The Red Bulls hope to mess with Texas this weekend as they visit the Houston Dynamo at Robertson Stadium on Saturday evening.
Despite a 3-2 loss at home to Chivas USA last Sunday that ended the club's four-game unbeaten streak, New York continues to maintain a one-point lead atop the Eastern Conference with a 4-2-3 record. The Red Bulls will seek to reestablish the discipline and stout defense missing from last Sunday's loss in Saturday's return match against Houston. New York has never won at Robertson Stadium, but has earned draws in their last two visits.
However, New York will need to challenge the Dynamo without the services of Thierry Henry. The French striker, who suffered a right knee injury in the run-up to his goal against the Goats last Sunday, did not travel with the team for Saturday's match and will not play. While that should create playing time for forward Juan Agudelo, the teenage phenom has his work cut out for him in replacing Henry's five-game point streak. Midfielder Carl Robinson will also miss Saturday's match with a knee injury.
Houston ended a two-game losing skid last Saturday with a hard-fought 1-1 draw at Rio Tinto Stadium against Real Salt Lake. A win could vault Houston over the Red Bulls for first place in the Eastern Conference, as Houston's 3-3-4 record puts the Dynamo in third place and a mere two points behind New York.
The Middle Man. New York will need to keep its awareness high while playing in the presence of Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis. Davis, who won MLS Player of the Month honors in April, leads Houston with six assists and executes crosses and free kicks with surgical precision. The Red Bulls defense will need to regularly mark Davis to keep the Dynamo attack off-balance and prevent the Houston captain from providing service to Cam Weaver and rookie Will Bruin.
Key Matchup: Dwayne De Rosario vs. Houston's Defense. With Henry out of action on Saturday, the Red Bulls will look to Agudelo and Luke Rodgers to pick up the slack at the forward position. While the forwards should handle themselves capably, they simply cannot match Henry's prolific finishing touch.
That's where Dwayne De Rosario comes in. The Canadian midfielder can alleviate the weight on the strikers' shoulders by joining the attack against his former club in addition to providing sufficient service to the forwards. If De Ro plays a bit more aggressive, it should be enough to fill in any offensive gaps left behind by Agudelo or Rodgers.
Ready, Fire, Aim. The Dynamo can make the most of their time in the attacking zone, with their 56 corner kicks and Eastern Conference-leading 143 shots taken as evidence of their steady onslaught.
However, they tend to shoot indiscriminately. 30.1% of Houston's shots taken are on goal, which is third-worst in MLS and falls well below the league average of 35.1%. Compare that to the Red Bulls, who are tops in MLS by putting 40.1% of their shots on goal.
With a week to get back on their normal schedule, a firm Red Bulls back line should keep the Dynamo entrenched in their wild ways. That said, it was a wild finish by Weaver that left New York with a 1-1 draw in April instead of a 1-0 win over Houston at Red Bull Arena.
Streaky Sheets. Last week's scoreless draw against RSL ended an eight-game goal scoring streak that started immediately after Houston's season-opening 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union in March.
That said, Houston only accumulated more than one goal in a 4-1 win over a slumping D.C. United in late April and a 3-1 win over the last-place Vancouver Whitecaps in mid-April. Their offensive peskiness rewards them, but Red Bulls goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul will be expected to limit those rewards while the Red Bulls muster an attack without Henry up top.
The Gang's All Here. Saturday's match could serve as the last time Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe can field his regular lineup for quite a while. Jamaican midfielder Dane Richards admitted earlier this week that he may soon be called up for international duty to start preparations for next month's CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament, though Backe expressed hope that Richards would play in next Wednesday's match against the Colorado Rapids.
Richards will be the first of as many of six Red Bulls players to participate in the Gold Cup, with Agudelo and defender Tim Ream expected to play for U.S. Men's National Team, defender Rafael Marquez playing for Mexico, and De Rosario and backup 'keeper Greg Sutton for Canada.