Preview: New York Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by MARK FISHKIN

After coming up short of the MLS Cup for a second straight season, the New York Red Bulls start their 21st campaign with a remarkably similar squad than the one that took the Supporters Shield in 2015.

Ten of the starting eleven return to the squad, including newcomer Ghanaian International Gideon Baah, who takes the place of the departed Matt Miazga.  Coach Jesse Marsch says that the chip is still securely on the shoulder of the squad as they attempt to improve on the best regular season record in club history. The first test on this year’s slate is a familiar opponent: Toronto FC, who come to Harrison with reigning league MVP, Sebastian Giovinco.

Can New York start the season on the right foot?


Match Information:

Sunday, March 6th at Red Bull Arena. 1:30p ET kickoff
TV/Streaming: MSG/MSG GO (for Optimum and Xfinity subscribers)
Red Bulls Radio: TuneIn App and www.newyorkredbulls.com/matchday/radio
Referee: Allen Chapman

2015 Regular Season Record, GF/GA, Division and League Position
New York, 60 points from 34 matches, 62GF/43GA, 1th in the East, 1th in MLS
Toronto, 49 points from 34 matches, 58GF/58GA, 6th in the East, 10th in MLS


Projected Lineups

New York

RBNY for TFC

Toronto

TFC for RBNY

New York’s front line vs. the TFC defense:
Bradley Wright-Phillips and Mike Grella vs. Justin Morrow, Drew Moor, Damien Perquis, and Mark Bloom (and Clint Irwin).

Much has been made about Jesse Marsch’s “Plan B” formation; a 4-2-2-2 that features a second striker to give two-time club scoring leader Bradley Wright-Phillips some relief. With Gonzalo Veron sidelined with a hamstring injury, 2015 revelation Mike Grella gets the start up top. Grella, the odd man out with Veron’s ascendance, will look to show Marsch that he belongs in the starting XI each week.  Toronto’s backline gave up the most goals in the league last season, but made significant upgrades in the offseason by bringing in Colorado veterans Drew Moor and keeper Clint Irwin. Morrow and Bloom are holdovers, as is Polish international Damien Perquis, who is hoping to improve on his poor debut season.

Advantage: New York


 

Toronto’s attackers vs. the Red Bulls’ defense:
Jonathan Osorio, Sebastian Giobvinco, and Tsubasa Endoh vs. Kemar Lawrence, Gideon Baah, Ronald Zubar, and Sal Zizzo (and Luis Robles).

Danger, thy name is Sebastian Giovinco. The Atomic Ant blew the league away in 2015, racking up 22 goals and an incredible 16 assists, including a maze-y run that confounded the Red Bulls defense at BMO field last fall.  With Jozy Altidore out with an injury, Jonathan Osorio will start on the left. Osorio’s goal scoring totals have dropped steadily over his MLS career (5 to 3 to 1) though his assist totals have increased each season (1 to 4 to 7).  On the right will be Tsubasa Endoh, the ninth pick in this year’s Superdraft, who scored 12 times over his four seasons at Maryland.  Obviously the biggest question facing the Red Bulls this season is in central defense, where 24 year-old Gideon Baah, with the team for less than a month, gets the his first MLS start.  Baah’s partnership with Ronald Zubar will dictate New York’s success over the first part of the season, with Damien Perrinelle not due back and healthy in Harrison until May.  Marsch has an embarrassment of riches on the defensive wings, with two quality choices on each side. The New York coach will run out Kemar Lawrence on the left (ahead of Connor Lade) and Sal Zizzo on the right (ahead of a healed Chris Duvall).  Luis Robles’ 59.4 winning percentage is the 6th highest all-time in league history.

Advantage: Toronto


 

The Midfields
Sacha Kljestan, Dax McCarty, Felipe, and Lloyd Sam vs Benoit Cheyrou, Michael Bradley, and Will Johnson.

New York’s new formation means one less Red Bull in the center of the park, with Kljestan sent out left to link between Lawrence and Grella. In fact, the Seton Hall man has free reign to roam around the attacking half, creating changes for his forward players.  Lloyd Sam is coming off his best MLS season to date (10G/7A). Captain McCarty looks to improve on his Best XI season, while the durable Felipe looks to start all 34 matches for the second straight season.  As Michael Bradley goes, so goes Toronto FC. The center mid will miss time for World Cup qualifiers and Copa America this year, and will look to make as much hay as possible before he departs. While he may not smile on Sunday, Bradley will be energized playing in front of his home New Jersey crowd.  Toronto native Will Johnson is another of TFC’s new players. The former RSL and Portland winger played only 12 matches in 2015 due to injury.  On the left is Benoit Cheyrou, the former French youth international starting his second MLS campaign.

Advantage: New York


 

The Coaches:

2015 MLS Coach of the Year Jesse Marsch has a nearly perfect debut season on the banks of the Passaic, picking up Petke’s pieces and forging a new identity for the club.  Marsch has correctly identified the need to be flexible when things aren’t working, and has built some wrinkles into his formation.  He will push his team to improve on the best season in club history, and his players once again appear to be all in.  Toronto’s coach Greg Vanney was able to do what his eight predecessors couldn’t: land a playoff berth. However, TFC flamed out in their first postseason match, conceding three times before halftime and crashing out at chief rival Montreal.  Vanney has better, veteran tools this year, and many pundits are picking the Reds to be a force in the East this year.  However, The Toronto coach has to prove he can do better than sixth place.

Advantage: New York


Intangibles:

New York, frankly, owns Toronto FC when playing at home, racking up a 9-1-1 home record against the Reds since Toronto entered the league in 2007, outscoring TFC 31-7 in those matches. Toronto’s lone win at New York came in 2008. The Red Bulls beat the Reds three-nil in the TFC’s only visit to Red Bull Arena last season. New York is opening the season at Red Bull Arena for the first time since 2011 when the Red Bulls beat Seattle one-nil. The Red Bulls are 0-2-2 in season openers since. Last season, New York was 12-3-2 at home, while TFC went 4-10-3 away from BMO Field. New York is 44-10-14 at Red Bull Arena since the start of the 2012 season. Toronto will have 60-70 traveling supporters for the match, however they’ve sanctioned by the league for poor behavior at their playoff match in Montreal last season, so they’ll be without flags or banners. The weather for kickoff will be partly cloudy, with temps in the high forties. They’ll be light precipitation earlier in the morning, which may depress attendance. While not sold out, expect a crowd of twenty-thousand plus for the match.

Advantage: New York

Prediction:

The key matchups for Sunday are Giovinco versus the New York centerbacks, and Michael Bradley against McCarty and Felipe. The first match of the season can see teams starting a bit rusty. New York’s crowd should lift the home team in the early going. Expect goals from Grella and BWP and the Atomic Ant in an entertaining 2-1 New York victory.