Toronto FC has a chance to make a major statement.
A point behind the New York Red Bulls for second place in the East and the guaranteed playoff spot that goes with that spot, TFC begins a home-and-home set at Red Bull Arena Wednesday night.
Desperate to make the playoffs for the first time in its existence, the improved Reds know getting a rare good result on the road could have significant ramifications.
The team is just 1-6-1 on the road in 2010.
“We have to find a way to pick up points on the road because the season is coming to an end quickly,” defender Nana Attakora said matter-of-factly.
That might be difficult, as TFC has flat-out stunk in the past when visiting the Red Bulls, who striker Chad Barrett recently called “the Miami Heat of our league.”
TFC is 1-3 with a minus-8 goal differential in four all-time road meetings.
However, TFC is playing well of late and two of New York’s many stars will either miss the match or be held to limited minutes.
Elite midfielder Rafa Marquez is away toiling for the Mexican national team he captains, while superstar French import Thierry Henry — who had to leave Sunday’s 0-0 tie in Chicago with a strained groin — will be held to 45 minutes or less after making it through training Tuesday.
While the Red Bulls will be weakened, TFC has issues of its own. July player of the month Dan Gargan is out after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season.
Streaking forward Maicon Santos’ knee strain will prevent him from playing and midfielder Amadou Sanyang is still unable to go. However, there is a good chance Martin Saric returns to action.
Gargan hopes his teammates will be able to pick up the slack.
“It’s always disappointing to miss a game, but that’s the way it is sometimes,” Gargan said after Saturday’s win over Chivas USA.
“We have a great roster and whoever steps in will be fine.”
Still, Reds head coach Preki is disappointed that the steady Gargan has to sit.
“We’re going to miss him in New York,” Preki said.
“I thought (picking up the yellow card) wasn’t really a smart play on his part because our (defensive) guys have been playing together for a while. You hate changing your back line.”
Indeed, though keeper Stefan Frei’s excellent play has been paramount, the defence has played very well. The team has surrendered just six total goals in its past eight league matches. Gargan has also contributed offensively, with a pair of his perfect throw-ins being headed in for goals this season.
Preki was inducted Tuesday into the United States National Soccer Hall of Fame before the U.S. took on Brazil in a friendly.
The fiery coach twice was named MLS MVP. The two-time league scoring champ is also a member of the MLS All-time best XI and scored four goals internationally in 28 matches after becoming an American citizen in 1996.