacha Kljestan, the Red Bulls started to turn their season around and have found their form at the right part of the MLS campaign. They have gone unbeaten in their last 10 league matches, though they’ve seen more than a few would-be wins turn into draws after allowing late-game goals.
Put simply: With Toronto FC up two points and holding a game in hand on New York Red Bulls and New York City FC, a win for the Reds would go a long way in helping the team to a first-place finish in the East. It would also see the club equal its highest point total in MLS (49), which was set just last year.
Meanwhile, a win for NYRB would see the New Jersey-based side jump above TFC and make the final playoff push a nail-biter.
Jozy Altidore Scoring Form
Since returning from a hamstring injury that kept him from taking part in the MNT’s fourth-place finish during Copa America Centenario, Altidore has been on fire for both club and country, tallying nine goals and two assists in 11 combined matches since his July comeback.
Altidore’s exploits have been further highlighted by the way he stepped up in the injury absence of Sebastian Giovinco during last week’s 2-1 win at Chicago Fire. Returning the favor for Giovinco’s leadership during his own time away, the MNT striker hit the back of the net once before assisting on what would stand as the game-winning goal.
Sacha Kljestan’s Return to the National Team
On the flip side, Sacha Kljestan has perhaps been the biggest reason for the Red Bulls ascendency up the Eastern Conference table. The league’s leader in assists with 15, as Kljestan has performed so have the Red Bulls, with the club picking up points in 11 matches in which the he has either scored or assisted.
That form led to Kljestan being recalled to the MNT for the first time since April 2014, and as we know the veteran midfielder took advantage, providing two goals and two assists during the pair of games that saw the USA finish atop its semifinal round World Cup Qualifying group.
Returning to the Red Bulls last weekend, Kljestan hit the post twice in the team’s 2-2 draw with D.C. United, but found the back of the net once again Thursday night, tallying a 90th minute winner in New York’s 1-0 CONCACAF Champions League victory against Alianza of El Salvador.
A Rubber Match
Making the Sunday afternoon even more intriguing is the fact that the two sides have split the season series. In the season opener on March 3, Toronto FC utilized second-half goals from Giovinco and Marky Delgado to earn a 2-0 victory, while Kljestan provided two assists two Bradley Wright-Phillips’ hat trick in New York’s 3-0 win against TFC on May 28.
Live on FOX and Fox Sports GO
The game is part of a doubleheader of sorts on the FOX broadcast network. The afternoon starts out with Sporting KC taking on the LA Galaxy at 2 p.m. ET, followed by Toronto FC vs. New York Red Bulls at 5 p.m. ET.
The games will be available in the competing teams’ home markets as well as in select cities across the U.S. Those areas not receiving the MLS match on television will instead see a regional NFL broadcast at that time, but can see their respective MLS matches online via Fox Sports GO.