TFC can earn payback on Red Bulls

KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:16 PM ET

TORONTO - A point out of the playoffs and in need of a win, Toronto FC travelled to Giants Stadium on the final day of the 2009 MLS season.

Amid torrential rain, a horrid pitch and a 5-0 scoreline, the New York Red Bulls humbled TFC and washed away the club’s chance at its first playoff berth.

In addition to a familiar 5-0 hammering at Red Bull Arena in July, the Reds hope to repay the favour tonight at BMO Field.

Clinging to this season’s final playoff spot, the Red Bulls travel to Toronto under 2009 circumstances, but with roles reversed. A 3-0 trouncing by Chivas all but ended Toronto’s domestic season last week.

Coming off a critical midweek draw against Champions League Group C challengers Pumas, Toronto enters Saturday’s match unbeaten in its last three home league matches. The Reds also are set to receive a needed boost from a host of players who were either injured or suspended Tuesday night.

In addition to Torsten Frings, Terry Dunfield and Mikael Yourassowky returning to the team after missing the game Tuesday through card accumulation, head coach Aron Winter said the club expects Joao Plata to make his 18-player roster.

But as a key player returns, a bigger piece remains sidelined — something New York undoubtedly will attempt to exploit with its dominant wing play and prominent attackers.

Richard Eckersley will miss Saturday’s match, leaving a massive hole in the right side of Toronto’s defence and an even bigger gap in its attack — a gap Estonian winger Joel Lindpere could take advantage of if the right replacement isn’t found.

The league’s most complete left-sided player often looks to combine with Thierry Henry and Luke Rodgers before beating his mark to the goal-line. Deadly cut-back crosses can account for Lindpere’s seven assists on the season.

But the Red Bulls are dealing with defensive issues of their own, none of which reference injury.

An otherwise healthy New York defence is coping with discipline and international absences at the worst possible time.

Designated player Rafa Marquez was benched last week during a 2-0 win over Portland for publicly shaming defensive partner Tim Ream. The Mexican international looks set to return, but his role Saturday remains unknown.

Beyond issues on the field, no less than four of New York’s first-team defenders will be away from New York on international duty this month — absences that further magnify Saturday’s result moving forward.

With DC United falling in Philadelphia on Thursday and Portland facing a difficult away fixture at Vancouver, a win potentially would put New York four points clear of its nearest challengers.

In addition to a difficult home date with Supporters’ Shield holders LA, New York travels to Philadelphia and Kansas City to close their schedule — a pair of venues at which visiting teams have managed a combined three wins all season.

Seeing this as their easiest remaining task, the visitors will be disappointed with anything less than three points.

For the Reds, it’s a matter of staying sharp, and earning a touch of payback, in preparation for Match Day Six, the club’s must-win Champions League match in two weeks.

MARQUEE MATCHUP

Dane Richards (NY) vs. Ashtone Morgan (TFC)

After Morgan received his first Canadian callup this week, expect national team manager Stephen Hart to analyze how Morgan holds up against one of the quickest wingers in MLS. With Thierry Henry and Luke Rodgers — two of the league’s most dangerous strikers — attracting full attention of TFC’s two central defenders, Morgan will be asked to handle Richards on his own as he looks to latch onto balls on the right side before cutting in and challenging outside backs. The Jamaican international has been known to drift in and out of games so a few early tackles could be enough for Morgan to cancel the threat.

TFC KEYS

MONITOR MARQUEZ: After calling out central partner Tim Ream last week, word out of New York is we could see Marquez pushed back into midfield. Given time on the ball, the Mexican is capable of picking apart disorganization with surgical distribution.

KEEP YOUR MARKS: Did Toronto learn its lesson Tuesday night? Loose marking continues to be a factor inside the area. As Henry and Rodgers are two of the league’s most difficult players to mark, Ty Harden and Andy Iro will have to be at their best.

STAY HEALTHY: With its MLS playoff hopes long gone, Toronto’s upcoming league tilts mean very little compared to a definitive Champions League match later this month.

QUICK HITS

-How big is this game for New York? Depending on this weekend’s results, a loss to TFC could see them drop three places and out of the playoffs with three games to go.

-Added to the long list of complications across New York’s back four, starting left back Carlos Mendes is set to miss tonight’s match with an ankle injury.

-Upon his return, look for Winter to use precaution when dealing with Plata in order to minimize the risk of another setback.

-The Reds remain five points from where they finished last season. A win and two draws in their final three matches will see them equal their total from 2010 (Just forget the four additional games this season.)


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