New York Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC: Statement game in the East
Two top Eastern Conference contenders square off.
Put aside the fact that these are two preseason picks to win the Eastern Conference and contend for MLS Cup and there are two storylines that make this game intriguing to watch: How will the New York Red Bulls follow up their 7-0 stomping of NYCFC, and will Sebastian Giovinco go off to make a statement to Italy coach Antonio Conte for leaving him out of the Euro 2016 squad?
Both narratives make this game a potentially explosive one as these teams look to make a positive impression before the Copa America break.
A win in this one would officially pull the Red Bulls out of their early-season hole and put them back in the driver’s seat in the East. The defending Supporters’ Shield winners started to round back into form earlier this month, but last week’s dominant win was as clear an announcement as possible that things are clicking again. New York has now won four of its last six games and Bradley Wright-Phillips has scored five goals with two assists in that stretch.
Perhaps more noteworthy is the Red Bulls have three shutouts in that six-game swing after allowing two goals or more in seven of their first eight games.
Toronto FC will face a tougher task without two of its biggest stars.
Michael Bradley is gone with the U.S. national team for Copa America preparations. Jozy Altidore remains out with a hamstring injury. That leaves Giovinco to carry the load for Toronto FC, which shouldn’t be an issue. It’s also the reason Toronto FC went out to find MLS-experienced players who know how to get results in these types of games. Will Johnson and Drew Moor will be counted on to play bigger roles with Bradley out.
Toronto FC has not won since May 7 and is back out on the road for the first time since their season-opening eight-game swing.
As mentioned above, TFC will be playing with a weakened squad sans Bradley and Altidore. Toronto will be helped, however, by the return of Benoit Cheyrou from a quadriceps injury that has kept him out the last eight games.
With Bradley out, Cheyrou is a contender to step into that central midfield role, though game fitness will likely keep him out of the starting lineup.
Toronto also will welcome the return of Marky Delgado, who started seven games this season but has been held out with a hamstring injury.
Player to Watch: Mike Grella, New York Red Bulls
While Wright-Phillips is the big-name goal-scorer, the Red Bulls are usually at their best when they get strong play from the wingers.
Grella, in particular, has been a big influence on New York’s turnaround so far.
The former Duke standout has three goals and two assists in the last six games, and his energetic play on the touchlines has ramped up the Red Bulls’ attack. When Grella and Lloyd Sam are creating issues on the outside it opens up room for Sacha Kljestan and Wright-Phillips in the middle of the field.
Against a Toronto FC team that is strong through the middle of the park, Grella’s ability to beat defenders 1-v-1 on the outside could be the match-up New York looks to exploit.
Jesse Marsch refused to show any sort of panic when his team opened the season with just three points in its first seven games.
The message from Marsch was always that things would find a way back to the “normal” established by last year’s team. There was a need to reset some goals, but not to stray far from the “process” he and Ali Curtis had put in place. That approach seems to have worked, though Marsch did get a boost in his squad with the addition of Aurélien Collin via trade.
The Red Bulls have picked away at the early hole and Marsch’s trust in his squad has paid off. Regular starters Grella, Sam, Kljestan Wright-Phillips and Dax McCarty have all played a part in turning things around.
The leadership displayed by Marsch in the bad times should not be undervalued.
Greg Vanney, too, navigated a tough stretch to start the season, though of another variety. Vanney’s team collected 11 points through eight road games to start the season, a decent run considering the difficulty of road trips in MLS. The TFC coach probably isn’t too happy with what’s happened since they’ve come home, however. Toronto picked up just five of a possible 12 points at home in the last four games.
Vanney’s next task: winning without two of his big-three DPs on the field.
Facts and figures
- Giovinco has no goals and no assists in his last two games. He has never gone three straight games in his MLS career without scoring or assisting.
- Toronto FC has not scored a first-half goal against New York in eight of their last nine MLS meetings, a stretch that started at the beginning of the 2013 season.
- The Red Bulls’ 2-0 loss to Toronto on March 6 was the first time New York had ever been shutout at home by Toronto FC. The Red Bulls have lost two straight to TFC after losing just once in the previous 14 meetings.
Giovinco is going to get two goals, but the Red Bulls are flying high after that 7-0 win over NYCFC and won’t have a letdown. It’s going to be a barnburner at Red Bull Arena. 3-2 New York.
Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @PaulTenorio.