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Saturday, August 6, 2011
W2W4: NY Red Bulls at Real Salt Lake

By Matthew Artus

New York has not played a match that's meaningful to their postseason chances in two weeks.

But try saying that in front of the newest addition to their trophy case.

The New York Red Bulls carry the goodwill of their recent Emirates Cup win to Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah on Saturday as they kick off against a struggling Real Salt Lake side. New York overcame the goosebumps generated by Thierry Henry's homecoming match at the home of his former English Premier League side Arsenal F.C. to establish a fine defensive form against the Gunners a mere 24 hours after Joel Lindpere scored the game-winning goal for an unlikely 1-0 win over Ligue 1 side Paris Saint-Germain.

Real Salt Lake returns home with spirits low from conceding two shutout losses in the past week. The CONCACAF Champions League runners-up dropped identical 2-0 results against the Columbus Crew at home  last Saturday and at Sporting Kansas City this past Wednesday, with absences of Álvaro Saborío and Jamison Olave providing only a small part of RSL's recently poor form.

Thanks to the futility of the Claret-and-Cobalt and New York's inactivity over the past two weeks, the Red Bulls (6-5-12, 30 pts) now find themselves tied for third place of the Eastern Conference with a surging Sporting Kansas City (7-6-9, 30 pts) side and four points behind the newly-minuted first-place Columbus Crew (9-7-7, 34 pts). The Philadelphia Union (8-5-8, 32 pts) sit two points in front of New York in second place and with two games in hand on both the Crew and Red Bulls.

187. That how many minutes it has been since a typically-potent Real Salt Lake side has found the back of the net. RSL striker Fabian Espindola leads the club with six goals this season but has not scored July 9, while Saborio collected a double against the San Jose Earthquakes before the All-Star Break but was suspended one match for diving against the Quakes.

Key Matchup: Thierry Henry vs. Olave's Replacement. Surely, Red Bulls coach Hans Backe did nothing malicious in his MLS All-Star coaching duties when he oversaw a knee injury to the RSL center back in the star-studded showcase.

The reigning MLS Defender of the Year will miss his third match since the MLS All-Star Game with the same MCL strain, leaving a gap in the RSL back line for the Red Bulls attack to exploit. Olave's replacement, Chris Schuler, has looked lost at times against the Crew and Sporting KC, fueling speculation that RSL coach Jason Kreis may call upon Rauwshan McKenzie to take a shot at filling Olave's shoes alongside defensive stalwart Nat Borchers.

Olave's absence leaves a gap in a back line that Henry and company will try to get behind when they can wrestle possession from a typically-disciplined RSL side led by team captain Kyle Beckerman. The Red Bulls may find their most effective offensive output coming from pressing right up the middle against the home team on their own turf.

Missing in Action. Backe revealed earlier this week that Luke Rodgers is expected to miss up to three weeks of games before a final determination is made on whether an ankle injury will shut the English forward down for the rest of the season. That may raise the expectations for Juan Agudelo, who will benefit most from Rodgers's absence from a playing-time standpoint.

New York will also miss midfielder Dane Richards as he served a one-game suspension for a red card he received against FC Dallas, but expect that a quadricep cramp injury sustained by German 'keeper Frank Rost on the flight back from London on Monday will not keep their shot stopper from missing Saturday's match.

Conquer the World. On Thursday, the Red Bulls learned that they will lose Agudelo along with defenders Tim Ream and Rafael Marquez as well as goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul to international duty following Saturday's match. The foursome are expected back in time for the Red Bulls match at home against the Chicago Fire next weekend, meaning they will only miss out on practice time rather than in-game action.

Travel Travails. New York did collect a win and a draw overseas last weekend, but those results do nothing to better the club's 0-2-8 record  in away matches outside their own time zone. Mercifully, the Red Bulls have six home games to four away after Saturday's contest that includes three of their next four matches at home. A win against Real Salt Lake would help the Red Bulls open the second half on the right foot and return home in much better spirits for the stretch run.