The 2011 season has come down to four games for the New York Red Bulls - two home and two away. Following a desperately needed 2-0 win over Portland Timbers in Harrison, the Red Bulls will hope to keep things going in the right direction when they travel to Ontario, Canada to take on Toronto FC.
The furor over Rafael Marquez's comments may have died down somewhat in the afterglow of the Portland victory, but the question remains: how will Hans Backe use #4 going forward? Will the Swede have the guts to sit his high-priced designated player for another game and continue with a Stephen Keel/Tim Ream of Carlos Mendes/Tim Ream defensive tandem, or will Rafa be back at his familiar central defensive position again? There's also the possibility, of course, that Marquez could be shifted back into midfield in place of, say, Dax McCarty.
Whatever Backe decides, it could be the most critical team selection decision he makes this season. Keel looked fairly steady against Dallas and Portland, but can we be sure it will continue? If Marquez starts, will we see the imperious superstar who had his best game in a New York shirt last year at BMO or the shell of a player we've witnessed for much of the current campaign? There could not be more on the line, for manager and team alike.
When these two clubs last met, New York demolished the Canadian side 5-0, their largest margin of victory this season, but that was a much different TFC. Designated players Danny Koevermans and Torsten Frings had been signed but not yet been cleared to play. Coupled with injuries to some key members of the Reds' squad, it meant that the Red Bulls had the luxury of playing against a mostly second choice team. In recent weeks, Toronto has been able to pull off some big results, including a 4-2 away win in Columbus and a 1-0 defeat of Colorado at BMO Field. These results are offset, however, by losses to the likes of FC Dallas, Chicago Fire and - most recently - Chivas USA, who demolished the Reds 3-0 at the Home Depot Center thanks to a Juan Pablo Angel brace. Koevermans has been well worth the money, scoring an impressive six goals in just eight games, but Toronto's defending is, as ever, a problem area. Consistency has been sorely lacking.
Sitting on 30 points in the Eastern Conference, and with scant hopes of making the playoffs, Toronto has been putting more emphasis on the CONCACAF Champions League, where they are still in with a chance of a trophy of they can get a result against FC Dallas in the final group stage game. Aron Winter may rest a player or two with that match in mind, even though it is still weeks away. Then again, Winter removed Koevermans from the CCL match against Pumas earlier in the week, presumably saving him for Saturday's game against the Red Bulls. Why is anyone's guess, when Toronto's playoff hopes look so slim.
In recent years, the Red Bulls have had a knack for inflicting painful defeats on TFC, most notably the rain-soaked 5-0 humiliation at the end of the miserable 2009 season, which brought down the curtain on Giants Stadium so emphatically. It was a similar story at BMO in 2010, when Carl Robinson scored his only New York goal to date in a 4-1 win over the Reds, the same game that saw Marquez score a long-distance stunner.
The match will be broadcast live on Fox Soccer Channel, kicking off at 7:30PM ET. We will have a live match thread going here at Once a Metro so drop by and chime in.