Toronto FC lands at Red Bull Arena on May 19, toting a six-game winning streak and the lead in the Supporters' Shield race. The New York Red Bulls have lost their last three league games, including back-to-back losses to teams that were struggling (Philadelphia Union and LA Galaxy) prior to finding RBNY in a charitable mood.
Maybe the Red Bulls will rise to the challenge of an opponent that is thriving, not striving. Maybe they won't: TFC's recent form is impressive and RBNY's is not.
To get a better handle on what Toronto is bringing to Harrison, Once A Metro sought out Waking The Red's Oliver Platt for a little insight into the hottest team in MLS.
Once A Metro: What's the secret to the six-game streak?
Oliver Platt, Waking The Red: I'd probably have to say the team's mental strength more than anything. The three home games that started the run were all fairly routine victories (aside from a tough second half against Orlando City) - TFC took the lead in each game, held it and proved that they are going to be a very difficult team to beat at BMO Field this year.
The three since then, though, have been far from simple. The win over the Seattle Sounders was the highlight of the run for me; it looks like a smash and grab on paper, but TFC outplayed the Sounders for a while, despite the absence of a number of key players, before eventually bunkering and holding on to their lead. Many teams would have been beaten before they even stepped on to the pitch when taking a weakened squad, on short rest, to CenturyLink Field.
That demonstrated a lot of character, as have the two wins since then for a different reason. Toronto didn't really play all that well for long stretches against Columbus and Minnesota, but found another gear to go to late in the game despite, again, playing Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday. They had a ton of excuses available to them during this stretch - injuries, lack of rest, ridiculous travel - and did not indulge themselves in any of them.
OaM: When we talk about TFC, we tend to focus on the big names in the squad, but who are the unsung heroes we should be watching?
I don't know at what point he starts to become a big name himself, but Victor Vazquez is the obvious answer beyond the three DPs. He was signed with targeted allocation money and has been a revelation, leading the league with eight assists (by MLS' admittedly generous definition of an assist, anyway). There is also Raheem Edwards, a hugely exciting young winger who is starting to generate a lot of buzz and would be the early Rookie of the Year front-runner had he not played two minutes off the bench last season.
As those two have had plenty of praise of late, though, I'd say the unsung heroes of the team are Marky Delgado and Nick Hagglund. Delgado - who a lot of people forget is only a couple of months older than Edwards - is a workhorse midfielder who plays a simple game that nicely complements Vazquez and Michael Bradley. Hagglund has come on leaps and bounds at centre-back since winning his place in the lineup for last season's playoffs, but has unfortunately just been ruled out for two or three months with a knee injury.
OaM: The Red Bulls present a fairly predictable challenge - how do you expect TFC to set up for the match?
Now we've finally had (nearly) a full week's rest, I expect you'll see TFC at full strength - aside from the absences of Hagglund and Sebastian Giovinco - in their usual 3-5-2.
That probably means Alex Bono in goal, though he remains in something of an open contest with Clint Irwin, and Eriq Zavaleta, Drew Moor and Justin Morrow as the back three. Chris Mavinga could come in if Morrow shifts to wing-back, but it's tough to justify dropping Edwards at the moment even if Morrow is more defensively experienced - especially after witnessing how Romain Alessandrini was able to stretch and hurt the Red Bulls at the weekend. Steven Beitashour is the wing-back on the right, Bradley sits in front of the defence and Delgado and Vazquez play ahead of him. Vazquez will play almost as a No. 10 and look to have the two Red Bulls central midfielders looking over their shoulders.
I personally think he's much more effective off the bench (his three goals in the past two games have all come in the 75th minute or later), but Tosaint Ricketts will likely start alongside Jozy Altidore with Giovinco out.
Bono; Zavaleta, Moor, Morrow; Beitashour, Delgado, Bradley, Vazquez, Edwards; Ricketts, Altidore.