When the New York Red Bulls travel to face Toronto FC Wednesday night, the match will feature the top 2 scoring teams in MLS, each with 55 goals to their names. What it won't feature is a few players who have contributed a lot of those goals.
Toronto will be missing Sebastian Giovinco (21 goals) and Jozy Altidore (12 goals) while the Red Bulls will be without Lloyd Sam (10 goals). All three of them are away on international duty, Giovinco with Italy, Altidore with the United States (which coincidentally play at Red Bull Arena the night before), and Sam will be with Ghana for his international debut. 43 of the 110 combined goals (39%) for the two teams have come from these three players. How will their absence affect things?
If the first match up between the two in August is anything to go by, it won't mean much. At the time, the Red Bulls were in the middle of a mid-season unbeaten streak, and dominated Toronto in a 3-0 victory at Red Bull Arena. Toronto's Giovinco, Altidore, and Michael Bradley were ineffective for most of the match, as the Red Bulls limited the visitors to 8 total shots, with only 3 on goal. Most of those shots came from the 3 standouts, and the absence of two of them will most likely lead to less chances Wednesday. On the other side, the Red Bulls were able to get goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips, Anthony Wallace, and recent signing Gonzalo Veron on a night where they had 1 less shot on target (7) than Toronto had in total. While Wallace probably won't play, the presence of the other two will mean that the Red Bulls have the threats that sunk Toronto the first time around.
So what's changed? The Red Bulls are now at the top of the Eastern Conference and are a few points away from clinching the Supporter's Shield. Toronto sit in 5th needing just a point from their last 3 games to secure a playoff spot. Since the previous meeting, the Red Bulls have gone 5-3-0 (15 pts) while Toronto has done the same, but with a 3 game losing streak. Both teams are looking to make their playoff spot more secure.
The Red Bulls haven't really changed their game, continuing to use the high pressure system that has brought them to the top of the league. With Lloyd Sam (international duty) and Matt Miazga (suspension) out, we'll see some lineup changes for sure. Ronald Zubar has been filling in for Miazga and will continue to do so. Sam's replacement is where the fun will happen. A possible shifting of players with Gonzalo Veron starting would be the natural bet. Not much else will change though.
The Red Bulls do have to be wary with two players, Damien Perrinelle and Felipe Martins. Both players sit 1 card away from a yellow card accumulation suspension. With three games left, and Miazga suspended for the next two, they can ill afford to have another player miss a game, especially Perinelle.
Players to Watch
The Red Bulls will want to keep an eye on Michael Bradley. He's been sent home from national team duty early after a disappointing loss in the CONCACAF Cup. He'll want to set a good tone for the rest of Toronto's season and is probably looking to take some frustration out on the Red Bulls.
For the hosts, the guy to watch is Sacha Kljestan. Kljestan has been quietly been making the case for him to be included in future United States national team camps, and controlling the game against Toronto is something he'll be looking to do. He's grown into his role with the Red Bulls, becoming a focal point of the attack, linking the play up to Bradley Wright-Phillips, Lloyd Sam, and Mike Grella.
Toronto has more to lose in this match than the Red Bulls. Yes, the Shield is within reach, but Toronto hasn't secured their playoff spot yet, and a run by Orlando City SC could see them missing out if they falter. They'll have to press more than the visiting Red Bulls, especially without Altidore and MVP candidate Giovinco. The Red Bulls will be pressuring like usual, but given that they feed off of mistakes, and you can expect a few from a disjointed Toronto, the game is there for the taking. The match will probably be a little closer than the one in August with weekend matches looming for both teams, but the Red Bulls will take a step closer to a 2nd shield in 3 years.
Score: TFC 1-2 RBNY