Toronto FC’s biggest game of the year will be followed by ... Toronto FC’s biggest game of the year.
The Reds remain in high spirits in the wake of Tuesday’s shocking 2-1 victory over Cruz Azul, but there is no time to rest on their laurels with the potent New York Red Bulls in town Saturday afternoon.
Though Toronto head coach Preki tried to play down the importance of the game by saying it was the media hyping it up into a huge event — “For you guys, it might be the most important game of the year, but for us, it‚s another three points on the line,” the coach said after training Friday at BMO Field — there is no question it is a crucial match for both sides.
A win would allow New York to turn its attention to battling for first in the East, rather than worrying about the rest of the table clawing at it for second spot. Columbus would be just three points clear if the Red Bulls can become the first team to beat TFC at home since the Puerto Rico Islanders did the trick so long ago (last July) that captain Dwayne De Rosario could barely remember it.
On the other hand, after taking it to Cruz Azul, TFC believes it can compete with anybody in MLS, even a team that boasts a force in the midfield in the form of Rafael Marquez, as well as the best striker tandem in the loop in Thierry Henry and Juan Pablo Angel.
A win would pull the home side within two points of New York for second and a guaranteed playoff spot.
Defender Nana Attakora said he and his teammates cannot let recent success against top competition lead to overconfidence.
“You can’t let it go to your head,” Attakora said.
“At any moment those two (Henry and Angel) can do something magical.”
Goalkeeper Stefan Frei is looking forward to the challenge.
“I looked up to (Henry) when he played for Arsenal when I was a little kid,” Frei said.
“At the same time, you’ve got to treat them as any other player ... step it up and make their day miserable.”
Though aging, Henry is always a threat and no opponent has given TFC fits more often than Angel.
But New York has only one win — a 1-0 victory over TFC earlier this month — in four games with Henry, to go with two draws and a loss.
TFC believes it deserved better than that defeat, with poor finishing being the main culprit leading to the close loss.
While the Reds will welcome some key players back, they will also be missing an important duo.
Designated player Julian de Guzman is suspended due to an accumulation of red cards and injured striker Maicon Santos remains at least a game away from returning.
Captain Dwayne De Rosario said the timing of de Guzman’s suspension is unfortunate.
“It’s difficult ... especially because me and him are starting to build a nice chemistry in the middle of the park,” De Rosario said.
On the bright side, striker Chad Barrett, second on the team in goals, is expected to be able to return from a one-game injury absence after looking fit in training, though the medical staff will have to clear him Saturday morning.
Nick Garcia was also able to practise and appeared ready to go.
Both veterans will be needed for this crucial affair.