Two win-deprived Eastern Conference foes face off at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday evening as a rebuilding Toronto FC side opens the season series against the New York Red Bulls.
New York seeks to restore their winning ways after conceding their third draw in four matches in a 1-1 result against the San Jose Earthquakes at Stanford Stadium on Saturday. MLS Player of the Week Joel Lindpere provided the scoring touch for the Red Bulls with a double that erased a Steven Lenhart header and a Bouna Coundoul gaffe that led to a goal by Quakes midfielder Khari Stephenson.
Toronto FC arrives with a new addition to their trophy case after claiming a 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Nutralite Canadian Championship final at BMO Field on Saturday. NCC tournament MVP Joao Plata set up a tap-in for Belgian defender Mikael Yourassowsky in the 61st minute for the game winner as the Reds, who also ended a nine-game winless streak in MLS play with a 1-0 victory against the 'Caps last Wednesday, won the Voyageurs Cup for the third consecutive season.
FC Dallas helped the Red Bulls (5-3-10, 25 pts) reclaim sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference with a 2-0 victory over the Columbus Crew (6-5-6, 24 points) on Saturday, though New York remains two points behind the first-place Philadelphia Union (7-4-6, 27 pts).
'Keeping Their Options Open. With Coundoul being unable to overcome the occasional Bouna blunder thus far and Greg Sutton unable to steal a game thus far, goalkeeping remains an area of concern for the Red Bulls. The uncertainty has fueled speculation about reserve 'keeper Alex Horwath getting the nod against TFC, but Red Bulls GM Erik Solér acknowledges that help between the posts may need to come from elsewhere.
"We are looking to create one or two more moves," Solér said to ESPN.com's Leander Schaerlaeckens on July 4. "We are looking for a goalkeeper, that's one position. In the other position, we are looking for somebody who can go straight into the lineup."
Schaerlaeckens cites Solér as saying that the Red Bulls expect to acquire a potential shot stopper via free agency. "We have been scanning all over the market to see if there are any options," Solér said. "The player has to be a free transfer and have a salary [demand] we can live with."
If Coundoul and Sutton want that chatter to stop, they'll need to start collecting clean sheets against the club with the second-lowest win total in MLS this season.
Key Matchup: Red Bulls's Left Defense vs. TFC's Wingers. TFC head coach Aron Winter implemented the attack-friendly 4-3-3 system he learned from his AFC Ajax tenure, and before he necessarily had the personnel to execute it properly. That means the Reds will look to their wingers to build the attack, but the likes of Plata, Dan Gargan, and Nick Soolsma -- who scored his first goal of the season against the 'Caps last Wednesday -- have the weight of youth and inexperience bearing down on their shoulders.
That recipe should make for a textbook defensive performance for Tim Ream and Roy Miller, but that pairing fell apart as the Quakes focused their attack on the right wing in the second half on Saturday. According to the MLSsoccer.com Chalkboard feature, Miller lost possession of the ball 12 times in the second half compared to seven in the first half, while Ream relinquished control six times in the second half compared to three before halftime. When Lenhart and Chris Wondolowski rallied the Quakes attack, Ream and Miller crumbled.
It should help to have some in-game experience with the new holding midfield tandem of Teemu Tainio and Dax McCarty, but the onus remains on Ream and Miller to tighten up and disrupt the lateral passing lanes between the Reds wingers and their forwards.
Many Happy Returns. Thierry Henry is expected to return from the flu-like symptoms that sidelined him against San Jose, but the big news is that Luke Rodgers is expected to join him after missing the last four matches with plantar fasciitis. The English forward, who still ranks second for the club lead with five goals, trained with the first team on Tuesday and reported no pain in the left foot that precluded him from joining the Red Bulls on their recent road trip.
Meanwhile, the Reds' first visit to Red Bull Arena this season also includes a sort of homecoming for Tony Tchani and Danleigh Borman, both of whom were included by the Red Bulls in the April 1 trade for Dwayne De Rosario.
Tchani, who showed great promise in the Red Bulls' midfield in 2010, has missed the past four MLS matches with an ankle injury but did appear as a substitute in the NCC final. Borman has played his way into the TFC back line and shown great creativity from the left back position with his crosses and with his restraint.
Not Ready for Primetime. TFC made a big splash on the personnel front last Friday after announcing the club's acquisition of German defensive midfielder Torsten Frings and Dutch striker Danny Koevermans.
However, the pairing are not officially eligible to join the Reds until the transfer window opens on July 15. That means the Red Bulls will get a good look at the depleted Toronto side, but they can take few lessons from it for the rematch at BMO Field in October.
Numbers Game. While clubs managed by Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe remain unbeaten at 19-0-8 in games where they score first, seven of those eight draws have occurred in the 11 matches since a win against Sporting Kansas City on April 30. New York is 0-2-1 in matches where they don't score first over that stretch, meaning their path to boasting an unbeaten streak rather than a winning streak continues to come from conceding a lot of leads.