Luis Robles: .”I know that we can play with the best and be one of the best teams in this league.” (Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
HARRISON, N.J. — Reeling from a three-game losing streak, including a pair of defeats to previously struggling sides, the last thing the Red Bulls need to play is the best team in the league.
Or is it?
The Red Bulls welcome a hot Toronto FC team to Red Bull Arena Friday at 7 p.m., know they must put the brakes on their worst skid of the season. Perhaps the Eastern Conference leaders will be a slap in the face of the hosts.
They certainly need it.
After the LA Galaxy handed the Red Bulls their heads in a 3-1 loss Sunday, Marsch praised Toronto FC, calling the side, “best team in the league, clearly. On a great run. They will come in here with a great team. They will be ready to push the game. They will be flying high. Huge challenge. Huge challenge. See what we’re made of.”
We have seen what the Red Bulls have been made of recently and the sight has not been pretty. It started with a 2-0 defeat at Sporting Kansas City May 3, continued with a 3-0 blanking by the host Philadelphia Union May 6 and their problems were exacerbated with the Galaxy debacle.
“You know, you give the Galaxy credit because they had a shaky performance in the first half [two weeks ago] and they responded in that game and they come here and responded in a big way,” Marsch said. “So they learned a lot about themselves. Time for us to learn about ourselves. Time for us to learn what we’re made of.”
New York is 10-2-1 vs. Toronto FC at RBA, but those numbers can be thrown out the window given the team’s recent form. And remember Toronto FC hosted MLS Cup last December, had more better scoring opportunities than eventual champions Seattle Sounders but could not convert.
Toronto FC (7-1-4, 25 points), which boasts a six-game winning streak, certainly is converting this season. The Canadian club has tallied 20 goals, tied for fourth best in the league and tied for the Eastern Conference lead. The team also is one of only two teams — FC Dallas is the other — to have a winning road record (3-1-2).
The Red Bulls (5-6-1, 16) are in sixth place.
“They’re on fire, they’ve really set the standard last year and this year,” goalkeeper Luis Robles said. They went to the final last year and this year they’ve done really well. We know it’s going to be a tough task.”
Midfielder Mike Grella, who had his longest stint of the season as a sub vs. LA, said his teammates cannot afford to blame one another, but to prepare for the game properly.
“When you go on a little losing streak like this, it’s very easy to start pointing fingers and breaking the whole thing apart,” he said. “The most important thing is that we turn it around and focus all our energy on Toronto. Maybe not too much has to change, but certainly we need to approach the game in a different way. We need to have high energy, high spirits and positive atmosphere. And that’s what we will have. Jesse will get us fully prepared for Toronto.”
Robles felt the team can turn it around.
“The first thing that comes to my mind is the character of the guys in this locker room,” he said. “I think I would be in a lot more of a desperate situation if I didn’t know that we had quality, not only in the guys with the spirit to continue to fight and persevere, but if we didn’t have quality on the field. Then, we’d be hopeless. But, I don’t think that’s the case.
“So, when we look at Toronto. We know that we’re going up against a good team but if we can learn from our mistakes [vs. LA] and come out with the right start then I don’t care who we play. I know that we can play with the best and be one of the best teams in this league.”
The Red Bulls will have an opportunity to show the world that they can make their words stand up on the field.