WIth the unbalanced schedule this season, there are only two Eastern Conference teams that the New York Red Bulls face twice instead of three times - the Columbus Crew and Toronto FC. Despite Toronto FC not having anything to play for except pride, both Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill are warning about not taking the MLS basement dwellers lightly.
Previous Result: 1-1 at Toronto on June 30, 2012
In their last matchup, Toronto and New York each found the back of the net in the first six minutes, but it wasn't until the second half that one side (Toronto) took control and threatened to come away with the full three points. Jan Gunnar Solli scored the Red Bulls lone goal, and the two teams only totaled four shots on goal the entire match.
Three Things to Watch for:
The Return of Brandon Barklage: Brandon Barklage won the starting right back spot earlier this season, impressing both defensively and when getting forward. While Hans Backe pretends that an injury can't cost a player his starting spot, Barklage hasn't gotten significant time since coming off July 21st against Philadelphia despite being healthy now for a while. A strong showing tonight could mean his return to the starting lineup in place of Connor Lade, who is serving a one-match suspension due to his sending off last week against New England.
Who Starts Between the Sticks: Bill Gaudette seems to have tweaked his back during training on Wednesday and didn't train with the team the rest of the week. He is not listed on the injury report and is probable for tonight's match, but if he can't go then midseason acquisition Luis Robles will get his first start in goal for the Red Bulls. While consistency at goalkeeper is ideal, in addition to Robles New York would still have to start two more different keepers to equal their total of five net-minders last season.
The Kitchen Sink: Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry have warned against the Red Bulls not taking Toronto FC seriously enough, with Cahill specifically saying the Red Bulls will have a "kitchen sink" thrown at them tonight. Toronto is coming off a 3-0 "must-win" in the CONCACAF Champions league on Wednesday night, where they dominated CD Aguila in El Salvador. The win came after a tough 4-2 loss on the road against the L.A. Galaxy. While playing against a team with nothing left to play for can present a unique challenge with a month remaining in the season, it's hard to believe that Toronto is going to be able to play an aggressive, high-pressure style for most of ninety-minutes. If New York can adjust appropriately when Toronto shifts from "kitchen sink" to sitting back, they should be able to take advantage of what has to be a fatigued roster.
Both teams look significantly different from three months ago, and despite New York's recent lull and mostly disappointing results, they should come away with a win tonight at home. Toronto just isn't at the same level as New York, and their midweek trip to El Salvador will keep them from applying similar pressure that other teams have used to disrupt New York's possession style attack.
This looks like a 2-0 win as New York has a good shot to earn their first clean sheet since August 10.