UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Saturday afternoon's match against Toronto is perhaps the most crucial match of the season for the Red Bulls. Sitting in second place, New York can essentially lock up a playoff position with a win over third-place TFC and create some real separation in the Eastern Conference. Last Wednesday, the Red Bulls beat Toronto FC, 1-0, at home in a physical contest.
Four things to watch for on Saturday:
Another close match – A draw won’t sit well with either team. New York need this win before entering a brutal stretch of league play that includes some very tough matches both home and away. Toronto need to make up some ground and can’t give the Red Bulls any more points if they hope to earn their first-ever playoff appearance.
New York head coach Hans Backe was impressed with what he saw of Toronto last Wednesday.
“[Toronto] looked good in possession, very comfortable,” Backe said.
“I thought they played better than LA [did] in our place,” Thierry Henry said.
[inline_node:315987]Bounce back Rafa – Saturday night against Los Angeles was a tough match for New York defensive midfielder Rafa Marquez. The Mexican National Team captain played two Sundays ago in Chicago in his MLS debut then flew to Mexico City for a friendly against Spain on Wednesday. Arriving in New Jersey on Thursday after a long flight, he started against the Galaxy and looked tired.
Márquez said it wasn’t an issue of form but merely getting his legs under him again.
“I think it is more a question of my fitness,” Márquez said. “[I am hoping] in two weeks to be at a much better physical level than I am right now.”
Then there’s this guy – Like Márquez, Henry joins a team in midseason while he is in preseason shape and form. Backe thinks that within a month and certainly come playoff time, both Márquez and Henry will be coming into their world-class style.
Henry also said his issues—he developed a calf strain in both legs during the LA game—are due to his stamina and not his touch.
“The only problem I have is not being fit,” Henry said.
The de Guzman factor – The fact that Toronto’s designated player, Julian de Guzman, is out for the match is a boon for New York. Last week, during Toronto’s loss to New York, de Guzman controlled the midfield and the flow of the match, winning balls and providing solid distribution centrally. His presence on Saturday will be missed, especially as New York’s midfield continues to settle, with Márquez playing centrally and Joel Lindpere on the left flank. With sporadic wing play at best, Toronto’s midfield could well struggle without their tempo-setter.
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012