Mike Stobe - Getty Images for New York Red Bu
Scouting the New York Red Bulls, the form, the likely lineup, the threats and the areas to exploit. Also, for fun, video of Thierry Henry getting frustrated by handball calls going against him.
A tidy midweek win in El Salvador ensured there will remain some intrigue for Toronto FC fans until at least the penultimate fixture of the season - against Santos Laguna on October 24th.
But what allure for these few - four to be exact - MLS matches that litter the next month?
The playoffs have passed them by - a pipe dream for the sixth straight season. The pleasure of playing spoiler to sides still in the hunt for the post-season will ring hollow to fans and players alike. All while the spectre of season ticket turmoil and another roster rebuild looms large on the horizon.
For the players, many will have their career and a spot in the side for next season at the forefront of their minds; but what of the fans?
These four games are a bitter reminder of the failure that has plagued the franchise since its inception, but in all disappointments there lays a shred of redemption. With the turning of the calendar comes a new season, a new hope.
New York, DC, Montreal, and Columbus: each a contender - for the moment at least - and each roughly the closest - geographically-speaking - competitors and two very much rivals.
First up: the star-studded Red Bulls.
Three months have passed since Toronto and New York last met; a closer look at the Red Bulls is in order.
Imperious at home and vulnerable on the road; it has been a season of contrasts for Hans Backe's New York.
Until September 19th - their most recent home match - New York had gone the entire campaign, without losing at home, amassing a record of ten wins and three draws over that spell, but Sporting KC put an end to that run of domination with a 0-2 win on early goals from CJ Sapong and Kei Kamara.
Away from the comforts of Jersey, the Energy Drink have found victories more difficult to come by - winless in their last nine league matches away, though five of those have ended in draws, including the last three - at New England, DC, and Sporting KC.
New York, with fifty points, find themselves firmly positioned for the post-season - third place in the East with four matches remaining - though dropped results to KC and New England have all but shattered their hopes of topping the Conference or chasing down the Supporter's Shield.
A slight gap has opened between New York and the trailing pack - four points on Houston, five on Columbus and a full ten over a fading Montreal.
Coming into the match against Toronto off the back of a dramatic 1-1 tie in New England, a fixture that saw the two exchange headed goals in stoppage time - from Joel Lindpere and Darius Barnes - New York will look to secure an easy three points before difficult home games against Chicago and KC, before travelling to Philadelphia in the final round of the season.
The Red Bulls looked in line to pick up their first win at Gillette Stadium in seventeen matches, despite being down a man after Connor Lade was sent off - a run dating back to 2002 - when Lindpere prodded home a header from a bouncing ball after Tim Cahill went up for a Wilman Conde right-sided cross with Bobby Shuttleworth and AJ Soares in the 91st minute.
But with their final move up the field, the Revolution launched a long ball towards the box, the challenged clearance fell to Kelyn Rowe on the right, he laid it back to Ryan Guy, who crossed a final attempt toward the six yard box, where Barnes rose highest to nod in an equalizer in the 95th.
Injuries have robbed New York of the ability to field a consistent lineup throughout the season. Long layoffs for Rafa Marquez, Wilman Conde, Teemu Tainio, Heath Pearce to mention a few has resulted in Backe constantly tinkering with his starting eleven.
The projected lineup is as follows: Bill Gaudette in goal; from right to left - Brandon Barklage, Marcus Holgersson, Heath Pearce, and Wilman Conde across the back; Joel Lindpere, Dax McCarty, Teemu Tainio, and Jan Gunnar Solli in midfield; and Tim Cahill playing off the shoulder of Thierry Henry up top.
Gaudette is nursing back troubles and rookie keeper Ryan Meara is still recovering from season-ending hip surgery, so there is a slight possibility that recently acquired Luis Robles, returning to MLS from a spell in Germany, could make his debut for the club.
Lade is suspended for his red card in New England, so Barklage, who has featured in recent reserve matches and the final eleven-plus minutes against the Revolution, should return to the right-back position he so excelled at in midseason.
Marquez is again out with another muscle problem, his season has been hampered by numerous issues, limiting him to twelve appearances and under eight hundred minutes this season. His absence will allow McCarty to return to his more natural central position from the right flank where he has looked out of sorts in recent matches.
Kenny Cooper, despite fourteen goals on the season, has been relegated to the bench of late and has only tallied one goal in the last two months of play.
New signing, Englishman Lloyd Sam, has looked sharp in his two substitute appearances, providing some much needed width to the attack and could be handed his first start against lowly TFC, though he will more likely remain a sub.
Costa Rican International, Roy Miller, has been glued to the sidelines since a woeful showing against Portland last month, but could feature if Conde's recurring injury troubles have resurfaced after a strong run of performances out of position at left-back.
When the two last met - playing out a relatively dour 1-1 draw at BMO Field, Toronto was riding a run of good form that arrived with the installation of Paul Mariner as head coach. Oh, how times have changed.
The match began quickly with Solli opening the scoring in the 4th minute, redirecting a right-sided Barklage cross to the back-post with a simple touch, helping the ball on towards the far-side past Milos Kocic in goal. Jeremy Hall's marking was atrocious, allowing the midfielder/outside defender a free run at the wonderful service provided by Barklage.
Toronto answered quickly with a powerful Danny Koevermans header from a right-sided Torsten Frings out-swinging corner kick two minutes later. Meara in the New York goal could do nothing to prevent the equalizer, Solli victimized by the aerial ability of the big Dutchman.
Three minutes later, a spot of controversy: Reggie Lambe harried a turnover out of Pearce and ran towards the Red Bull area down the left-channel. Conde had no choice but to pull back the attacker, who stayed on his feet, even managing a weak shot towards goal that was eventually cleared by a sliding Conde.
Even the Red Bull announcers, including colour commentator and former Cosmos keeper, Shep Messing were surprised by the lack of a call by the referee, which could have been a red card, as Conde was the last man at the time of contact. Mariner mused post-match that Lambe was punished for being too honest and not embellishing the foul at the time, as many other, perhaps more veteran, players would.
The two exchanged half-chances for the rest of the match: a quickly taken Henry free kick sailed over the bar; a Barklage cross from the right may have skinned a touch off Cooper before striking the base of the far-post; a Frings free kick from the right was flicked inches wide of the near-post by Koevermans; a Nick Soolsma cross to the back-post was headed back into the middle by Ryan Johnson, but Stephen Keel cleared moments before Koevermans arrived on the scene.
The highlight of the second half was likely a brilliant recovering tackle from Logan Emory on Lindpere. Crunch.
Solli's marking on Koevermans was horrid all match; sadly it seems unlkely that Eric Hassli will be fit to take advantage of that here.
Thierry Henry, that is all.
Henry is too often left shaking his head at the decision making of his teammates; Toronto should count themselves lucky that Marquez's absence robs the Frenchman of one of the other players with his game intelligence.
Though that does leave Cahill, who has been finding his feet in the league. His aerial dominance continues to amaze.
The New York defense was repeatedly shredded by Montreal in their recent meeting at Stade Saputo. Whether Marco Di Vaio looking to break the offside trap, tidy ball movement around the box, or diagonal or over the top through-balls, the lack of pace in the back-line is a weakness Toronto should look to exploit with Luis Silva, Ryan Johnson, Quincy Amarikwa, and Reggie Lambe in attack.
That general slowness was exposed against Portland, where the Timbers' blistering counterattacks allowed them a surprise, two-goal lead in the first half-hour.
Early goals have been a concern and Toronto should look for a bright start. Attacks from wide areas and set-pieces too, have troubled the Red Bulls for much of the season.
In an interesting twist of fate that would surely make Darren O'Dea smile, twice - against Seattle and Portland - Henry has been left incredulous at non-hand-ball calls.
The pitch at Red Bull Arena was coming up in chunks very easily vs. KC; TFC should wear long studs and be prepared.
First five thousand fans through the door will receive a free Thierry Henry tee-shirt.
NB - This preview was posted prior to the release of the Friday injury report, should any amendments be required, they will be noted in the comment section later.