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Red Bulls Matchday Preview: Toronto FC

What to watch for as the Toronto team the Red Bulls beat 4-1 in March comes to Harrison

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Toronto FC
Lewis Morgan gave Toronto a seriously hard time in their last meeting in March.
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

I was conversing a friend of mine when I somehow mentioned the Infinite Monkey Theorem in passing. For the unenlightened, it states that if an infinite amount of monkeys hitting keys on typewriters are given an infinite amount of time to hit keys, eventually one of them will type out the entirety of Hamlet. Somehow I had gone my entire life thinking that this fascinating product of human creation and scientific progress was common knowledge, and that my reference would be readily accepted by said friend. It was not accepted at all. I was mortified. Perhaps it was a lesson to stay away from Wikipedia sprees for a while, and focus on being a monkey at a typewriter, hitting random keys until I get a preview. A valuable maxim for all to follow. Read about these tactics while you ruminarte over it.

TACTICS BOARD

The Red Bulls welcome their northern neighbors as Toronto FC come to town, the Canadian club coming off a critical win against bottom of the table Chicago Fire that leaves them third to bottom. It’s not been a great campaign for Bob Bradley’s men, his baldld head unable to inspire the team. Heavy squad overhaul over the last offseason, with Jozy Altidore, Yeferson Soteldo, Richie Laryea, and Justin Morrow all departing to greener pastures, has left the once dominant club in a transition year. Despite promising investment from ownership in the form of a certain Lorenzo Insigne, 2022 is very much a stepping stone for the club as they phase out some of the older core that helped the organization achieve such success from 2015 to 2017. Nonetheless, the team will be frustrated as the still promising players remaining have been unable to get performances anywhere near competent.

Looking at Toronto’s stats sheet, the first thing that stands out is their defense. 27 goals conceded is the worst record in the East, and the second worst in the league, and an Expected Goals Allowed value fo 31.8 shows much deeper problems than just bad luck. The defense has been error prone, losing their man, miscommunicating, or leaving Lewis Morgan wide open. Bob Bradley has typically relied on individual performers in defense rather than a particular system, but he has not quite found his stalwart in Toronto. Even in their latest win against Chicago the team still managed to concede twice, with the Toronto attack often forced to simply outscore the other team if they want to win. Unfortunately, the strategy hasn’t paid off, only 4 wins on the year leave coaching staff looking for answers on the trip down to Harrison.

Bob Bradley has opted for a 4-2-3-1 at Toronto, a solid formation that the club’s used to varying success levels for years. The deep-lying midfielders, typically coach’s son Michael Bradley and Jonathan Osorio, form a tandem that provides both defensive support and late arriving runs to help out the offense. Osorio in particular has been active on the offensive front, scoring three times and assisting three times on the season, with the latter statistic being the joint-lead on the squad. This would be impressive on paper for a defensive, but his trademark bursts into the box will make life difficult for the Red Bulls as they have an extra factor to contend with on crosses. New York’s central midfielders will have to stay alert to track back when necessary, making sure that none of Toronto’s frequent crosses cause any problems. Toronto in their current state are a beatable team and should be a welcome opponent for a Red Bulls side looking to get back on track after early season promise soured in recent weeks.

KIT CONTEMPLATIONS

I’ve learned a lot about myself in this MLS season. Seriously looking at MLS kits every week takes a toll on a man, makes him reevaluate a lot. Toronto’s away kit made me realize this. The half and half design has long been a bane of my existence, it just looks terrible and seems like some knockoff design in an obscure video game. And if there’s one thing that I dislike more than half and half kits, it’s grey kits. No explanation needed. And yet when I saw Toronto’s kit, the monochrome mish mash of grey, white, and black; the jersey that looks like it was just a white kit until hours before the deadline when an intern woke up in the middle of the night and frantically emailed his boss with his bold new idea of slapping some grey on it; I thought, “It’s out of the box.” Shame on me. Shame on Adidas.

7/10 for sheer originality.

SQUAD SUPERLATIVES

Waking The Red’s Managing Editor Anthony Khoury helps out to provide the most ludicrous labels on the Toronto squad.

Most likely to get a mullet — Alex Bono

Most likely to forget their shin guards — Kahkeele Marshall-Rutty

Most likely to break someone’s shin guards — Carlos Salcedo

Most likely to steal your girl — Ayo Akinola

PREDICTED LINEUPS

New York Red Bulls (4-2-3-1)

Toronto FC (4-2-3-1)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Lewis Morgan

Toronto fans will remember the name Lewis Morgan, after he scored a worldie-filled hat trick against them in the second matchday of 2022. The Scotsman has only scored three times in league play since, but is still the top scorer and very much one of the more dangerous Red Bulls attackers on his day.

Despite a tendency to overdribble, his speed and work rate make him the perfect Red Bull, evidenced by his seamless transition into the squad after a trade from Inter Miami. He’s shown great promise in his limited time at the club, and will certainly relish the chance to face off against the club he feasted on in the last encounter. While he’s played all over the pitch in 2022, if lined up at his typical right wing spot he could have a crucial matchup against Toronto’s Homegrown left back Luca Petrasso. The 22-year-old Canadian academy product has become a mainstay in his first professional year, frequently found high up the pitch where Bob Bradley likes his fullbacks. This of course leaves an abundance of space in behind that Petrasso will have to be wary of, as Morgan will pounce on any free territory he can get.

If Petrasso is instructed to play more conservatively and stay back, not only is part of Toronto’s attacking threat missing, but there might still be trouble defensively as the youngster’s dribblers tackled percentage of 40.9% being rather low for MLS fullbacks. Morgan should have ample opportunity to get the better of Petrasso, and thus may once again make an impact against poor Toronto.

Jesus Jimenez

The Red Bulls will know about signing important non-Polish attackers from the Polish league, so it should come as no surprise that Toronto opted for the same route when attempting to replace club legend Jozy Altidore. Jesus Jimenez is a long way from completely replacing the former MetroStar, but his 7 goals and 3 assists in 14 games have certainly started to endear him to the fanbase. The Spaniard has been a bright spot in yet another disappointing campaign for the Canadians, his finishing instincts playing a large role in why the season hasn’t been as bad as it could have been. Perhaps a little lucky, with his 4.5 xG on the year not implying a continuation of his steady form, but with the role he plays as a lone number 9 one could more kindly call him a poacher.

Despite having not scored in his last 5 games, he’ll still be one of the most dangerous men on the pitch for the Red Bulls center backs. His movement and knack for being in the right place at the right time always make him a looming threat to grab a goal even when the team is playing poorly. Toronto’s offense has not been spectacular on the year, but they’ll still be hoping that Jesus can be their saviour on Saturday.

FINAL PREDICTION

The Red Bulls attack was stifled against Charlotte, but against a much less solid Toronto the creative combinations should return in the space that Toronto frequently leaves. A 2-0 win is in order as New York fall back into their rhythm.