Preview: New York Red Bulls vs Toronto FC

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

By MARK FISHKIN
Staff Writer

Two weeks removed from their US Open Cup flameout, the Red Bulls return to MLS play Friday Night at Red Bull Arena, where the club is a less-than-impressive 2-2-2 on the season.  New York will surely be rested, and will benefit from the return of Thierry Henry from BBC hosting duties and Tim Cahill from the Australian National Team. The club will still be without Roy Miller (in Brazil with Costa Rica) and the injured Dax McCarty

New York’s opponent is Toronto FC, who whipped the Red Bulls 2-0 away on May 17th and is unbeaten in four. 

Can Mike Petke restart the MLS on a good note?  His club is a notorious slow-starter after long layoffs.

Match Information:  Friday, June 26th at Red Bull Arena, 8:00p ET kickoff, TV: MSG
Referee: Hilario Grajeda

Record, GF/GA, Division and League Position, Recent Form:
New York, 18 points from 15 matches, 22GF/22GA, t5st in the East, t11th in MLS, LLLDW
Toronto, 19 points from 11 matches, 15GF/13GA, 4th in the East, 10th in MLS, LWDWW

Toronto’s front line vs. the Red Bulls defense:
Jermaine Defoe and Gilberto vs. Bobby Convey, Armando, Jamison Olave, and Chris Duvall (and Luis Robles).
Defoe continues to be the man up front for TFC.  His seven goals represent 48 percent of Toronto’s goals for the season, and despite his home nation’s failure to advance in Brazil, Defoe will continue to prove to the English public that he was worthy of a spot on the Three Lions. Defoe scored in Toronto’s win over New York in May.  Gilberto continues to underwhelm North of the border, with only two assists to his name in nine appearances for Toronto. This despite firing the second most shots on the team. New York continues to look for answers in the backline, which conceded three goals to a minor league side the last time out.  Convey continues to fill in for Miller on the left, while Olave attempts to make up for Armando’s miscues.  Duvall has locked down right back duties for New York, keeping higher-paid veterans Kimura and Eckersley firmly on the bench.  Robles plays for the first time since shutting out New England in Foxboro.  The New York keeper has three shutouts in fifteen matches in 2014. 
Advantage: Toronto

New York’s attackers vs. the TFC defense:
Thierry Henry and Bradley Wright-Phillips vs. Justin Morrow, Doniel Henry, Steven Caldwell, and Mark Bloom (and Joe Bendik).
Thierry Henry’s fitness will surely be in doubt after a spell with the BBC over the last three weeks, but even at seventy percent, he (3g/5a) can be a meaningful contributor against Toronto.  The Reds stopped Wright-Phillips’ torrid scoring streak when the two clubs met in May, but BWP continues to lead MLS in scoring (11g). TFC’s defense has been much improved this season, allowing just a bit more than a goal per game, and 6’1” homegrown centerback Doneil Henry is a big reason why. Paired with Scottish defender Steven Caldwell, the pairing has allowed four goals in the club’s last four MLS matches, including two shutouts.  Bendik continues to mind Toronto’s net with Julio Cesar with Brazil in the knockout stages. While very unlikely to happen, it still remains unknown if the starting keeper will return to Canada after the World Cup, but Bendik has been in the net for the Canadian Club’s current 3-0-1 run.  Both Morrow and Bloom have chalked up a single assist this season.
Advantage: Even

The Midfields:
Eric Alexander, Peguy Luyindula, Ibrahim Sekagya and Lloyd Sam vs. Jonathan Osorio, Kyle Bekker, Collen Warner, and Jackson.
New York’s midfield will try to account for the absence of McCarty by slotting defender Sekagya in front of the backline, which worked to limited success against New England.  Alexander starts on the left, but may be spelled for Jonny Steele if things don’t mesh well.   Sam will be rested, and hoping to continue his good form. His sixth assist of the season came last time out in New England, and was the Englishman’s first assist in a month.  Luyindula has three goals for New York in 2014, but zero assists, which is curious for a central midfielder.  Tim Cahill may come on late in an attacking mid or at forward. TFC continues to solider on without Captain Michael Bradley.  Newcomer Collen Warner was recently acquired from Montreal and has gone the full ninety in two matches in a Reds shirt.  Homegrown Kyle Bekker has neither a goal nor assist this season, but MLS vet Jackson has scored once in 2014.  Osorio has a single assist for Toronto.  Dywane DeRosario is first off the bench. Slight
Advantage: New York

The Coaches:
Mike Petke frustrated his fan base with the direction he gave his team in the Open Cup loss on June 24th.  By starting a lineup of near-starters, the Red Bulls coach gave the fans hope that team would prevail.  However, after asking his team to simply pop the ball forward on Long Island and avoid injury in a three-nil loss, one wonders why Petke would even play the top players?  The Red Bulls’ coach has surely had a tough sophomore season, and his team has lacked consistency and execution this year. Ryan Nelsen has a short-handed team playing well in MLS.  While TFC missed in the Canadian Championship, a four-match unbeaten streak is impressive considering the players missing from the Toronto starting lineup.
Advantage: Toronto

Intangibles:
Toronto ended a ten-match unbeaten streak against New York on May 17th.  Still, the Red Bulls have a 10-5-4 all-time record against TFC, and are 7-1 against the Reds at home.  Henry (4) and Cahill (2) are the only current Red Bulls with more multiple all-time goals against TFC.  On a World Cup rest day, and a month from their last home match, the Red Bulls are expecting a large crowd in Harrison.  Friday’s weather will be perfect, with seventy-three degrees and partly-cloudy skies. 
Advantage: Even

Prediction:
Mike Petke has an opportunity to put the Red Bulls’ middling start to the season behind them Friday at Red Bull Arena.  With three of the next five matches at home, and with Henry and Cahill returning, the club should be in good spirits, but issues on the back line continue to dog the Red Bulls.  Toronto comes to Red Bull Arena full of confidence, but after a long layoff, any outcome is possible.  In a restart to the season, this one ends in a 2-2 draw.