BY DAVE MARTINEZ
New York Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry warned about overlooking Toronto FC. “I hope people are not expecting us to go out there and kill them because it won’t be an easy game, we all know that,” he told reporters after practice this week.
He was right.
An inspired Toronto FC looked every bit the worthy competitor, putting in a solid performance in drawing the once first place New York Red Bulls at BMO Field, 1-1. While the Red Bulls lost possession of first place, Toronto continued their progress under new head coach Paul Mariner, going 1-1-3 with their new boss at the helm and 2-1-3 in their last six.
For Henry, the difference in Toronto was palpable. “Well it’s difficult for us to compare to what they were doing before because we didn’t play them before,” he said. “I can see that they are more compact on a couple of occasions or so. The fullbacks covered well and to clear the ball in front of the goalie.
“More direct compared to what Aron Winter wanted to do” he continued. “Right now they are doing semi well, they didn’t lose for a little while, but we wanted to keep them going. We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task here and it wasn’t.”
Red Bulls Head Coach Hans Backe echoed the sentiment. “Their playing style is totally different compared to when they had Aaron Winter as a coach when they were trying to play from the back four and to come out from the back four,” he noted.
“Now they are in a typical, very, very direct, football first pass out to strikers. (Danny) Koevermans and (Ryan) Johnson are very good as targets, then they play from a lot of crosses and a lot of set plays. I think in the second half we looked more composed in possession, we turned the game and they have to slide a lot to get to passes that were very close to scoring winners. But overall, I would say, on the road and with the team that has definitely bounced back I can live with one point.”
Toronto may have lost the possession battle, but managed to generate more shots than their opponents (10 to 7) and more shots on target (3 to 1), whipping in dangerous crosses and earning vital set piece situations throughout the night.
Mariner, who emphasized the importance of corner kick and set piece opportunities throughout practice this week, saw his efforts pay off. After Jan Gunnar Solli put New York ahead in the third minute of play, Toronto responded on a corner thanks to a header by Danny Koevermans.
“We got the very good start but unfortunately not focused on the kick-off that ended up with a corner and the corner they scored, it was sloppy,” Backe lamented. “I think in this league when you start like that on the road the starting point has to be to defend well we should have won this game then. With all the set plays against, they are a handful.”
Still, both Backe and Henry felt the result was well earned. “Yes, in this league, I’ve been here for a little while now, you give everything to try grab some stuff away from them and especially against a team the way they are playing right now,” Henry said. “Especially they want to show Paul Mariner that they deserve to be on this squad and the way they play, it wasn’t an easy game at all. (Ryan) Johnson and Koevermans had a great game, not only them, it was a great unit and difficult to find space at time to break them down.
“I think the one-one was a fair result.”