Waking The Red: We know he was evil and mean to Jimmy Nielsen and thus won't be playing in this game, but how's Juninho doing so far this season? An improvement on Rafa Marquez?
Once A Metro: Absolutely, but to be fair an empty roster spot would have been an improvement over Rafa Marquez. Juninho has been fine so far, a little disappointing considering his elite reputation at taking set pieces but his vision in the midfield has been apparent and he has been particularly adept at finding Henry and Espindola with terrific through passes. He plays aggressively and seems to be adapting the physical style of MLS quickly.
Besides a minor injury that kept him out for a week, the only big letdown was his terrible decision to kick a dead ball at Jimmy Nielsen. Channeling his inner-Rafa Marquez, Juninho overreacted to time wasting by the Kansas City goalkeeper in stoppage time of an eventual 1-0 defeat for New York. I don't expect Juninho at 38-years-old to play every minute of every game, but I do expect him to be able to keep his composure as an experienced veteran and not earn unnecessary suspensions that may hurt the team.
WTR: Getting away from the Fancy Dan's, let's talk about a couple of the unheralded Red Bulls. Johnny Steele, fantastic name, the kind of player I like and going through a tough time right now, how big of a role will he play with the Red Bulls this year? Also, Roy Miller, has he redeemed himself yet from his comical early season exploits?
OAM: Jonny Steele and Eric Alexander - a great example of one team's "trash" being another team's treasure. The Red Bulls picked up both of these players on the cheap during the off-season along with Kosuke Kimura. Steele and Alexander have had mixed performances so far but will both be critical pieces to New York's success, at least until the summer when one or both may be bumped for new players arriving. Steele in particular seems to have a particularly solid work rate, and since so much of the attack moving forward does come up the left side where he's been stationed, he'll constantly be engaged with the run-of-play. Conversely, opponents tend to try and exploit Roy Miller's defensive lapses so Steele's ability to provide defensive cover on the left will be just as crucial.
It feels almost surreal to be writing about Roy Miller as a member of the New York Red Bulls. He has been with the club longer than any other player currently on the roster and will likely go down as one of the most polarizing players in team history. A couple of enormous mental lapses early in the season definitely cost the Red Bulls critical points away from home, but after a brief international hiatus he seems to have gotten his head straight and worked his way back into the starting lineup. It probably helped that the play of Heath Pearce and Markus Holgersson hasn't been particularly stunning either. It would be hard to argue that Miller isn't working hard and contributing to the team, but he's still a long ways from redemption in the minds of many Red Bulls fans.
WTR: After a stuttering start to the season, New York seems to be getting it together. Is that due to getting used to a new coach? Also, is Mike Petke the man to finally get New York to do some damage in the playoffs?
OAM: Forgive my rose tinted glasses, particularly coming off a 4-1 thrashing of New England at home last weekend. But considering a brand new rookie coach and a largely overhauled roster, the only truly disappointing result so far was a 3-1 loss away against the Chicago Fire. The Red Bulls are not an elite MLS team, and shouldn't be expected to play like one. I think what you've seen is a change in approach, particularly in the attack, as Petke has essentially abandoned an ambitious 4-3-3 formation for a more efficient 4-4-2.
Speaking of Petke, it's too early to tell if he's the guy who will lead New York to MLS Cup. A lot depends on the team staying relatively injury free and what changes they make during the summer transfer window. As thing stand now, granted it's quite early in the season, I see New York as the fourth best team in the Eastern Conference behind Sporting Kansas City, the Houston Dynamo, and the Montreal Impact. If Petke and assistant coach Robin Fraser can draw from their defensive prowess and work to tighten up the backline, the goals will come and New York shouldn't have a problem competing for their first playoff series victory since 2008.
WTR: Lineup and score prediction?
OAM: Even though Toronto has tied their last four league games and has played well at home so far in 2013, I think that the Red Bulls will be able to take three points from a 2-1 win.
The starting lineup will be, um, interesting with Dax McCarty and Juninho both missing from the midfield, one due to injury and the other because of a Jimmy Nielsen's fish-out-of-water performance. The Red Bulls defensive third will most likely be Roy Miller, Heath Pearce, Jamison Olave, and Brandon Barklage across the backline with Luis Robles in goal. Thierry Henry and Fabian Espindola will feature up top. Who joins Tim Cahill, Johnny Steele, and Eric Alexander in the midfield is up in the air. Depending on whether Petke moves Steele or Alexander into a more central role, you'll likely see the young Spanish winger Ruben Bover or English veteran Lloyd Sam step in. It's also possible that the young Cameroonian Marius Obekop could see an expanded role after he recently made his MLS debut off the bench and showed well in his brief appearance.