New York Soccer: Torsten Frings

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at Toronto FC

October, 1, 2011
Two out of three wins ain't bad. Three out of four would be better.

That's the mindset of a New York Red Bulls side looking to keep their recent momentum going as they head north of the border to kick off against Toronto FC on Saturday evening. New York heads to BMO Field with heads held high following a solid 2-0 win over the Portland Timbers at Red Bull Arena last Saturday as well as a decisive 5-0 romp over the Reds in the first leg of their regular season encounters on July 6.

Toronto FC returns home this weekend with their attention divided as they play out the string in the MLS regular season while focusing their efforts on staying alive in the CONCACAF Champions League. Danny Koevermans has netted four goals in as many games for TFC in combined MLS and Champions League play, lifting the Reds to a 1-1 draw against Mexican side Pumas last Tuesday while failing to appear on the score sheet against Chivas USA last Saturday.

A Thurdsay win for the Philadelphia Union (10-7-13, 43 pts) kept D.C. United (9-9-11, 38 pts) out of the playoff picture for the time being, though DCU still owns a game in hand on the Red Bulls (8-7-15, 39 pts) and their tenuous grip on the final wild card berth. New York now sits two points behind a fourth-place Columbus Crew (11-12-8, 41 pts) club mired in a three-game winless streak and three points behind the Houston Dynamo (10-9-12, 42 pts) for the Eastern Conference's final automatic playoff berth.

The New Guys. New York will kick off against a very different Toronto FC side then the one they faced at Red Bull Arena this summer, though they've expected the new look since that match in July.

The Reds acquired Koevermans and German midfielder Torsten Frings as designated players during the summer transfer window, but neither international was eligible for selection by TFC coach Aron Winter due to transfer rules. The designated duo has given a much-needed boost to a Canadian side in full-on rebuild mode. Koevermans has six goals across that eight-game stretch, while Frings has boosted a struggling TFC defense as a midfielder and a static sweeper in Winter's 4-3-3 system. New York didn't have many to worry about in round one against the Reds; the same won't be said for the rematch.

Key Matchup: Marquez vs. The Guy He's Replacing. Saturday's match will mark the first appearance for Rafael Marquez since unloading on his teammates about their level of play as compared to the caliber of the Mexican defender. The comments themselves may have faded in the background, but the stellar play of center back combination Tim Ream and Stephen Keel has not.

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe has two options for Marquez. Start him over Keel or Carlos Mendes in the back and let him reestablish the chemistry with Ream which powered the Red Bulls defense earlier this season, or bump him up into a defensive midfield role at the expense of the recently-effective and offensive-minded Dax McCarty. In one instance, Backe picks Marquez over the hot hand. On the other, Backe removes a weapon from his offensive arsenal by benching McCarty in a possible 4-5-1 formation that might also see Luke Rodgers ride pine.

Most coaches would kill for that kind of problem, but most coaches don't have to deal with the cloud of controversy following Marquez. If Backe gets this one wrong, it could undo the positive momentum built by the Red Bulls in recent weeks.

The Missing Link? It oversimplifies the Red Bulls' recent success to say that the return of Luke Rodgers made it possible, but the correlation between New York's winning ways and the English striker's contributions is likely more than chance. Rodgers has a goal in each recent Red Bulls win and two in the three matches he's played since returning from a bout of plantar fasciitis, including a penalty kick that gave New York it's first two-goal lead in over three months.

And the last match Rodgers played in before his feet failed him? Against Toronto FC on July 6, in a match where Rodgers scored the second of the Red Bulls' five goals.

Stacking the Deck. If the Red Bulls attack intends to impose its will on the TFC back line, it will need to focus on providing service to Henry and Rodgers through a formation built on five in the back for the Reds. Winter beefs up his back line when his opponent calls for it -- and an opponent that has scored in all but one of its non-Real Salt Lake matches since last kicking off against TFC would qualify as such a special opponent.

Frings will likely resume his role as a de-facto sweeper between Andy Iro and Ty Harden, with Ashtone Morgan and Matt Stinson as TFC's fullbacks. Separate, they have their troubles. Together, they should create sufficient traffic between the Red Bulls and the goal area minded by TFC 'keeper Stefan Frei.

Road Warriors. Much has been made of the Red Bulls' troubles away from their namesake arena, with their league-leading nine road draws supporting that argument. However, New York hits the road following a gutsy road win against a beleaguered FC Dallas club that restored New York's confidence as much as its place in the standings.

Even with two wins in the away column, the FCD win demonstrated that the Red Bulls can win away from home. A win at Toronto FC would further cement it for a club whose present playoff state dictates more road games to come following the conclusion of the MLS regular season.

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.