One important fact as the New York Red Bulls go into their weekend match against Toronto FC: the team controls its own destiny. Supporters can watch the other Eastern Conference contenders and hope for nothing but draws, but if New York wins their last few matches, they will make the playoffs. Realistically though, with tough matches against the Galaxy, Sporting Kansas City, and the Philadelphia Union following the trip to Toronto, the Red Bulls will need to earn three points against the Reds to keep their playoff hopes alive.
To keep the focus on Toronto, we swapped three questions with Toronto FC blog Waking the Red and got some interesting insight into their club's CONCACAF Champions League play, midseason Designated Player acquisitions, and former Red Bull Danleigh Borman. On the Once a Metro side, we talk Marquez, Backe's job security, and more. Read on and add your thoughts below.
1) Once a Metro: If I remember correctly from our last exchange, we share(d) a bit of a man crush on Tony Tchani. With Tchani dealt to Columbus, how has the other player acquired for De Ro been for Toronto (Danleigh Borman)? Is it possible that the only team that got less out of the De Rosario trades than New York is Toronto?
Waking the Red: Danleigh Borman is the epitome of an MLS backup level player. He's got some skills and a lot of faults, but he fills the bench and can do an ok-ish job when you need him to (as an aside, TFC's in house TV station does player interviews that include a few 'show your personality' type questions. Borman revealed his favourite tv shows are the Cosby Show, and Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and his favourite band? Boyz II Men!). He's been pushed out of the starting Left Back job by TFC academy product and recent Canada call-up Ashtone Morgan. But he's not all we've got left from that trade, we traded Tchani to Columbus for clumsy defensive giant Andy Iro.Sadly he hasn't been the rock to build our defense around that management must have hoped, it's clearly a big leap to go from being Chad Marshall's sidekick in a well organised championship winning Columbus team, to being The Man in Toronto's defensive chaos. Also Leandre Griffit who I don't think has even got on the pitch for half an hour yet. So all in all, it's a pretty poor return from it all. Could be worse though, Tchani's gone from living in New York, to Toronto and then to Columbus, so I'd say he's the one who's suffered the most.
2) Once a Metro: Forgive the naivety, as some of use aren't so lucky to be following a team in the CONCACAF Champions League, but how is Toronto doing in group play? What impact might their midweek fixture have on the match Saturday night?
Waking the Red: Well after making it out of the uber-tough four team Canadian championship, we're doing ok in the group stage so far, with 7 points from 5 games, and basically a win and in game left to play in Dallas. I love the CCL, it's a lot of fun, though most TFC fans apparently don't agree as attendances are way down on what they are for MLS games. How will it affect Saturday's game? Well we had to take Danny Koevermans off at half time, with very little detail given so far as to why, so he may not be ready for them game. Right back Richard Eckersley also left that game with an injury and definitely won't be playing. Also a lot of our players, notably Iro and Ryan Johnson looked absolutely dead on their feet at the end of the game, aside from the international break, we've had one midweek off since mid July.
3) Once a Metro: You initially had less confidence in the acquisition of Danny Koevermans than Torsten Frings. How are you feeling about Toronto's mid-season acquisitions two months later?
Waking the Red: Frings has been as advertised: calm, composed, the model of teutonic efficiency, and having moved very quickly into the captains role he's had a great influence on the team. When he plays in midfield, we look a lot more dangerous going forward. When he plays in defense, almost as a sweeper in a 3 Centre Back formation, we look a lot more solid back there. Unfortunately, he can't do both. So until we finally get ourselves a good centre back, we have to pick one end or the other. Koevermans is a little different, he doesn't have as big an influence on games, and he just looks un-athletic out there, but give him a chance in the box and he's lethal. He's like the anti Chad Barrett, and as much as I loved Chad Barrett, I'm glad to be able to say that as a good goalscoring forward is something we've always lacked. Our results have picked up nicely since they came along, they've been surprisingly successful so far. The downside of course is they're a bit old, so the window of opportunity for Frings and Koevermans inspired success is going to be pretty small.
Bonus question: What teams will finish the season as top three in the East?
Waking the Red: Sporting Kansas City, Philadelphia Union, Columbus Crew
And now for Waking the Red's three questions for Once a Metro:
1) Waking the Red: Last time we spoke, you mentioned how the De Rosario trade for McCarty was good for New York, as they didn't really need De Rosario. Since then the Red Bulls have obviously struggled. Has De Ro's absence hurt, or are there other factors to consider?
Once a Metro: It was more that De Rosario wasn't a good fit and New York was going to lose him after this season anyway since they weren't going to offer him a Designated Player contract. New York's struggles date back to mid-May when DeRo was still very much in the fold. With or without him, the Red Bulls have never struggled to score goals. The real problem has been defensive woes that entered the national soccer media spotlight in the last week and a half with a bad loss at home to Real Salt Lake and the post-game comments from Rafa Marquez. Speaking of...
2) Waking the Red: Is Rafael Marquez available again after his club imposed suspension? Will he go right back into the first team? How have his statements affected the club and the rest of the squad?
Once a Metro: Marquez attended the match he was suspended for, trained with the team all week, and is set to return to the starting lineup against Toronto. There was a bit of question whether he would be moving into the midfield but with defenders Carlos Mendes and Roy Miller carrying injuries (Mendes' keeping him from traveling with the team) I would count on him being back paired with Ream on Saturday night. The Red Bulls played one of their best all-around matches of the season last weekend against Portland just three days after Marquez's comments. If the team stays hot down the stretch and makes a legitimate run for the MLS Cup, one could argue that besides the return of Luke Rodgers, Marquez's comments did more good than harm and really sparked a stagnant team.
3) Waking the Red: Is Hans Backe on thin ice? He obviously has a talented and expensive squad to work with, yet the season has gone horribly wrong. What would it take to make his job secure? If you don't make the playoffs, is he gone?
Once a Metro: Almost all indications from the owners and the locker room show full faith and confidence in Manager Hans Backe. It's still too early to say the season has gone horribly wrong, because the Red Bulls could still very well make the playoffs and have a shot at the Cup. Backe's biggest blunder of the season came before a single game was played when he raised expectations for the club to take the Supporter's Shield. New York was predicted to win the East not just because of their high payroll and star players, but because the East was looking pretty weak entering the season. Philadelphia, DC United, and especially Columbus have all surpassed expectations this year. Sporting Kansas City and Houston have played inconsistently well and are never an easy matchup either.
That said, when Backe and co. first came on board, I thought if they didn't win the Supporters' Shield or MLS Cup by the end of their third season with the resources they have, a change would be needed. Even if the playoffs are missed now in season two, I wouldn't mind another year with Backe and Sporting Director Erik Soler at the helm. Have mistakes been made? Absolutely. But Backe and Soler deserve a lot of credit for taking a Red Bull team that finished 2009 with 21 points and making them competitive almost instantly. The jump from competitive to best in MLS, however, is taking a little longer than some may have liked, but as long as New York doesn't lose it's last four matches, Backe will be back.
Thanks so much to Duncan Fletcher of Waking the Red for swapping questions - you can follow him @WakingtheRed and read his match preview before Saturday night. The last time we did a three questions post with Duncan, New York beat Toronto 5-0. Let's see if the Red Bulls can follow that performance with a much-needed win tomorrow night.