Everybody all thawed out? Ready to watch some football in oh I don't know, actual sunlight? Well break out the sunblock and leave the layers at home, because our third trip to BMO in a week will not require winter gear - rejoice! And if that weren't cause enough for celebration - although really, that would top the list for a lot of fans so far this year as evidenced by the empty seats on Wednesday night - the Reds are coming off a win and who doesn't love to celebrate a win; especially for our long suffering fan base.
For those of you that braved the cold on Wednesday you saw the kids put in a dominant second half (we won't discuss the first half) and come away with a fairly satisfying win over rivals the Montreal Impact. A couple of goals, a win and clean sheet. All helped along by some very nice performances from Doneil Henry and Jonathan Osorio - CanCon can be a good thing. And even though a number of the starting XI that we saw on Wednesday night will likely not see the pitch today, there could be some new faces on the bench.
The performance by some of the lesser used Reds on Wednesday has to be heartening for fans - even if (as many will point out) it was against Montreal's B team - a win is a win, regardless of who you beat. Those same performances are also good for coach Ryan Nelsen as it gives him more options off the bench for league games while we're waiting for reinforcements.
Speaking of, the first touched down in Toronto as TFC made a huge splash by signing Matías Laba on Friday. While he won't be available to play against the Red Bulls, expect to see him in action next Wednesday in the away leg of Voyageurs Cup play or next Saturday vs. the Rapids. But until then - and remember people, temper those expectations - Nelsen will likely go with the same starting lineup that played last Saturday with the expected exception of Ashtone Morgan making his way back into the XI.
In what some viewed as a gamble, Nelsen gave a number of the first team a deserved rest on Wednesday night - most notably team captain Darren O'Dea, keeper Joe Bendik and scorer of goals Robert Earnshaw. A number of the other usual suspects also were rested or subbed in late guaranteeing lots of fresh players for the game against New York. And the Reds will need lots of fresh legs in the coming weeks as there are still four more games to play in the coming ten days - the last three all on the road; not exactly TFC's happy place through the years.
However before heading out on the road Toronto still has to face New York. TFC haven't beaten the Red Bulls at home in close to four years - I'll just let that sink in for a moment - four years. And we won't even speak of that game - you know the one I'm talking about, I still have nightmares about it - and are unbeaten against Toronto in their last 7 meetings.
The Red Bulls, while not world beaters and showing uneven form so far this season, are still not a team to be taken lightly. New York are in a somewhat similar boat as TFC as they are in the midst of a rebuild and have their own rookie coach in (former Nelsen teammate) Mike Petke. They are coming off of a dominant performance last weekend when they trounced the Revolution 4-1, but they've alternated wins and losses over their last 5 games, let's hope that continues.
TFC have been more solid defensively so far this season but will have to be razor sharp to contain the speedy Fabian Espindola and the always dangerous Thierry Henry. Both are more than capable of evading defenders and finding space seemingly at will in the box. O'Dea and the back line will hopefully have reviewed man marking on set pieces over and over again this week in training to cut off any runs that either of these two like to make.
One positive note - for TFC and their fans that is - is the absence of creative midfielder Dax McCarty who suffered a quad tear in training. McCarty is the driving force in New York's midfield - scoring goals but also a key player in breaking up opposition attacks. His absence from Petke's starting XI is a hole that TFC must exploit if they hope to come away from this match with points.
Making that hole in the middle even bigger is suspended midfielder Juninho, who is out after picking up a red card for kicking a ball at Jimmy Nielsen in their last game (although who hasn't wanted to kick a ball at Nielsen?). Also potentially missing is former defender of the year Jamison Olave - which gives more opportunity for Earnshaw and company to break down what has been an inconsistent defence; they are currently tied for last in the MLS for goals allowed.
Like most games this season, the match this afternoon is a winnable one for Toronto provided they keep not only to a smart defensive game, but also see strong play from the midfield and the wings. Former Red Bull (and recent goal scorer) Jeremy Hall has been playing well of late and Luis Silva is starting to show the form he showed in the first part of last season and brought a spark to the game on Wednesday when he entered in the second half. His creativity when he's on his game only serves to highlight how desperately Toronto need to have that to support the attack.
While we're not at the point where we can say this is the turning point for TFC, today's match is one in which there should be few excuses for Nelsen's team. Fielding close to their strongest XI ( for the moment) - even though they are still missing Richard Eckersley which is a slight cause for concern as Ryan Richter is still not convincing on the right - the majority of the first team are well rested and playing in decent weather for once; well - the points are there for the taking.