Now the task is staying there when they host Toronto FC on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.
New York City FC (15-5-8, 53 points) have outscored their opponents 12-4 during the stretch, including last Saturday's 2-1 win over the New England Revolution, to take a two-point lead over the Philadelphia Union in the East.
Midfielder Jesus Medina scored two goals off the bench in the win over New England, and he feels consecutive home games against Toronto and then San Jose on Saturday are crucial in the pursuit of keeping the top spot.
"We are very conscious about the fact that we can end up first in the East," Medina told reporters recently. "We have two big games at home and need to continue to work in the way we have been and with the same focus."
Medina's goals were his second and third of the season, and the 22-year-old figures to be part of the game plan again Wednesday with star striker Heber (team-high 14 goals) set to miss his second straight game with a quadriceps injury.
"We've said many times that soccer belongs to the players, and I believe in that," NYCFC coach Domenec Torrent told reporters. "Right now they work very hard in the facilities, and it's important that every single player is ready to play.
"We lose Heber, we have another player. I'm very happy, especially for Jesus because before the game I said, 'You have to be ready against New England.'"
Toronto FC (11-10-8) are currently tied with the New York Red Bulls for the fifth-most points in the East with 41. New England is two points behind them -- and sitting in the final playoff position.
But Toronto is focused on improving its situation as it sits one point behind fourth-place D.C. United after going 2-0-3 over its last five matches, including a 5-1 drubbing of FC Cincinnati last Saturday.
"You've heard me say it a few times this year, it's been a weird season," veteran midfielder Michael Bradley told reporters. "It's been choppy, it's been stop and start, but the reality is still that the most important games are in front of us.
"So if we can keep improving and we can keep a strong mentality, understand what games this time of year are about, then we feel like we can have a lot still to say in terms of what goes on from here on in."
Toronto's top scorer is also ailing, as veteran forward Jozy Altidore (10 goals) is hindered by a quadriceps strain. He could miss his third straight game.
Toronto routed NYCFC 4-0 at home on March 29. Midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo had two goals, while Altidore and midfielder Jay Chapman each added one.
--Field Level Media
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