The New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC came into tonight's match separated by 5 points and 2 spots in the Eastern Conference Standings. Toronto FC have never finished higher than 5th in the Eastern Conference since they joined MLS, and as a result, have never made the playoffs (the playoffs were smaller when TFC joined). The first game of the two was highly anticipated. Toronto has Sebastian Giovinco, arguably the league MVP at this point, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore. The Red Bulls have Dax McCarty, Felipe Martins, and Sacha Kljestan. The wild card for this match was the Red Bulls back line of Connor Lade, Matt Mizaga, Karl Ouimette, and Anthony Wallace, where only 1 of those listed can be considered a regular starter at the moment. Could they protect Luis Robles from a good Toronto attack? The answer would be yes.
Toronto was never able to really get going. The Red Bulls' high pressure system forced a fair number of turnovers before Toronto were able to get a sniff on goal. Giovinco did prove that he should be in the league MVP vote as he was the only one who seemed able to get in behind the Red Bulls. The defense were able to recover, but Giovinco was the only truly dangerous player for Toronto.
The Red Bulls for their part played one of their best games of the year. The 3-0 scoreline was appropriate for the team that was big on keeping possession and getting on Toronto to get it back. The perfect example of this was a 3 minute sequence around the 32nd minute where Lloyd Sam, Lade, McCarty, and Felipe kept passing the ball to each other to keep possession. That sequence did not result in anything, but it's a perfect example of the system that Jesse Marsch is trying to implement.
Bradley Wright-Phillips opened up scoring in the first half after a moment of brillance by Mike Grella, who threaded a pass through two Toronto defenders. Bradley controlled the ball and put a shot in despite pressure from behind and an on-rushing Joe Bendik. Anthony Wallace would make it 2-0 in the second half with a low strike from about 25 yards out that was just past the reach of Bendik. Newly signed Gonzalo Veron would make it 3-0 in stoppage time as he put away a rebound off of a Bendik save.
Luis Robles for his part recorded 3 saves in route to his 26th MLS shutout in a Red Bulls jersey, and now has surpassed Tony Meola for the all time lead in shutouts for the Red Bulls.
Grella is making it very hard for Jesse Marsch to drop him from the lineup in favor of Veron or Shuan Wright-Phillips. His sequence of holding onto the ball against two defenders and threading a pass to BWP was brilliant. His work rate is outstanding, and even if he doesn't get assists like he did tonight, his presence on the field is worthwhile.
Possession, Possession, Possession
It's easy to get caught up in statistics, especially with the way American sports works and our reliance on them too much at points. The possession stats for tonight though truly do demonstrate how good the Red Bulls were. 60.2% of possession, and Toronto only had three 5 minute intervals where they held the ball more. Possession has been something the Red Bulls have wanted to do for a while, not just under Marsch. They are seeming to get to that place.
The way the Red Bulls played tonight, they proved they don't need superstars to win. Sure, BWP & Veron are designated players, but Veron only played 10 minutes, and BWP's salary doesn't even hit a million dollars. Kljestan was the big name signing this off-season, but even he wasn't top billing for the Red Bulls. Players like Grella (who floated from team to team), Lade (who never seemed to break though), and Miazga (admittedly having a breakout year) stole the show. The Red Bulls seemed to have finally learned that the pieces fitting together is what succeeds in MLS.