Just when one thinks it can’t get any worse… that happens… the less said about it the better.
Toronto FC return to their home field on Saturday afternoon with a match against New York.
Red Bull, adorned with their high-profile talent, have looked good in recent weeks. Well, perhaps that is a bit of an overstatement. They have looked good at home; the road is an entirely different story.
Therein lies a glimmer of hope, one made dull by Toronto’s home struggles – they last won by Lake Ontario on July 18 of last season (in the league, having beaten CD Aguila in the Champions league and Montreal in the Voyageurs Cup).
But fret not, it’s only a game after all, and, despite all available signage to the contrary, anything can happen.
Much of what was written prior to the last meeting in April still rings true – Parts One and Two, but still a closer look at New York is in order.
New York enter the match on a high, having dismantled Montreal 4-0 last Saturday at Red Bull Arena. Their midweek Friendly against Olympique Lyon of Ligue 1 (France, just in case) ended amicably in a diplomatic 2-2 draw.
Since that April meeting New York has a record of five wins, two draws, and three losses – all three losses on the road – climbing up to the upper reaches of the Eastern Conference, currently sitting in third in the MLSsoccer.com tables, equal on points – thirty-one – with Montreal (though having played two additional matches) and two points behind conference leaders Kansas City.
The win against TFC was the second of a four-match winning streak that begun with a 4-1thrashing of New England – days removed from the Marathon Bombings and concluded with a 0-1 result in Columbus and a 2-1 win over Montreal.
Fast-forwarding through draws to New England and Columbus, a win over Los Angeles, progression to the Fourth Round of the US Open Cup – they would lose to New England on the grounds of Harvard University – to a loss to Vancouver on June 1.
A Greg Klazura own-goal had put Red Bull in front six minutes into the second half, but Jordan Harvey answered seven minutes on – a sweet volley from a poor Eric Alexander clearance – and Kenny Miller grabbed the winner in the 83rd, cutting in front of Kosuke Kimura to get on the end of a Russell Teibert cross.
It was only New York’s second home loss of the season. Since then they have settled into a neat pattern - shutout in losses on the road, followed by a home win with a clean-sheet. Tidy enough.
New York would be played off the park in Philadelphia, hampered by a 28th minute red card from Lloyd Sam, for a tackle on Danny Cruz, though Conor Casey had already put his side in front. Casey would add a second after half-time and Antoine Hoppenot rounded out the scoring in the 88th.
A week on, back at home, they would rebound with an important, if dull, 2-0 win over Houston, only to follow it up on the road with a dismal July Fourth display in Colorado, falling 2-0 to the Rapids before the fireworks were lit.
A weekend off allowed them to regroup and the 4-0 dismantling of Montreal ensued.
But which New York will emerge from the tunnel on Saturday. Confidence should be high, their record in Toronto is quite good - including an unbeaten run of four, stretching back to 2009 - and BMO ain’t the fortress it was once thought of, but the last match was a close fought affair.
April 27, 2013 -- Tim Cahill would open the scoring in the 39th minute after Steele laid left-back Roy Miller down the left-side. Miller cut inside to pass Ryan Richter, as though he wasn’t there and moved into the box; his low, square pass was dummied by Thierry Henry, falling to the unmarked Cahill above the near-post for a calm left-footed shot to the short-side.
Second half substitute, Jonathan Osorio breathed a spark of life into the listless attack and made the most of the half-chance that fell his way. Darren O’Dea lofted a free-kick into the area, Red Bull keeper, Luis Robles, rushed to the edge of the box to punch, but whiffed. Richter touched the loose ball back to Osorio, who made space for himself by switching onto his left-peg and lifted a wonderful shot in, off the underside of the bar from just outside the box.
But, as to be expected, Toronto would capitulate in the final minute of regular time. A poor Ashtone Morgan clearance fell to Peguy Luyindula, who played out wide to Henry on the left. Henry would hang a ball up towards the back-post, where Cahill rose over Morgan for a powerful downward header towards the bottom right-corner of the goal.
His second of the match – and the season – gave New York a 1-2 win and came fresh off his public spat with Taylor Twellman, who criticized his lack of finish given the price tag he commanded.
They are currently riding an eight-match unbeaten run versus Toronto FC (six wins and two draws) stretching back to the afore-hinted-at 2-0 Toronto win in 2009 – goals from Pablo Vitti and Dwayne De Rosario.
Their projected lineup is as follows: Luis Robles in goal; from right to left – Brandon Barklage, Jamison Olave, Marcus Holgersson, and Kosuke Kimura; Eric Alexander, Dax McCarty, Tim Cahill, and Johnny Steele through the midfield; with Fabian Espindola and Thierry Hendy paired in attack.
There are two major absences from when the two last met. Defender Heath Pearce had hip surgery and will be unavailable, while midfielder Juninho – the Brazilian known for his dead-ball skills – parted ways with the club at the start of the month, mere days before the friendly with one of his former clubs.
Interestingly all of their starters – bar Henry – saw some playing time in Tuesday’s friendly against Lyon. Their minutes were managed and there were no injuries to note, so it should not factor into any decisions for Saturday.
There is a building goalkeeping controversy that could see Ryan Meara step in for Robles. The second-year keeper has recovered from his own hip injury, but has yet to regain the starting spot. Kevin Hartman, who Toronto fans will remember fondly from his days in Dallas, joined the club in a back-up/coaching role. Both featured for half-hour cameos in the friendly.
The New York starting lineup has been pretty set for most of the season, leaving very few minutes for those on the fringes. There is no real reason to alter it for this match, though Peguy Luyindula – who finally scored his first goal for the club from the spot (the fourth against Montreal); Andre Akpan, the speedster Lloyd Sam, and Connor Lade, will all be available and on the bench.
As will Matt Miazga, a highly-touted centre-back recently signed to a homegrown deal; they also added a more experienced centre-back in Ibrahim Sekagya, formerly of sister club, Red Bull Salzburg and one-time captain of the Uganda National Team.
Roy Miller is away with Costa Rica at the Gold Cup.
If Eric Alexander continues the kind of form that decimated Montreal, Toronto and their oft-woeful defending could be in for a tough match.
Toronto’s left-side of defense has struggled – looking at you Ashtone – they will have to be more proactive against Alexander and Espindola.
It goes without saying, given what happened when they last met, that Cahill, his heading abilities, and arrivals late in the box should be watched extremely closely.
Note the pick from Henry on Omar Gonzalez – fittingly in the midst of the NBA playoffs.
As mentioned prior to the last meeting, Espindola’s ability to stretch the play and finish when given the chance is another threat down the right.
And of course, there’s Henry, whose graceful touches…
And powerful finesse…
...pose a constant threat should he be given space and time to cause trouble. He tends to drift into the pockets of space to the attacking left from his striking position. Richard Eckersley will have his hands full.
Thankfully, the departure of Juninho has seen Henry taking a number of corners, meaning his is no longer in the box to cause trouble, though he does deliver a nice ball.
They are dangerous on the counter, as per this late Johnny Steele goal.
But are equally susceptible to getting caught themselves.
They have had difficulty tracking marks and recognizing danger, as well as momentary lapses, or being too casual in possession in troublesome areas, has proved costly.
Colorado’s Deshorn Brown scores at the back-post, streaking in between two defenders after Chris Klute steals onto a miscommunication between McCarty and Kimura.
That flaw is especially evident on ball played from wide positions.
Watch how deftly Kenny Miller cuts in front of Kimura, who shows no awareness of his movement, beating the defender to the cross for the winner.
And Robles’ rebound control is a weak point; Toronto should definitely follow up any shots on target, looking for those juicy rebounds.
For the insider view, check out the latest edition of the Seeing Red New York Soccer Roundup.
Their third and final meeting between the clubs will take place in New York on September 14.