Toronto FC return to league action on Saturday against New York Red Bulls but the Reds will be without their most influential player, midfielder Michael Bradley, who has now left to join up with the United States squad for their pre World Cup training camp.
After a difficult run in the league, TFC managed to advance to the final of the Amway Canadian Championship in Vancouver on Wednesday night. Despite losing 2-1 against the Whitecaps at BC Place after extra time, Toronto won the tie on penalties.
Toronto FC have lost three straight in Major League Soccer, and their home form has been poor, losing two of their three games at BMO Field this season against Colorado Rapids and New England Revolution. Defensively, the Reds have had some shaky moments in their last couple of league games, conceding four goals at Dallas and home to New England.
Ryan Nelsen's team will be buoyed by their progression in the Canadian Championship: It's a game we really wanted to win," said the coach following the match in Vancouver. "No matter how we got through, we got through. When you play these games and they go to extra time, it can be a real positive when you come out with a win. Guys have played together now, they will harden up and any 90 minutes they experience in the future will be a walk in the park compared to this."
The Big Question:
Will Toronto FC's players have enough gas left in the tank? With the Amway Canadian Championship semifinal in Vancouver going all the way to penalty kicks on Wednesday night, there will be some tired legs within TFC's squad. However, Toronto FC had a bye weekend in MLS leading up to the match in Vancouver and have only played seven league matches so far this year, so the effect of a lengthy cup tie may not be as negative as it could have been if the schedule had been more difficult.
Bradley Orr partnered Doneil Henry in the centre of defence in Vancouver but veteran defender Steve Caldwell is likely to return to the lineup against the Red Bulls. Mark Bloom and Justin Morrow are set to return in the fullback positions, although Nick Hagglund has impressed this year whenever he has been given an opportunity.
With Bradley gone, Toronto's midfield could see two young Canadians paired together with the potential for Kyle Bekker to play alongside Jonathan Osorio, although Osorio has also been played by Nelsen on the left side of midfield recently. Draft pick Daniel Lovitz was impressive when he came on as a substitute for his Toronto FC debut in Vancouver on Wednesday.
Jermain Defoe was left on the bench against the Whitecaps but should be back in the team on Saturday. Ryan Nelsen will be hoping Defoe is motivated to prove a point after being left out of England's World Cup squad.
New York Red Bulls won the Supporters' Shield last year, finishing with the best record in MLS during the regular season. Mike Petke's team have had a mixed season so far. They got off to a slow start, failing to win in their first six matches, but since then things have picked up, and they were unbeaten in four - with three wins - prior to losing a crazy game at home to Chicago Fire last weekend 5-4.
Whenever the Red Bulls visit, much of the attention is focused on France star Thierry Henry, but it is his attacking partner Bradley Wright-Phillips who has been capturing the headlines of late. Wright-Phillips scored a hat-trick (his second of the season) against Chicago and has now scored eight goals in his last four matches. The London born forward leads the league in scoring with nine goals, and has been developing a strong understanding with Henry.
Red Bulls coach Petke and TFC's Nelsen know each other well. They won MLS Cup as teammates at DC United back in 2004. Petke was a finalist for MLS Coach of the Year in 2013 after guiding New York to the top of the standings in his first year in charge.
With Toronto FC's current poor run in MLS and their disappointing home losses against Colorado and New England, New York will arrive at BMO Field confident of taking at least a point home with them, especially given the loss of Michael Bradley.
The Red Bulls have a very good record against Toronto FC and are unbeaten in their last ten matches against the Reds dating back to June 2009. They've out-scored them 25-5 during that stretch. In fact, New York have only lost four of 18 meetings all-time against Toronto.
Where To Watch:
Join me, Jason deVos and Kristian Jack for Toronto FC against the New York Red Bulls, live on TSN on Saturday at 4:30pm ET, 1.30pm PT.