TORONTO -- No, it wasn’t Mike Gundy letting the world know that he was both a man and 40 years of age. It wasn’t Denny Green imploring the Phoenix media to crown the asses of the soon-to-be NFC champion Chicago Bears. It wasn’t even Allen Iverson making it clear to Philly beat writers, fourteen times, that he was talking about practice. It wasn’t any of these things, not even in the same ballpark, but it was the closest thing that Toronto FC manager Preki had come to a memorable press conference moment this season.
After watching his side’s 17-match home unbeaten streak snapped and his club drop six straight points to the New York Red Bulls, the team one spot above them in the Eastern Conference standings, Preki was asked if that was it for Toronto FC’s season. The former U.S. international was just a little bit incredulous at the suggestion.
“Is the season over? What do you mean? The entire season? Why would that be? I disagree. There’s [still] 30 points on the table to play for. Ten games left.”
Granted, this might not seem like much for people used to seeing Ozzie Guillen, Ron Wilson, or Jose Mourinho press interactions, but this was very telling for Preki. Sure, he could have been bluffing, knowing full well that Hans Backe’s side was now eight points clear of the Reds and had just thrown a gargantuan monkey wrench into TFC’s playoff hopes. Maybe he thought that Chicago is easily going to pass his side, using their three games in hand on Toronto to vault into third in the conference.
If these things were true, then the gaffer certainly didn’t let on. What was so jarring about this exchange is that it truly seemed like this was the first time that the idea that Toronto’s playoff hopes were in trouble actually crossed his mind.
If this was simply an instance of the type of false bravado expected from the coach of a club that just suffered a potentially catastrophic loss, then it’s not a big deal. Everybody’s used to this kind of talk. But if this was a case of a coach so focused on his goal of his team making the post-season for the first time in its existence, that the possibility of failure doesn’t even exist in his mind, then the rest of Toronto FC must follow their manager’s lead, as there appeared to be 11 directionless players on the pitch this afternoon.
In the other dressing room, there was a palpable sense of achievement, but also a feeling that the job isn’t nearly close to being finished. The Red Bulls did what they needed to do in Toronto, yet still see the big picture. This was the first step in the club moving forward towards the playoffs.
“I think, as far as the result and the importance of the game today goes, we’ve put ourselves in a good place,” said Red Bulls captain and goal scorer, Juan Pablo Angel.
“We’ve opened the gap between [Toronto] and us and, overall, I think it was a great performance, a great result, and I would say, probably, one of our best performances of the season so far. This is the first time [Toronto] got beat at home, so I’m delighted by the result.”
Thierry Henry was on the same page with his striker partner regarding the magnitude of the day’s match and felt that his side had to take advantage of a weary TFC.
“We knew this was going to be a tough game against a very good team. Toronto played midweek. They’ve played two games in a row. They had a great game against Cruz Azul and we knew at some point down the line, they’d get tired at the end of the game. I think we took advantage of that and I think we played a great game. We played the same type of game against Houston away from home and Chicago, too, but for some reason we couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net when we had to”.
Henry, while still having neither played a full 90 minutes nor bulged the twine, isn’t at all concerned. The former Arsenal star missed badly from point blank range against TFC, but doesn’t perceive any cause for alarm. For Henry, seeing his club get the three points is all that matters.
“I actually don’t mind [not scoring],” explained Henry.
“The most important thing for me is that the team wins. I’m still trying to mesh with my teammates, but it’s coming. I would be more worried if I didn’t get opportunities. I’ve just gotta work on putting them in the back of the net. I know that will come, but as I said, if we didn’t win today, I would have been very upset that we didn’t get what we wanted against a great Toronto team.”
Although Henry remains conspicuous by his absence on the scoresheet, New York’s other Barca capture, Rafa Marquez, scored his first goal in spectacular fashion with a stunning volley from just over 20 yards out. Angel chalked it up to “just what Rafa does...his trademark,” but Marquez himself played down the goal.
“It was just an opportunity I had outside of the box,” the Mexican skipper said modestly. “Tony [Tchani] gave me a pass and my one option was to take a strike at the goal.”
Not only do both Henry and Marquez have to adjust to playing in MLS, but there certainly will be an element of culture shock, going from Barcelona to the Big Apple. Marquez credits his former teammate at La Blaugrana and current squadmate for helping to ease the difficulty of the move.
“I know Thierry very well. Of course, he helps me to adapt not only to the team, but the city itself. He knows it so well. It’s a very big help to have him here.”
This was only the Red Bulls’ first league victory with both Henry and Marquez on the pitch, but everybody is aware of the expectations that have been heaped upon a club that finished dead last in the league only last year. Unfair or not, the club is prepared to forge ahead with these new demands and believes that the best is yet to come.
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