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Know Your Enemy: New York Red Bulls – Meeting the First – Part One, The Lineup and The Form

The first half of the latest installment of the Know Your Enemy series, previewing TFC's upcoming opponent, the New York Red Bulls, ahead of Saturday's match

Nearly every picture of Jesse Marsch available has him either complaining towards a referee or hugging a player - so expect some of that on the weekend
Nearly every picture of Jesse Marsch available has him either complaining towards a referee or hugging a player - so expect some of that on the weekend
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Last weekend's lost against Sporting KC was a set-back; there's no denying that.

Beyond that indisputable fact, it was the frustration of it all that was most irksome. Toronto FC looked sluggish and slow, second to everything and were disjointed in attack.

Now seems a good time to recall that one match, one turgid performance, does not a season make.

Despite that fumble, the club still sit well-positioned, in fourth in the East on 31 points from 22 matches. Comfortable is not the word; stable comes to mind.

And they will have a chance to dispel any fears immediately (or compound them, depending on the result) with another high-profile Eastern clash up next on the docket.

Thus far the season has broken nicely into segments: the road trip, the home stand, another month (more-or-less) away. For the remaining two-plus months there are similarly three obvious segments ahead: a pair of home matches to close August, a congested start to September with a pair of road matches away to tricky opponents, before a final stretch of five-straight home matches ahead of the finish line in Montreal.

The obvious exclusion to that description is this weekend's match, which is an outlier, perhaps better fused with the muddled summer that has been the past seven weeks.

That is not to say the result does not matter, all of them do; more that it is far from crucial or determinative.

Toronto will be eager to put a turbulent summer in the rear-view, hoping for a more fortuitous and winning fall. The quest begins on Saturday in New York.

A closer look at this weekend's opponent, the New York Red Bulls, is in order.

The Lineup

Aside from the departure of Thierry Henry, a player not easily replaced, the big news out of the Red-half of New York in the off-season was the surprise shake-up at the front office that saw Ali Curtis come in as Sporting Director and remove Mike Petke from his coaching position, replacing him with Jesse Marsch.

It was not a popular move. Petke, having worn the club's jersey as a player, was a hero amongst the fan-base, who did not take the decision without protest – those town halls were lively.

But flash forward several months, with New York sitting high in the standings, and it may not have been as strange a decision as it seemed.

Replacing Henry is nigh impossible and he was joined headed out the door by a full fifteen other players, nearly a full make-over.

Tim Cahill too ended his time, and a raft of familiar names. Bobby Convey, Saer Sene, Kosuke Kimura, Ibrahim Sekagya, and former Red, Richard Eckersley, all had options declined – so too did Damien Perrinelle, but he re-signed thereafter.

Jamison Olave was traded back to Salt Lake, while Eric Alexander and Ambroise Oyongo were packaged to Montreal in exchange for Felipe, who Marsch first brought to the Impact.

A flurry of squad players too exited, including Armando and Ruben Bover, while Peguy Luyindula retired. Ryan Meara was bizarrely loaned to NYC FC and Dane Richards, who signed on a free, has been sent to Indy Eleven on loan.

With the cupboard nearly bare, Marsch set about building his squad.

Sal Zizzo was brought in from City in a trade after he was selected in the Expansion Draft, homegrown Sean Davis was signed, as were trio of SuperDraft picks.

The real additions began with Felipe at the end of January.

Perrinelle and Andrew Jean-Baptiste were added the same day (though the latter was waived in June), as too was Ronald Zubar, an experienced defender with Ligue 1 and EPL spells on his resume. He appears to have played with Benoit Cheyrou at Marseille, but has been limited in minutes, dealing with a quad injury.

The very next day Marsch and Curtis made the big splash, bringing back US International and former Chivas USA midfielder Sacha Kljestan from Anderlecht; a coup, no doubt.

Under the radar, the Red Bull brain-trust continued to make some clever additions: Mike Grella was signed on a free, a former TFC draft pick (Mo knows gems) who spent some time with Leeds United before floating around a variety of lower league clubs; Karl Ouimette, a solid but young defender deemed surplus to requirement by Frank Klopas at Montreal; Anatole Abang, a big, rangy forward, from the imaginatively-named Rainbow FC (or FC Rainbow Bamenda) in his native Cameroon; and finally, Kemar Lawrence, a fleet-footed left-back who transferred from Jamaica's Harbour View FC – snatched up before lighting the Gold Cup and MLS on fire.

That was not the end, as they have continued to add pieces, including the re-signing of Marius Obekop, who had his optioned declined in December, and picking up Anthony Wallace, a defender with MLS experience on a free.

Recently, they made use of the summer window to bring in Shaun Wright-Phillips, reunited with his brother Bradley, and a second DP in Argentine midfielder Gonzalo Veron, who made a cameo debut on Sunday in the New York derby. Apparently Kljestan is not one, but Bradley Wright-Phillips is after his goal-scoring exploits last season.

It is awkward to say a team that lost footballing legends Henry and Cahill is better than it was with them in the fold..

Ahead of Saturday's encounter New York has two injury concerns, long term ones at that, with the aforementioned Zubar and Chris Duvall, who suffered a broken tibia in the US Open Cup against the New York Cosmos on July 1st unavailable.

Red Bull will be forced into at least one change, as Perrinelle was the object of a Disciplinary Committee decision for his rabbit-punch on Jefferson Mena on the weekend – he will miss their next two games.

The projected lineup is as follows: Luis Robles in goal; from right to left – Connor Lade, Matt Miazga, Karl Ouimette, and Kemar Lawrence across the back; Felipe and Dax McCarty will shield the back-four with Lloyd Sam, Sacha Kljestan, and Mike Grella further afield; Bradley Wright-Phillips will top the formation.

football formations

The front six has been remarkably consistent, which is not to say there are not plenty of options, but the back-line has seen some plenty of variation over the season.

Injury has them a little thin at the moment, but Wallace is an option on the left, as too is Roy Miller, and the awesomely-named Shawn McLaws.

In midfield, Davis brings energy and that youthful exuberance – he netted a brace in New York's surprise defeat against Chelsea – to the middle of the park, while Zizzo, Obekop, and the recently-acquired Shaun Wright-Phillips are all options that tend to shade to the left of the attack. Not that that matters particularly when one considers the fluidity New York throws at opponents – plenty of switching and swapping of roles.

It is unlikely that Veron will dislodge anyone, but expect to see him get some minutes from the bench; the same could be said of Abang.

The Form

Under Marsch, New York has surged to the top of the Eastern Conference, trailing only DC United, to sit firmly in second place on 36 points from 22 matches; thanks, in part, to their strong home form, winning six and drawing two of ten matches. On the road, they have split results, fours in every column.

Their season began with an unexpected unbeaten run, lasting seven matches before a first loss at the start of May, falling in New England against a then red-hot Revolution side on short rest.

They would rebound with the first of three wins over local rivals New York City, taking the initial derby at home, before drawing away to Dallas the following round.

That match set off a four-game losing slide that saw them drop points at home against Philadelphia and Vancouver, book-ending losses away to Seattle and Houston. Though, they did win a US Open Cup fixture against the Atlanta Silverbacks in that stretch.

New York got back to winning ways four days after the Vancouver loss – a match that saw Bradley Wright-Phillips have two penalty kicks saved by David Ousted – by beating Salt Lake 1-0 on a goal from Grella in the 4th minute.

Following that up with another derby win away to City, taking the match 1-3 – Tommy McNamara opened the scoring in the 6th minute, but the Red Bulls responded with three in the second half from Wright-Phillips, Duvall, and Miazga – the Red Bulls carried that momentum into another Open Cup derby, dispatching the Cosmos 4-1, only to drop the next league match away to Columbus 2-1. Abang gave them an early lead, but an Ethan Finlay brace turned the result.

A week on they hammered New England 4-1 – scoring three goals inside of twelve minutes (a Wright-Phillips brace and another from Sam) before Andy Dorman and Wallace exchanged strikes – and then added a second-straight with a 0-2 win in Orlando. Kljestan and Grella providing the ammunition, aided by a later-rescinded Cyle Larin red card.

Once more short rest doomed them three days later, dropping out of the cup in a shootout against Philadelphia, but New York made it three wins in a row in the league with a vengeful 1-3 victory at the Union after a rest. Kljestan scored from the spot, only for Sebastian Le Toux to respond. Wright-Phillips retook the lead less than a minute later and Abang rounded it out in stoppage-time.

A 1-1 midweek draw in Montreal – Dominic Oduro and Sam exchanging blows – and a 2-0 win over City – on goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips and Felipe – have the Red Bulls riding a five-match unbeaten run into Saturday.

Toronto has quite the challenge ahead of them.