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Preview: Toronto FC travel to New York with all eyes on a potential debut for Soteldo

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After their Concacaf Champions League exit, Toronto FC’s focus shifts to the MLS with a clash against the New York Red Bulls

TORONTO, Canada—Toronto FC visit the New York Red Bulls on Saturday hoping to bounce back after their disappointing result midweek, as the club crashed out of the Concacaf Champions League. And in case the players needed some added motivation ahead of this weekend’s matchup, they only need to look to their head coach Chris Armas.

Head Coach Chris Armas will have had this day circled in his calendar when the MLS regular season schedule was released. Since parting ways with the Red Bulls in 2020, this will be Armas first visit back to Red Bull Arena, and while picking up his first regular season for his new club will have always been the goal, doing so against his former employer will help make it all the more sweeter.

In TFC’s first two matches of the regular season—a 4-2 loss to Club de Football Montreal and a 2-2 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps—you could excuse the players and the coaching staff for being distracted. In the MLS season opener, the Reds had just come off of an impressive victory against Club León, while against Vancouver, the club was looking ahead to its quarter-final matchup against Cruz Azul. With Tuesday night’s defeat, there’s simply one competition to focus on now: MLS.

There have been areas of TFC’s game that need to be addressed quickly for results to not spiral out of control. Through the opening games, including in the CCL, we’ve seen that this squad can play well and can control games, even without the presence of their designated players. On the defensive side, we’ve also seen that the high-press, controlled-press, whatever you’d like to call it, has worked to good effect, and will likely get better as the season goes on.

However, other parts of their game like set pieces and the lack of consistent and creative attacking threats will need to be addressed. One of these, the set pieces, can be addressed through practices and video sessions. The ineffective defending of set pieces have already been costly this season. TFC were fortunate to salvage a point after going behind by conceding a set piece goal to Vancouver, and in the following game were masters of their own demise, surrendering two set piece goals to Cruz Azul, eventually leading to their CCL exit.

The other painful point for Armas to think about has been the lack of creative options in his side. That’s not to say there aren’t creative players in this squad, they just haven’t been available, or have been available in limited capacity so far this season. The number of injuries early in this season, most notably to Alejandro Pozuelo, has affected this team in exactly the way you might have thought. Without the 2020 MLS MVP, Armas has had to rely on creation by committee, and try as they might, it just hasn’t worked.

Through the team’s first two games in the MLS this year, TFC have scored four goals. A penalty, a Richie Laryea solo effort, a set piece goal, and an extremely fortunate Jonathan Osorio goal against Vancouver.

There does seem to be some help coming as Jozy Altidore appears to be fit again, and should be available for Saturday, according to Chris Armas on Thursday. That being said, he was actually listed as OUT on the Toronto FC injury report due to illness on Friday, so keep an eye there.

Nevertheless, as effective as the American striker is, he likely won’t be the most intriguing option to make a difference to TFC’s offence on Saturday if he is available.

Enter Yeferson Soteldo.

The 23 year-old Venezuelan international was officially unveiled as the club’s third Designated Player on Thursday afternoon. Soteldo, who just finalized his move from Brazilian club Santos, will according to Armas be available for the club on Saturday afternoon.

There are high, very high, expectations of Soteldo before he even steps onto the pitch for his first match as a TFC player. How Armas chooses to introduce the club’s newest Designated Player will be something to watch for on Saturday.

Given that Soteldo was in midseason in Brazil before making the move over, it might be tempting for the Reds head coach to throw Soteldo into the fire and start him right away and hand him the keys to the offence, especially with Pozuelo still unavailable for Saturday’s matchup. Even with limited practice time with his new squad, Soteldo’s quality should markedly help improve TFC’s offence. The coaching staff and the players all seem to be excited by the prospect of what the young Venezuelan can do.

“A player like Yeferson, he’s going to put you on the edge of your seat. Every time he gets the ball, something’s going to happen,” said Armas. “We know he’s a big player, but he’s also a really good person, and this is important to our club. So you combine those things and the fact that he’s a winner, I think it gives us all excitement over here.”

There’s a chance Armas and the coaching staff may opt to slowly introduce the newest Red to ensure that the Venezuelan’s fitness levels are at the levels required, and this might mean that the Reds faithful may only get a glimpse of their new DP.

Soteldo may not be the only player that the coaching staff will want to be careful with. This will be a busy week for the club, as the Reds will be back in action on Wednesday against Columbus, and again next Saturday against the other New York club, New York City FC.

Armas hasn’t opted to rotate his squad too much in the early part of the season and part of this at least will be because of the number of injuries the club has faced. While TFC shouldn’t look past the Red Bulls just yet, smarter man management will be needed to ensure the Reds can field a strong line up in each of the three upcoming games, starting with Saturday.

Game Notes

  • Should TFC’s newest DP, Yeferson Soteldo take to the pitch, look for him to wear the #30 on Saturday.
  • In their two matches last season against the Red Bulls, the Reds managed to pick up a single point (1 D, 1 L).
  • The teams met twice a season ago. Tom Barlow and Brian White netted goals three minutes apart in the first half as the Red Bulls took a 2-1 win at Red Bull Arena on Decision Day (Nov. 8). Earlier, Caden Clark made MLS history as the youngest player to score in his first two games, hitting for the 77th-minute equalizer to leave the teams in a 1-1 draw Oct. 14 at Rentschler Field in Hartford, Conn.
  • The Red Bulls are 13-2-2 all-time in home matches vs. Toronto FC. When TFC took a 2-0 win on March 6, 2016, it was its first win ever at Red Bull Arena. The Red Bulls were 5-0-1 all-time in Harrison before the TFC win; the triumph also snapped an eight-game home undefeated streak for the Red Bulls vs. TFC (7-0-1), which began Oct. 25, 2009.

How to Watch

Opponent: New York Red Bulls
Time: 1 PM EST
Location: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, New Jersey
Channel: TSN 4 / 5