The New York Red Bulls roll into Toronto Saturday night on the heels of an emotional home victory over rivals DC United. Toronto, the cellar dwellers of MLS currently on a record of 2-10-2 (1-5-1 at home), won midweek against the Montreal Impact. TFC is 1-0-2 since Paul Mariner took over the club and are looking for their first home win under him.
New York’s attack on Saturday night will certainly be bolstered by the return of its captain Thierry Henry (injury) and right midfielder Dane Richards (yellow card accumulation) but will be without the services of Mehdi Ballouchy (green card issues). The Red Bulls defense, however, is still taking hits on the injury front. News came out of Red Bulls camp on Friday claiming Rafa Marquez and Markus Holgersson would not be in the traveling squad. Marquez, who Backe claims had his best game for the Red Bulls against DC, picked up a thigh injury late in the DC match. Marquez, who will be missing his 12th match this season, had a 94% pass completion rate against DC and was able to calm down New York’s attack. Rafa was a big reason the Red Bulls were able to retain possession and push DC into its own half of the field for the majority of the game. Holgersson, who was recently spotted wearing a boot, can now almost be ruled out for next weekend’s match against New England. Wilman Conde remains questionable but he did travel with the team to Toronto. However, it is very much looking as if NY will field a backline of Barklage, Keel, Pearce, and Miller. Hans Backe believes the lack of consistency, especially on defense, to be frustrating. He is extremely happy in the way the role players have stepped up and he is very surprised in the way some of them are playing. Red Bull fans believe Miller should be benched for a couple of games in favor of Connor Lade at left back. With Richards returning to the lineup, Solli could move over to the left wing. Backe could disappoint us by playing Solli on the left wing, Miller at left back, and Lade on the bench.
TFC comes into the match having scored eight goals in their last three games, nine in their last five, but only 16 on the entire season while conceding 28 goals. Danny Koevermans and Ryan Johnson have been the most productive players with Koevermans scoring five goals in the last goals and Johnson scoring in his last two matches. With Torsten Frings healthy and in the midfield, Mariner can have a lethal team. The key matchup of this game will be Torsten Frings and Dax McCarty. Toronto is in its second consecutive week of two games a week and continues the trend next week so they could look to bunker in late if legs become heavy. There are flaws the Red Bulls can exploit and Thierry Henry knows it. “They’ve been playing way better, scoring goals but also conceding goals,” Henry told the media. Both Henry and Backe believe they cannot take Toronto lightly and told fans not to expect a thumping. In the last five games, Toronto has a 2-1-2 record but it is the two draws that stand out. After going up 3-1 against Houston and 2-0 against New England, Toronto escaped both games with only a point.
New York is finally looking complete in their offensive threat this season. Through the 2011 MLS season, New York barely scored on corners and their defense could not find the back of the net outside of own goals. Heath Pearce has to be given some credit as he has truly changed not just the defense, but also the entire team for the better. With Henry returning to the fold, New York can play the ball on the ground to both him and Cooper, allowing them to run the offense up the middle. Sure with the likes of Richards, Solli, Lindpere, and Lade wide, New York will have service through crosses from the flanks but it won’t be forced or as frequent. If New York starts to hit balls from the side consistently, Henry will be sure to drop into the midfield and will look for the midfield and Cooper to make positive runs.
With Chicago picking up a vital three points at the expense of Sporting Kansas City, the Red Bulls need to put Toronto to the sword early. They’ve gone on the road into rougher environments and picked up three points. Saturday should be no different for the Red Bulls.
(image courtesy of newyorkredbulls.com)