Well that was fun, wasn’t it?
A little bit of midweek excitement as Toronto FC strikes the opening blow in their Voyageur’s Cup (Amway Canadian Championship) series against the Montreal Impact with a tidy 2-0 result at BMO Field.
Who could have predicted that Doneil Henry and Andrew Wiedeman would have scored the goals?
Regardless of what some less-invested folks would have you believe, the Wednesday night Canadian contests are constantly one of the more rewarding and engaging matches of the season.
But focus must now return quickly to league play; on Saturday TFC welcome New York into town for their first meeting of the season.
Mike Petke, a former teammate and current friend of Ryan Nelsen, brings with him a Red Bull side hoping to build off some strong performances after having struggled to congeal early in the campaign.
The schedule-makers have been somewhat unkind to Toronto; the opening of the 2013 season has repeatedly pitted them against the class of the league and national rivals, and New York, despite having only eleven points after nine matches, will see that trend continue.
Another hurdle, no problem, but first, a closer look at the upcoming enemy is in order.
Finally confirmed as coach after the club flirted with numerous more internationally-renowned options late in the preseason, Petke has sought to bring together a side comprised of high-priced talent and MLS grafters in a short period of time.
A series of major offseason acquisitions included former Salt Lake duo Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola, Brazilian-Lyon free-kick legend, Juninho, and African-born Frenchman – and long-time friend of Thierry Henry – Peguy Luyindula, most recently of Paris Saint Germain.
Petke has tinkered a little with his first-choice eleven, largely as required by injuries and international duty, but should look to trot out a side consistent with recent matches.
However, late breaking news on Thursday has thrown a wrench into those plans – and this preview – as word that ever-present midfielder, Dax McCarty, suffered a quad tear in training and will miss at least the new two weeks.
McCarty plays such a crucial role that his absence will be a problem.
Their projected lineup for Saturday is as follows: Luis Robles in goal; from right to left – Brandon Barklage, Marcus Holgersson, Heath Pearce, and Roy Miller (Yes, that Roy Miller) across the back; Eric Alexander on the right, Tim Cahill and Jonny Steele – moving in-field from the left frank – in the centre and Ruben Bover in Steele’s usual spot; Fabian Espindola and Thierry Henry should be paired in attack.
Juninho, was issued an additional match suspension after picking up a red card for kicking the ball at Jimmy Nielsen in frustration last Wednesday, as the Kansas City keeper wasted time with impunity – he was eventually booked for it in the 96th minute - and then milked the contact for all it was worth - and then some.
He will be unavailable on Saturday, allowing Cahill to slot into his advanced central midfielder position.
Juninho’s suspension, McCarty’s injury and another to his nominal replacement, draft-pick Ian Christianson, leaves a massive hole in the midfield that will stretch Petke’s wits.
Both Alexander and Steele are capable in the centre of the park, but moving Steele in-field and fielding Bover, a left-sided Spanish attacker who has at least seen some MLS action already, in his place creates the least disruption.
That said, eighteen-year old Cameroonian midfielder, Marius Obekop, who made a brief appearance against Kansas City, looked interesting and Petke may just throw him into the fray. Truth be told, this is uncharted territory for Petke’s tenure and even the most regular observers will likely be guessing until lineups are announced an hour before kickoff.
Luyindula is reportedly nearing a return to fitness, following a hamstring stain, but will likely be held in reserve and introduced from the bench if required.
Most of Petke’s rotation has revolved around finding the proper constitution of the back-line. Olave is currently listed as QUESTIONABLE with a left-knee concern, but could return to the starting eleven if fit, likely in place of Pearce who has been moved from centre-back to left-back on occasion.
Miller’s well-documented implosion at the end of their match in San Jose – first, conceding the go-ahead penalty kick and then bizarrely ensuring the missed attempt was retaken by intentional infringement – is behind him and his return to the lineup after international duty with Costa Rica has seen him impressive and focused.
Kosuke Kimura has seen limited action at either outside back position, while impressive rookies from last season, goalkeeper Ryan Meara, and outside back/wide midfielder Connor Lade, have struggled with injury – hip surgery recovery and plantar fasciitis, respectively – though Lade finally appeared on the bench last weekend.
A handful of players, Andre Akpan – a striker recently acquired from Colorado, Lloyd Sam – an English winger, and Colombian-born draft-pick, Michael Bustamante have seen very limited minutes, if any at all, and more often than not, from the bench.
New York enters the match showing better than the side that went winless through their first four matches.
Late collapses in Portland (3-3) and San Jose (2-1 loss) having held leads in each, a scoreless draw at home against DC - where they dominated but could not find the back of the net, and a 1-0 loss in Montreal, finally gave way to their first win - a 2-1 victory at home over Philadelphia.
McCarty opened the scoring ten minutes into the second half, with a deft, outside of the boot flick applied to a Jonny Steele left-sided cross at the top of the box, banking the attempt in off the inside of the far-post.
Conor Casey leveled eight minutes later, out-battling Holgersson at the near-post to win a long, right-sided throw-in from Sheanon Williams and flick it into the net.
But Thierry Henry outclassed both strikes with his late game-winner. Having come on as a substitute, he collected a chipped pass from Luyindula on the left, controlled it on his thigh before lashing a left-footed shot into the far-netting in one fluid motion.
They dropped their next match the following weekend, 3-1 to Chicago after taking the lead through Olave. The big centre-back tallied his second goal of the season, sweeping in a scrambled corner kick after Juninho’s over-hit service was headed back in by Cahill, and flicked on by Barklage.
Chicago replied with three unanswered goals – a Maicon Santos brace in the final ten minutes after Daniel Paladini beat Robles to a wind-stalled Hunter Jumper cross with a brave header in the final minute of the first half – to extend their home dominance over New York who are now winless in ten visits to the Second City.
The Red Bulls bounced back from that disappointment with a thorough 0-2 win away to Atlantic Cup rivals, DC United, in their second meeting of the season.
Henry opened the scoring after a half hour, collecting a pass from McCarty atop the left-side of the box and stroking a bouncing shot to the far-post that eluded Bill Hamid in goal. Olave added his team-leading third of the season from a Juninho corner kick before the first half ended. Try as they might, DC could not find a way back into the match.
Continuing their pattern of losing every other match – a trend one hopes will continue come Saturday – New York then fell in the first midweek clash of the season, by a solitary goal to Kansas City, when Aurelien Collin beat Olave to a right-sided Graham Zusi corner kick after 13 minutes. It was a chippy affair, that saw six yellow cards and Juninho’s red.
Their sputtering offense, nine goals in eight previous matches, finally clicked last weekend – a trend one hopes will not continue this weekend - with a 4-1 drubbing of New England at Red Bull Arena.
McCarty and Espindola each scored in the first ten minutes, either side of a Barklage own goal, before Henry and Steele doubled their efforts with a goal each in the final ten, taking advantage of the Revolution committing men forward on the counterattack.
McCarty’s was a well-worked bit of play after a blocked corner kick that lead to a low shot from the top of the box; Espindola scored from a fast break up the right, running onto a long ball from Barklage and cutting in on AJ Soares to finish with a low shot across the keeper; Henry raced onto a Steele through-ball and placed another low shot into the far-netting; and Steele finished some textbook breakout lay along the right involving Akpan and Alexander, who unselfishly squared the ball into the centre for a simple tap-in from the Northern Irishman with the hard last name.
The next installment of the Know Your Enemy series, available later today, will look at Tactics and Exploitation, using video clips to focus on how New York scores and how they concede, as well as theorizing on what may transpire in Saturday’s match and some miscellaneous points of interest.
Listen Up: TFC midfielder and repeat goal-scorer Jeremy Hall was a guest of the excellent audio show, Seeing Red: The New York Soccer Roundup this week.
Check it out.