Toronto FC, who were well on their way to another deflating and disappointing season after a winless start to 2012, have been given a lift by a complete midseason managerial turnover that has found former Steve Nicols assistant Paul Mariner at the helm. An inspired Mariner-led TFC has taken a more offensive turn, scoring eight goals in their last three matches and earning a respectable 1-1-2 record under the former Ipswich forward.
It may not be enough to signify a complete turn in their season’s fortunes, but it is a sign of recovery – a dangerous scenario if you are the visiting New York Red Bulls.
“They have changed their playing style, much more direct now. Physically stronger,” Head Coach Hans Backe noted. “I think in the beginning of the season when they lost a lot of games, they were quite unlucky. The number of chances they had at the end of games and not finishing and losing. They are better than where they are now and perhaps they start showing it in these two tied games, beating Philly. It will be a tough one away definitely.”
Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry agrees. “Right now, going to play at Toronto is going to be a difficult task for us,” he said. “We are going to have to try to work hard, be compact like we have been recently. It’s going to be difficult.
“I hope people are not expecting us to go out there and kill them because it wont be an easy game, we all know that.”
Henry has studied the changes for Toronto and knows the state of the Red Bulls backline. The combination could be a dangerous one for the visitors. “I wont say they are the team of the moment, but they are playing way better,” he noted. “(Danny) Koevermans is getting some service so obviously now he can put the ball in the back of the net.”
Rafa Marquez has been ruled out of the match after picking up a strained calf during the DC United victory last week. He will join the injured ranks along with starting centerbacks Wilman Conde and Markus Holgersson, putting the heart of New York’s defense in a precarious position.
Though concerning on paper, the loss of talent no longer effects Backe, who has been dealing with a mix and match lineup all year long. “We have problems without centerbacks with Markus, Conde and Rafa but still Stephen Keel is in, Tyler Ruthven is in, Heath Pearce is playing well as a centerback. It’s only a couple of games and they’ll be back,” he said. “It helps with the depth we have now.”
Also missing from the lineup are Teemu Tainio, who’s status continues to be up in the air, Mehdi Ballouchy, who cannot travel outside of the country with restrictive Green Card issues, and Jose Angulo who has been out over a month now.
Not all the news is grim. Speedy wing threat Dane Richards is set to return after serving a yellow card suspension while Thierry Henry also seems on the verge of 100% health. Coach Backe anticipates the team captain to go “70-90″ minutes against TFC.