Toronto FC begins critical stretch vs. visiting Red Bulls

Valuable points in the MLS playoff race are on the line for Toronto FC, starting Thursday night when the New York Red Bulls pay a visit. Five of Toronto's next seven league games will be played against Eastern Conference clubs.

5 of Reds' next 7 MLS games are against Eastern opponents

Toronto FC 's Jermain Defoe, right, battles for the ball with the Red Bulls' Lloyd Sam during a May 17 game in Toronto. Manager Ryan Nelsen is expecting New York to give his squad a hard contest as the Red Bulls sit one point behind fourth-place Toronto in the MLS Eastern Conference standings despite having played four more games. (Chris Young/Canadian Press/File)

Almost three weeks after its last league outing, Toronto FC returns to action Friday against the visiting New York Red Bulls (8 p.m. ET) as the Major League Soccer season resumes with a vengeance following a World Cup break.

After just two league games in June, Toronto (6-4-1) will go on to play seven in July plus a friendly against Tottenham. Five of those contests are against Eastern Conference opposition, meaning valuable points in the playoff race are on the line.

Manager Ryan Nelsen gave his players eight days off following the 1-0 win over visiting San Jose on June 7. They have been training ever since, albeit with sessions pushed forward a little bit to allow players to watch the World Cup in the afternoon.

There are different allegiances, although the team is rooting for both Brazil and the U.S. given the presence of TFC goalie Julio Cesar and midfielder Michael Bradley at the tournament.

Canadian international Jonathan Osorio is pulling for Colombia, where his parents came from. The U.S.-Ghana game pitted the 12 Americans on the Toronto roster against Ghana-born forward Dominic Oduro.

Massage therapist and acupuncturist Marcelo Casal is cheering for Uruguay. The public relations department is still mourning the exit of Italy.

While his players enjoyed time off, albeit with a prescribed gym regimen, Nelsen and his coaches were at work planning training sessions.

"We might have worked around a nice glass of red," said Nelsen, whose business holdings include a winery back home in New Zealand.

Hard contest

Nelsen is expecting a hard contest Friday against the Red Bulls (4-5-6) who are one point behind fourth-place Toronto in the East despite having played four more games.

Toronto defeated New York 2-0 when they met in May at BMO Field, with Jermain Defoe scoring early and Luke Moore scoring late.

"I think that game was a big game for us," said Nelsen. "We had a few guys out [injured] and we'd just come back from the West Coast after 120 minutes [in an Amway Canadian Championship game in Vancouver] and it was a really, really good performance.

"New York will have a lot of motivation, in all honesty, to put one back on us. It's at their home field. I've got a real sense that everybody's desperate to play a game after the break.

"It's nice to have a break but everybody wants to get back on the field. I can sense this game's going to be a really good one, a good tough one. I'm looking forward to it."

The host Red Bulls will also be well rested.

Star striker Thierry Henry, fresh from a stint as a BBC World Cup analyst, and Colombian defender Jamison Olave have not played since May 27 at Sporting Kansas City, skipping artificial turf games June 8 in New England and June 14 against the New York Cosmos (in U.S. Open Cup play).

Red Bulls' star Cahill probable

The Red Bulls' Australian star Tim Cahill is slated to be back from the World Cup and could make an appearance Friday night. Cahill did not see action in the Socceroos' 3-0 loss to Spain on Monday but scored two goals earlier at the tournament including a highlight-reel volley against the Dutch.

"We're expecting them to play," Nelsen said of Cahill and Henry.

While he's a Kiwi, Nelsen was raving about Cahill's strike against the Dutch while saying it had not got the publicity it deserved.

"For me, if a Brazilian did that, or an Argentinian, or a big-country-type player did that, they'd be raving about that for years to come. ... It was of such quality that I didn't think they gave him the credit he really deserved for an over-the-shoulder left-foot volley."

"But that's Timmy," he added. "Timmy's been scoring those type of goals his whole career. That's why New York is so lucky to have him."

Toronto has two injury concerns in winger Daniel Lovitz (concussion) and Brazilian striker Gilberto (hip flexor).


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