TORONTO FC vs. RED BULL NEW YORK
Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Yet what Toronto (5-15-6) hasn't been able to do in its expansion season is form a team that can compete. Coach Mo Johnston, despite using three dozen players, is already building for next year. It has scored goals in its last two games (both losses) after struggling through a league-record 824-minute scoreless streak, but is still winless in the last 12 games.
How successful Bruce Arena has been in lifting the league's New York franchise out of the doldrums is yet to be fully tested. The Red Bulls (11-10-6) have been on the verge of clinching a playoff spot for the past few weeks and have tied, 2-2, each time. The league's worst team might seem an ideal opponent to break that streak, yet only by the guile of Juan Pablo Angel did the Red Bulls beat Toronto, 2-1, when the teams met at BMO Field in early June.
Jeff Cunningham scored midway through the first half for a 1-0 lead, but Angel struck twice in two minutes. He drilled home a free kick and then touched in a deflected cross, whereupon TFC fans showered him and his teammates with beer and objects as they celebrated near the corner flag.
Angel scored again and Jozy Altidore netted twice as the Red Bulls romped over TFC, 3-0, at the Meadowlands Aug. 12. Angel has scored a club-record 17 goals this season, Dave van den Bergh (six assists) has sparked the attack in the past month, and Altidore (eight goals) is getting better every week, whether he knows it or not.
To speed up his rebuilding, Johnston will send out 18-year-old defender Gabe Gala to make his first MLS start in place of the suspended Tyrone Marshall, and is expected to give midfielder Joey Melo, also 18, some playing time as well.
For the Red Bulls, listed as doubtful are Claudio Reyna (sprained toe) and Mike Magee (knee injury). Aside from a result to confirm its postseason slot, New York needs to address leaky defensive glitches that have sporadically marred the season.
Seldom in the past month has the back line, where Arena has been shuttling personnel in search of stability, looked secure, and a boisterous madhouse isn't the ideal time and place to experiment.