Thanks to the FIFA World Cup, MLS fans have had plenty to distract them during the break in regular season action. League action returns this Friday when Toronto FC travels to Harrison for a crucial Eastern Conference clash between the current fourth and fifth place teams. It will be the second of three meetings between the teams this season after Toronto took the first game, 2-0.
1. Red Bulls Return!
Kick-off from Red Bull Arena is slated for 8 p.m. on Friday night with the pre-game show on MSG+ beginning at 7:30. This is the first league action for the Red Bulls since their 2-0 road victory over then-conference leaders New England.
New York, having lost Tim Cahill and Roy Miller to the World Cup, took to the road in back-to-back weeks to face the top two Eastern teams at the time, Sporting Kansas City and New England. The Red Bulls walked away with four points and a sudden shift in momentum. Now tied for fifth with Columbus, but ahead on goals scored, the Red Bulls carry a 4-5-6 record into this Friday night’s clash.
2. Extending the unbeaten streak
The Red Bulls are starting to heat up and find their footing after the tough three-game losing streak a month ago. Friday’s match-up will feature two of the hotter teams in MLS with both teams carrying plenty of momentum.
The Red Bulls are seeking to extend their unbeaten run; but more importantly are looking to reverse their recent home form. After starting the season 2-0-2 in Harrison, New York has lost its’ previous two matches at home, 5-4 against Chicago and 2-1 against Portland.
3. Toronto on the Rise
The Reds are 2-2-1 on the road this season and 6-4-1 overall. They are still without American star midfielder Michael Bradley but they are otherwise healthy and surging up the table. Thanks to the Canadian Championship, they have only played 11 games to date while most teams in the East have played at least 14. They are led by English striker Jermain Defoe who, over his eight starts, is averaging .91 goals per 90 minutes, .01 behind NY’s Bradley Wright-Phillips.
Toronto is unbeaten over its’ last four league matches, including the 2-0 victory over New York in the first game of that stretch. They last defeated San Jose, 1-0, at BMO Field and, before that, lost in the Canadian Championship final to Montreal, 1-0, away from home, on June 4.
4. Big Names Return
Friday night will mark one month since Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave last played for the Red Bulls, on May 27 at Sporting Kansas City. The duo has missed the team’s last two matches due to field conditions. They will be fully rested and hungry to help continue the team’s unbeaten run. With Australia having bowed out of the World Cup group stages, Tim Cahill will be back in New Jersey later this week and may make an appearance in Friday night’s contest, according to head coach Mike Petke. Cahill scored two of his country’s three goals in the tournament, including a goal of the Cup candidate against the Netherlands .
5. Making their All-Star cases
Two Red Bulls lead MLS statistical categories and two others aren’t far behind.
Goalkeeper Luis Robles leads the league in saves with 54 after his outstanding career-high 10-save performance against New England. Robles spent the majority of the first two months leading the category, dropped down during the winless streak, but has now surged back up top after his third cleansheet of the season.
Bradley Wright-Phillips tallied his league-leading 11th goal in the tie at Sporting Kansas City on May 27. The talismanic striker has now scored 10 goals over his last 8 matches.
Lloyd Sam provided the game-winning assist on Eric Alexander’s goal at New England earlier this month, his sixth of the campaign. That put Sam in a three-way tie for third place alongside Philadelphia’s Cristian Maidana and Seattle’s Obafemi Martins. Thierry Henry and Eric Alexander have 5 and 4, respectively, on the season.
All but Henry would be making their first All-Star game if they were to be voted in.