New York Soccer: Joao Plata

W2W4: NY Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC

July, 6, 2011
Two win-deprived Eastern Conference foes face off at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday evening as a rebuilding Toronto FC side opens the season series against the New York Red Bulls.

New York seeks to restore their winning ways after conceding their third draw in four matches in a 1-1 result against the San Jose Earthquakes at Stanford Stadium on Saturday. MLS Player of the Week Joel Lindpere provided the scoring touch for the Red Bulls with a double that erased a Steven Lenhart header and a Bouna Coundoul gaffe that led to a goal by Quakes midfielder Khari Stephenson.

Toronto FC arrives with a new addition to their trophy case after claiming a 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Nutralite Canadian Championship final at BMO Field on Saturday. NCC tournament MVP Joao Plata set up a tap-in for Belgian defender Mikael Yourassowsky in the 61st minute for the game winner as the Reds, who also ended a nine-game winless streak in MLS play with a 1-0 victory against the 'Caps last Wednesday, won the Voyageurs Cup for the third consecutive season.

FC Dallas helped the Red Bulls (5-3-10, 25 pts) reclaim sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference with a 2-0 victory over the Columbus Crew (6-5-6, 24 points) on Saturday, though New York remains two points behind the first-place Philadelphia Union (7-4-6, 27 pts).

'Keeping Their Options Open. With Coundoul being unable to overcome the occasional Bouna blunder thus far and Greg Sutton unable to steal a game thus far, goalkeeping remains an area of concern for the Red Bulls. The uncertainty has fueled speculation about reserve 'keeper Alex Horwath getting the nod against TFC, but Red Bulls GM Erik Solér acknowledges that help between the posts may need to come from elsewhere.

"We are looking to create one or two more moves," Solér said to's Leander Schaerlaeckens on July 4. "We are looking for a goalkeeper, that's one position. In the other position, we are looking for somebody who can go straight into the lineup."

Schaerlaeckens cites Solér as saying that the Red Bulls expect to acquire a potential shot stopper via free agency. "We have been scanning all over the market to see if there are any options," Solér said. "The player has to be a free transfer and have a salary [demand] we can live with."

If Coundoul and Sutton want that chatter to stop, they'll need to start collecting clean sheets against the club with the second-lowest win total in MLS this season.

Key Matchup: Red Bulls's Left Defense vs. TFC's Wingers. TFC head coach Aron Winter implemented the attack-friendly 4-3-3 system he learned from his AFC Ajax tenure, and before he necessarily had the personnel to execute it properly. That means the Reds will look to their wingers to build the attack, but the likes of Plata, Dan Gargan, and Nick Soolsma -- who scored his first goal of the season against the 'Caps last Wednesday -- have the weight of youth and inexperience bearing down on their shoulders.

That recipe should make for a textbook defensive performance for Tim Ream and Roy Miller, but that pairing fell apart as the Quakes focused their attack on the right wing in the second half on Saturday. According to the Chalkboard feature, Miller lost possession of the ball 12 times in the second half compared to seven in the first half, while Ream relinquished control six times in the second half compared to three before halftime. When Lenhart and Chris Wondolowski rallied the Quakes attack, Ream and Miller crumbled.

It should help to have some in-game experience with the new holding midfield tandem of Teemu Tainio and Dax McCarty, but the onus remains on Ream and Miller to tighten up and disrupt the lateral passing lanes between the Reds wingers and their forwards.

Many Happy Returns. Thierry Henry is expected to return from the flu-like symptoms that sidelined him against San Jose, but the big news is that Luke Rodgers is expected to join him after missing the last four matches with plantar fasciitis. The English forward, who still ranks second for the club lead with five goals, trained with the first team on Tuesday and reported no pain in the left foot that precluded him from joining the Red Bulls on their recent road trip.

Meanwhile, the Reds' first visit to Red Bull Arena this season also includes a sort of homecoming for Tony Tchani and Danleigh Borman, both of whom were included by the Red Bulls in the April 1 trade for Dwayne De Rosario.

Tchani, who showed great promise in the Red Bulls' midfield in 2010, has missed the past four MLS matches with an ankle injury but did appear as a substitute in the NCC final. Borman has played his way into the TFC back line and shown great creativity from the left back position with his crosses and with his restraint.

Not Ready for Primetime. TFC made a big splash on the personnel front last Friday after announcing the club's acquisition of German defensive midfielder Torsten Frings and Dutch striker Danny Koevermans.

However, the pairing are not officially eligible to join the Reds until the transfer window opens on July 15. That means the Red Bulls will get a good look at the depleted Toronto side, but they can take few lessons from it for the rematch at BMO Field in October.

Numbers Game. While clubs managed by Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe remain unbeaten at 19-0-8 in games where they score first, seven of those eight draws have occurred in the 11 matches since a win against Sporting Kansas City on April 30. New York is 0-2-1 in matches where they don't score first over that stretch, meaning their path to boasting an unbeaten streak rather than a winning streak continues to come from conceding a lot of leads.

W2W4: Greece vs. Ecuador at Citi Field

June, 7, 2011
Citi Field is now on friendly terms with the beautiful game.

The home of the New York Mets will become the home-away-from-home for the Ecuadorian and Greek National Teams on Tuesday evening as the two sides face off in an international friendly. This represents the first professional soccer match held in Flushing since Colombia and Slovakia finished with a 0-0 draw at Shea Stadium in August 2003.

Ranked 64th in the world by FIFA, Ecuador is preparing for their upcoming participation in the Copa America tournament later this summer. Monterrey defender and Ecuador team captain Walter Ayoví leads a largely domestic squad that also features Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia and Toronto FC forward Joao Plata.

Greece will look to follow up a successful effort in a 3-1 win over Malta last Saturday in a Euro 2012 qualifier. The Galanolefki benefitted from a youth movement against Malta, with Olympiacos midfielder Giannis Fetfatzidis -- who is commonly referred to as the Greek Lionel Messi -- and Schalke 04 defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos finishing strikes from an attack that favored the right wing.

First kick is schedule for 8 p.m.

Rectancular Peg in a Diamond Hole. FIFA does not set one standard for pitch size in international competition, but the dimensions typically run at about 110 yards across and 70 yards wide.

In order to accommodate those dimensions in the peculiar layout of Citi Field, the groundskeepers commenced preparations on the pitch at 3 a.m. Monday with one goal placed near third base and the other in deep right field -- presumably in or near the divot carved out of the right field wall in front of the Mo's Zone seating area. To complete the playing area, two-thirds of the infield will be covered in sod.

That layout should lessen the disruption to the baseball diamond, which was a rule of thumb the Mets may have learned the hard way. The Mets dismantled the mound following the 1996 season in order to accommodate an offseason friendly between Colombia and Honduras. When they replaced the mound for the 1997 season, they rebuilt it too high in a gaffe that may have disrupted Mark Clark's performance in the Mets' home opener.

So if Jose Reyes's defense begins to suffer at home when the Mets return on June 17, take a long look at the new dirt under his feet.

Hosts with the Most (to Gain). While Shea Stadium's soccer roots stretch back to a nine-team club tournament in 1965 and once provided a pitch to Pelé and the New York Cosmos, Fred Wilpon picked up the pace in the 1990s as he opened negotiations to either renovate or replace Shea in earnest. Shea Stadium became a potential soccer site as part of the city's bid for the 2012 Olympics as well as a potential new or temporary home for the New York/New Jersey MetroStars (now the New York Red Bulls).

MLS has made no secret of their discussions about a potential expansion side being awarded to the Wilpons. Meanwhile, Dave Howard, Mets Vice President of Business Operations, told the NY Daily News in May that he expects Citi Field to host another soccer match later this summer.

Ecuador and Greece will cater to a hungry fan base, but the Wilpons' larger designs for the future of soccer in Queens should kick off on Tuesday as well.

Are You Ready For Some Futbol? A Mets press release issued on Monday outlawed the use of fireworks, which are a common sight at Greek soccer matches. However, it said nothing of the drums, banners, noisemakers, streamers, and flags that both Greek and Ecuadorian supporters call up to support their national side.

Queens boasts a large Ecuadorian population and the largest Greek community this side of the Atlantic Ocean. They may attend the match in a venue designed for baseball, but the supporters should create a very different and energetic atmosphere.

Rule 21 is Greek to Them. Last weekend, the Greek FA indefinitely suspended all activities due to allegations of gambling and match-fixing. Greece has struggled with match-fixing bookies and ongoing fan violence that cripples the in-game action if not corrupting it outright. The referees may execute their duties on Tuesday under a bigger spotlight in light of Greece's latest troubles, as the stakes could be much higher than the empanadas and baklava being wagered by local politicians.