Despite having one win in league play, Toronto FC enters its match against New York with plenty of confidence.
The Red Bulls aren’t lacking any themselves as former teammates-turned-coaches Ryan Nelsen and Mike Petke meet for the first time.
Toronto (1-2-4) has picked up points by drawing each of its last four matches, treading water in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference. The Red Bulls settled for a 1-all draw with Houston last Saturday after conceding a late stoppage-time goal to Warren Creavalle - the third goal they’ve given up in the 87th minute or later.
“I know now that I have 22 players who can put on a Toronto shirt and play at any level,” Nelsen told the team’s official website after the match, its second of six in an 18-day span. “We played a lot of young players today and they did a lot of solid hard work in the first half to set up their solid performance in the second half.”
The clean sheet was the first this year for Toronto in any competition. It also gave goalkeeper Stefan Frei his first action in more than a year after missing all of 2012 with a broken leg and the early part of this year due to a broken nose suffered in the preseason.
Joe Bendik, who has given up 10 goals in Toronto FC’s seven league matches, likely will return to the starting 11 for this game. Nelsen is hoping back Richard Eckersley will be available after missing the last two games due to a hamstring injury.
Petke is trying to guide the Red Bulls (3-4-2) to back-to-back wins for the first time this year after a 4-1 victory over New England last Saturday. Dax McCarty and Fabian Espindola scored in a frantic first eight minutes as the Red Bulls took a 2-1 lead, and Thierry Henry and Jonny Steele scored in the final eight minutes to help secure the three points.
Steele, who played more of an attacking role due to the suspension of Juninho, assisted on Henry’s goal before completing the scoring.
“He did very well defensively and took his opportunity on that goal, his distribution was great and was on board tonight,” Petke said of Steele.
Petke hopes Steele can again thrive in that role as Juninho completes his two-match ban and the Red Bulls play this match without McCarty, who injured his quad in practice Wednesday and is expected to be sidelined two weeks.
Nelsen and Petke roamed the pitch together for D.C. United and are close friends, and have been in contact while navigating their rookie seasons on the touchline.
“I spoke with him a couple of weeks ago, had a couple of laughs about how different it is than we expected it to be, how crazy it is,” Petke told the Red Bulls’ official website. “They’re more organized, they’re very organized and that doesn’t surprise me because of the way Ryan was.”
New York has gone 5-0-3 in its last eight against Toronto. Henry had a goal and three assists in the most recent meeting, a 4-1 Red Bulls victory Sept. 29.
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