New York Soccer: DC United

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at FC Dallas

October, 26, 2011
10/26/11
11:36
AM ET

The 2011 MLS Playoffs kick off in earnest on Wednesday evening as FC Dallas play host to the Red Bulls at Pizza Hut Park in a wild card clash that will end one club's postseason path courtesy of the round's one-and-done format.

For a Red Bulls side picked by many in the preseason to win MLS Cup outright, that's a welcome problem to have after needing all 34 regular season contests to earn the right to play tonight. They still can't sing their redemption song until FC Dallas has its say as the home side looks to better a 2010 MLS Cup runners-up finish.

However, one Red Bulls player who will have no say in Wednesday's result is English striker Luke Rodgers. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe confirmed on Tuesday that Rodgers would miss Wednesday's match due to treatment of a knee injury incurred during the club's regular season finale win against the Philadelphia Union last Thursday.

New York came out on top of their regular season confrontations against FCD in 2011. A late Thierry Henry equalizer answered a second-half brace by Martin Chavez and salvaged a 2-2 draw against FCD at Red Bull Arena on July 25, while Rodgers provided all of the offense in a 1-0 win at Pizza Hut Park on Sept. 17 that reignited the Red Bulls' late playoff push.

Luke Out. The Red Bulls will undoubtedly miss their freshman forward, especially considering the club is 1-9-4 in matches without the pesky Rodgers in the starting XI -- with the sole win coming against the Seattle Sounders during MLS First Kick festivities back on March 19. They also posted a 4-2-1 record down the stretch following Rodgers' return from a bout with plantar fasciitis that kept their English striker on the shelf for most of the summer.

Rodgers undoubtedly unlocked the Red Bulls' inconsistent attack with his presence up top and his pressure against opposing back lines, just as he did in scoring the game's only goal against FC Dallas in September. But he did the dirty work in that match despite the club missing Henry and Roy Miller due to injury as well as Jan Gunnar Solli and Rafael Marquez due to suspensions. New York may lack the guy who finished off FCD, but they will have four capable contributors this time to pick up the slack.

Key Matchup: Shea vs. McCarty. Another key player to miss that September match was FCD winger and team-leading scorer Brek Shea, who also served a one-game suspension on that date due to yellow card accumulation. The young Shea, who netted 11 goals in 31 appearances in 2011, experienced a breakout season drawing league MVP considerations in addition to rave reviews regarding his contributions to the U.S. Men's National Team.

Shea will appear in FCD coach Schellas Hyndman's starting lineup, and Backe will likely counter with Shea's former teammate in defensive midfielder Dax McCarty. McCarty will likely be charged with shutting down any activity by Shea on the right flank, as Solli tends to push up in an offensive-minded role from his right fullback position while regular right midfielder Dane Richards likely starts up top in place of the injured Rodgers.

That leaves McCarty, a player suspended by the club in the Red Bulls' penultimate match at Sporting Kansas City for an "internal team matter" as well as one who has seen his playing time diminish in concert with Marquez's return to a defensive midfielder role. Add in the burden of being the player New York received from D.C. United in exchange for 2011 Golden Boot winner Dwayne De Rosario and the expectations thrust on McCarty could not be higher.

But hey, no pressure.

Make It Stop. New York captured a 1-0 victory against FC Dallas in September, but it wasn't for lack of trying on the former's part. FCD created more than double New York's chances on net in that match, with seven of their 18 attempts registering as a shot on target as compared to only two of New York's seven attempts.

That onslaught came about without Shea, Chavez (also suspended for yellow card accumulation) and injured midfielder David Ferreira. It also came in a busy stretch for FCD that came about due to CONCACAF Champions League commitments as well as with a melancholy mood following the death of club dignitary Bobby Rhine. New York escaped that match with a win, but will need stronger defensive contributions from Tim Ream, Stephen Keel, and others to prevent FCD from implementing a similar style.

Press On. With an FCD back line including effective contributions from George John, Zach Loyd, and others, Hyndman will likely call upon the defensive press he used to paralyze the Red Bulls attack in both regular season matches. If Marquez and Teemu Tainio can't link up to the forwards or Joel Lindpere struggles to join the attack on the left side, FCD could once again impose its defensive will on the Red Bulls and bide its time until a scoring chance presents itself.

Get Your Kicks. Tonight's match is a winner-take-all affair, which means New York can't sneak out with one of its patented draws this time around. In the event that the score is tied at the end of regulation, two 15-minute periods of extra time would ensue to determine a winner. And if that fails to yield a result, the game would then advance to a penalty shootout.

New York hasn't converted a penalty kick since Sept. 24 against the Portland Timbers -- and Rodgers netted that one. Backe reportedly did not practice penalty kicks before his players boarded the plane for Dallas on Tuesday, while the club's uncertainty on their primary free kick taker never really resolved itself. Anything could happen in a penalty shootout, including the order which Backe picks for his side's participation.

RBNY Recap: Playoff-bound Red Bulls

October, 21, 2011
10/21/11
9:49
AM ET


New York's regular season wasn't supposed to end this way.

Picked by prognosticators as "the best in MLS on paper" and burdened with self-imposed expectations of winning the Supporters' Shield, no one expected the Red Bulls to need all 34 weeks -- including a 1-0 win over Eastern Conference rival Philadelphia Union on Thursday evening -- to clinch the last-remaining wild card berth.

And to realize that lesser feat, it took a league-leading 16 draws (including a league-high 10 on the road), only one win outside the Eastern Time Zone, a suspension to team captain Thierry Henry in the club's penultimate match, and a surging D.C. United running out of gas down the stretch.

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe still kept the hearts and minds of his club in line despite its midseason missteps. Backe admitted he didn't think it would take this long for the Red Bulls to punch their postseason ticket, but he's comfortable with his side's form in recent weeks.

"We looked very, very solid," Backe said. "Then we had the break for the Gold Cup and lost six players and after that we've been more or less striving to find our rhythm. But the last five or six games have looked much, much better."

Their recent form should help the Red Bulls get ready to make the most of their second consecutive postseason appearance and 11th overall. The loss to Sporting Kansas City notwithstanding, New York has seen its midfield reestablish its focus on possession while the return of Luke Rodgers from injury has unlocked the club's attack in recent weeks. They may not be peaking, but they're as dangerous as they can be heading into the wild-card round.

"If you look at the last month, we have been on a nice run with three wins, one tied game before the Kansas game," Backe said. "Of course going one man down after 29 minutes is difficult, so I don’t really count that game. It looks like we hopefully, hopefully are closer to a peak when you go into the playoffs."

Setting the bar for playoff success is another matter. The newly imposed wild-card berths leave New York further from the Home Depot Center main stage in mid-November, and further from the quarterfinals round which the Red Bulls have only cleared twice in club history. And supporters know all too well that this New York side has fallen flat for weeks at a time, often at a moment's notice and always without warning.

It's not the path the Red Bulls intended to follow back in March, but it's still a narrow path that has not concluded prematurely. The conclusion to this 2011 MLS campaign has yet to be written, which allows Backe to believe his club can continue to follow to make a viable run for the MLS Cup.

"It is such a small margin to win these games, is like if you are going to a World Cup or something when you play that many games," Backe said. "We need to find the right performance, the right play, the right form just that day, then we can go through. I think it is even, I still think (Los Angeles) has been outstanding this year, but you know better than me that the team that has qualified eighth has won the cup. Everything is possible."

+11. According to the Opta Chalkboards, that's the interception differential which helped the Red Bulls defense keep a typically-potent Union attack in check. Jan Gunnar Solli led the way with five intercepted balls (four of which came in the first half), though Roy Miller (four) and Tim Ream (three) were no slouches, either. Their combined performace helped reinforce what Ream believes was one of the best defensive efforts by the Red Bulls this season.

"I think it was definitely the most complete," said Ream. "Their only real chances were from 20-25 yards out and those were handled pretty easily. Overall I definitely think it’s – (outsides) of the first five or six games - where we wanted to be all year."

Take Your Chances. An Faryd Mondragon own goal resulting from a rebound following a Dane Richards header boosted the Red Bulls into an early lead, but they didn't follow that up with additional offensive pressure until well into the second half. New York created two other shots on target and one miss, but it's the chances they didn't create that leaves Backe a little frustrated with his side's efforts in the attacking third.

"I believe we should have killed this game in the first half," said Backe. "Definitely could have put the score up two or three nil after 60 minutes, but they stayed in the game of course when we didn’t convert our chances. I’m happy to see that we could handle this pressure and create a number of chances."

One Night Only. According to Peter Hirdt of the Elias Sports Bureau, exactly one match per season for the last eight seasons has ended with a 1-o result in which the only tally came from an own goal. It may only be a coincidence, but it's a happy one that lifted the Red Bulls into the postseason.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls vs. Philadelphia Union

October, 20, 2011
10/20/11
9:58
AM ET
To finally claim a spot on the 2011 MLS Playoffs marquee, the Red Bulls will need to take just one more step forward.

One point separates the Red Bulls from clinching the last remaining playoff berth as they kick off in their regular-season finale against the Philadelphia Union at Red Bull Arena on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes). New York will decide its postseason plans without team captain Thierry Henry, who will serve a one-game suspension for earning a red card that left his club short-handed for more than an hour in a dispiriting 2-0 loss at Sporting Kansas City last Saturday.

The Union visit Red Bull Arena with their MLS playoff berth all wrapped up, though Philly continues to jockey for position in the playoff standings. Philly could not make a go-ahead curler inside the far post by French forward Sebastian Le Toux stand up in a 1-1 draw against Toronto FC last Saturday, but that result combined with the Red Bulls' loss guaranteed playoff soccer for the City of Brotherly Love.

A wild Wednesday draw between D.C. United and the Portland Timbers left the former eliminated from postseason play and the latter waiting to see if the Red Bulls will cede control of their playoff destiny one last time. Portland needs nothing less than a New York loss to stay alive in the playoff race heading into their season finale at Real Salt Lake on Saturday. An unlikely series of fortunate events could also bring the Chicago Fire back from the brink of playoff elimination if the Timbers and Red Bulls can't claim the last remaining wild-card berth for themselves.

The Guarantee. New York sports teams feature a proud tradition of superstars guaranteeing postseason glory for their sides, from Joe Namath to Mark Messier to Jim Fassel and everyone in between. And with the Red Bulls trying to establish themselves in the NY sports hierarchy, they're now ready for this rite of passage with a little help from English striker Luke Rodgers.

"I’m quite positive we’re going to win the game, and I’m really looking forward to it," Rodgers said to MLSsoccer.com about his club's chances on Thursday. "In my eyes, we can’t be in a better situation, we can only let ourselves down. Win and you’re in. It’s up to us now, there’s no more hiding."

Key Matchup: Richards vs. Philly's Back Four. The Union's back line usually doesn't need much to keep opposing attackers at bay, but speed is always among of their biggest concerns. If Gabriel Farfan or Danny Califf join too many Philly attacks from the back, a speedster could likely outpace them on an ensuing counter and strike before Union 'keeper Faryd Mondragon knows what hit him.

New York can feed its need for speed by calling upon their Jamaican pace setter in midfielder Dane Richards. Richards, along with Joel Lindpere, will need to be prepared to work quickly on the flanks while not allowing Le Toux or Freddy Adu to set their rhythm with wide passing lanes. It means working hard on both sides of the ball, but moreso about stepping on the gas as often as possible to try and catch Philly's back four on their heels or with their back to attack.

Providing service to the forwards up top will remain job one for the Red Bulls midfield, but any added pressure that Richards can add with his speed will only help to put pressure on a Philly defense not renowned for its fleet feet.

Here's Looking at You, Kid. His red card for a retaliatory hit on Sporting midfielder Roger Espinosa may leave Henry missing his shot at winning the league's MVP award, but it's the 14 goals that made the French striker's candidacy possible that his club will miss the most.

Henry's absence forces Red Bulls coach Hans Backe to turn to teenage phenom Juan Agudelo as an attacking answer alongside Rodgers. Their combined total of 15 goals may only be one better than a solo Henry, but that track record should support the eligible pairing's ability to put crooked numbers on the score sheet for the home side. Rodgers can't do it on his own, so Backe will need to fire up the Agudelo Hype Machine and let his young striker pick up where Henry left off in the attacking third.

Oh Captain, My Captain? With Henry watching from the owners' box on Thursday, someone else will need to lead the Red Bulls onto the pitch bearing the captain's armband. And who better to represent all that is right and good about the Red Bulls these days than Rafael Marquez.

Marquez will serve as the temporary captain for the season finale less than one month after he called out his teammates for not playing at the Mexican midfielder's level. Backe did not pick an unqualified captain -- Marquez wears the captain's strap for Mexico -- but did select the one player that can polarize the club's supporters with one poor play. It's likely a vote of confidence in Marquez for his solid play since moving back into the midfield, but will it last?

Something to Believe In. New York's not the only club with something to play for in their regular season finale. The Union remain deadlocked with Sporting KC in the race for the Eastern Conference's overall top spot with the Columbus Crew and Houston Dynamo still within shouting distance. No club can finish higher than the 51 points Philly would have with a win, though Sporting can tie that mark and claim the conference's top spot on tiebreakers.

RBNY Recap: Henry's ejection leaves Red Bulls close to worst-case playoff scenario

October, 16, 2011
10/16/11
10:19
AM ET

While computing the various postseason berth scenarios created by the current MLS Playoffs format, one might forget to include the worst-case scenario among the hypothetical happy endings. It's easy to ask what's the best your MLS club can do, but less so while pondering what's the worst that could happen.

Fail to clinch a wild card berth? Check.

Render your team captain and league-leading goal scorer ineligible for the regular season finale? Check.

Reintroduce concerns about the club's complete inability to defend against set pieces? Check.

Put up so messy a performance that there's no goodwill to build from going forward? Check.

For the players who had to finish the final hour of Saturday's contest without their captain, they'll probably settle for whatever good news they can get after the Red Bulls' 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City at the home side's house of horrors.

"We knew coming in here, it was going to be tough because they play good at home," said midfielder Dane Richards. "And then, losing (Thierry) Henry in the 28th minute, that was even tougher. We managed to hold it out and then gave up two goals in set pieces, I’m disappointed about that. But you just have to look forward from here on."

In fact, only one thing the New York Red Bulls needed to happen on Saturday actually did: D.C. United fell 2-1 to the Chicago Fire later that day, thus ceding control of their playoff fate back to the Red Bulls. During a halftime interview on MSG, Red Bulls assistant coach Mike Petke described the ejection of Henry as the "icing on the cake" of a demoralizing performance. With D.C. losing, that's now accurate since the actual worst thing that could have happen -- losing control of their own playoff destiny -- ultimately did not.

But New York now has no chance to win the Eastern Conference nor clinch one of the conference's automatic playoff berths. They guaranteed themselves a finish no better than a lower-seeded wild card berth, which means the Red Bulls would take any postseason show on the road for the duration of the MLS playoffs -- and likely kick off out west against FC Dallas or the Colorado Rapids.

Those same Rapids snuck into the 2010 MLS Playoffs and snuck off with the MLS Cup, so anything's possible. That's one of the two messages Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe is ready relay to his players in preparation of yet another must-win match in next Thursday's regular season finale at Red Bull Arena against the Philadelphia Union (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes).

"I would say any team that goes into the playoffs can win," said Backe.

The other message? A familiar refrain: Win, and you're somehow still in.

Set Up to Fail. Losing Henry so early in Saturday's matches may have cut the wind out of New York's sails, but the remaining players on the pitch still had an hour's worth of game to play. They may have played with spirits low, but center back Stephen Keel recognizes how his side eventually let Sporting KC beat them.

"Both goals came off set pieces," said Keel. "Even a man down, we should have had everyone marked up. When you’re a man down, you get your chances. I thought we did a decent job – especially in the first half – to keep everything compact with the back four and organized with Rafa and Teemu in there to force them wide and deal with the crosses. It’s tough, but not something we shouldn’t be able to handle."

Precautionary Measure. Backe admitted after the match that his 70th-minute substitution of Luke Rodgers in favor of Juan Agudelo was not for defensive purposes, but because the English striker was one yellow card shy of being suspended for Thursday's finale as well due to yellow card accumulation.

No one can blame Backe for looking ahead to next Thursday's Philly finale after falling a man down and two goals behind, but the Red Bulls coach raised the de-facto white flag to give respect to a dominating Sporting KC performance as well.

"They had been on a phenomenal run," said Backe. "I remember when they played those 10 away games they didn’t have many points but after that, they had a phenomenal run. They’re a hardworking, physical team. They have three front guys – all three of them can score or set up goals."

Rapid Reax: Sporting KC 2, Red Bulls 0

October, 15, 2011
10/15/11
5:59
PM ET
A quick temper may make a fool of Thierry Henry if New York fails to make the MLS Playoffs.

Henry's 28th-minute red card for a retaliatory hit on midfielder Roger Espinoza near the center circle left the Red Bulls short-handed for more than an hour in a 2-0 loss against Sporting Kansas City at Livestrong Sporting Park on Saturday afternoon.

The ejection also means the Red Bulls will head into their season finale match with their playoff lives at stake and without their team captain, who now must serve an automatic one-game suspension for his red card.

Despite creating ample scoring chances before and after Henry's exit, Sporting KC did not break through until phenom forward Teal Bunbury finally finished a Julio Cesar pass in the 57th minute to put the home side up for good. Second-half substitute C.J. Sapong added the insurance goal in the 74th minute by connecting a volley at the six-yard box past a helpless Frank Rost to remove any doubt about the match's ultimate result -- and despite entering the match only 40 seconds earlier.

Saturday's draw blows the MLS playoff race wide open as it gives both D.C. United (9-11-11, 38 pts) and the Portland Timbers (11-14-7, 40 points) a clearer postseason path at the expense of the Red Bulls (9-8-16, 43 points). D.C. plays Saturday night against a Chicago Fire side with no meaningful games left to play this season before kicking off against Portland next Wednesday. New York remains in control of its playoff tiebreakers, but now needs D.C. United to concede a loss or draw to re-establish its grip on a suddenly fleeting wild-card berth.

Play of the Game: Henry's Red Card. After quelling an early burst by the Sporting KC attack, the Red Bulls imposed their "cynical soccer" routine into a match that quickly devolved into a war of attrition.

And then the game experienced its first casualty. Referee Kevin Stott showed Henry a straight red card in the 28th minute for what was described as "violent conduct" -- but was actually Henry putting his knee into Espinoza's back mere moments after Espinoza intercepted Henry's run and despite Henry having ample opportunity to avoid it. That left the Red Bulls short-handed for more than an hour on Saturday afternoon in a match where they controlled their own destiny.

Barring a reversal by the MLS Disciplinary Committee, the red card means Henry will miss next Thursday's finale against Philadelphia that New York now needs to win if D.C. gets hot and his pursuit of the Golden Boot likely comes to an end if either D.C. United midfielder Dwayne De Rosario or San Jose Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski net one goal in their remaining games. Any lingering sentiments about awarding Henry with the league MVP award also just went out the window.

Hans Backe has said all season that Henry's backup, Juan Agudelo, isn't ready for the spotlight. Well, the teenage phenom better get ready and quick for the Red Bulls to have any shot at sealing their playoff fate.

Feeling Cornered. Harkening back to an early-season concern about set pieces, both Sporting Kansas City goals started from corner kicks and finished with a KC attacker striking a ball in a penalty-box scrum. New York actually received more corner kicks (six) than Sporting KC (five), but the latter clearly made the most of their chances to capitalize on their one-man advantage.

Chance After Chance. It's tough to win a soccer match if you don't score, but that was the trouble facing the Red Bulls before and after they lost their team captain. Bunbury and fellow KC forward Omar Bravo led the attacking efforts for the home side with 23 chances created and seven shots on goal, while the Red Bulls managed to muster only six attempts total that resulted in one clear Dane Richards shot on target that KC 'keeper Jimmy Nielsen punched skyward and a Joel Lindpere shot in the second half.

Dax Not There. One Red Bull that didn't make the trip to Kansas City was Dax McCarty. According to the MSG broadcast, the Red Bulls suspended their feisty defensive midfielder for one match due to what was only described as an "internal team matter" by a team spokesperson. He will be available for selection in the regular season finale against Philadelphia.

As Red Bulls coach Hans Backe continues to keep Rafael Marquez in the midfield, McCarty's playing time in recent weeks has suffered as a result. That likely would have continued on Saturday, though McCarty has seen playing time as a substitute off the bench and has curried more favor with Backe recently as opposed to Guadeloupan midfielder and former Sporting KCer Stephane Auvray (who did make the trip).

New York now returns home to sit and wait to see if they get help in short-circuiting D.C. United's playoff push before kicking off against the Philadelphia Union at home next Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes).

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at Sporting KC

October, 15, 2011
10/15/11
10:22
AM ET
An MLS playoff opportunity will knock on the door in Kansas City this afternoon. Are the Red Bulls ready to answer it?

The New York Red Bulls make their inaugural visit to Livestrong Sporting Park to kick off against Sporting Kansas City in an afternoon match rife with playoff implications. New York arrives with its playoff destiny in its own hands following a 2-0 win over a beleaguered Los Angeles Galaxy side on Oct. 4, though the red-hot Red Bulls side that had won three of its last five contests needs to regain form following an 11-day hiatus due to the international break.

The Red Bulls also lead the regular season series over SKC after Luke Rodgers scored the game-winner in a 1-0 result at Red Bull Arena on April 30.

Sporting Kansas City comes home looking for better results following a stretch of accruing three draws in four matches. They arrive in shaky form after quickly conceding an equalizer following a go-ahead goal by Kevin Ellis in their international friendly against Mexican powerhouse C.D. Guadalajara last Wednesday, though Teal Bunbury netted a late equalizer of his own in SKC's MLS regular season match against the San Jose Earthquakes on Oct. 1.

The Houston Dynamo (11-9-13, 46 pts) did their job in boosting the Red Bulls' playoff profile with a win on Friday night that delivered a near-fatal blow to the postseason chances of their opponent, the Portland Timbers (11-14-7, 40 pts). A New York (9-7-16, 43 pts) win coupled with a D.C. United loss (9-11-11, 38 pts) would put the Red Bulls in position to effectively clinch a playoff berth as they control tiebreakers over Portland and D.C. It would also vault them over Sporting KC (11-9-12, 45 pts) and into an Eastern Conference automatic berth if the Columbus Crew (12-12-8, 44 pts) lose or draw on Saturday.

Who Wants It More? New York's not the only club playing with playoff aspirations on Saturday, as a Red Bulls loss would clinch a playoff berth for Sporting. SKC's footing may be a little surer than the Red Bulls, but a loss at home would surely deal a major blow to any club's playoff chances at such a late stage of the season.

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe continues to preach the tenets of "cynical soccer," a possession-driven style similar to the Italian Catenaccio system but with a stronger emphasis on playing keep away rather than for keeps, while Sporting coach Peter Vemes's 4-3-3 system caters to a more attack-friendly, possession-oriented offense. Backe's side will make it as hard as possible for SKC to create pressure in the attacking third, but SKC needs to not leave themselves vulnerable to the counter by making a mistake. Will either side blink?

Key Matchup: Ream vs. Bravo. Saturday will be Tim Ream's first chance to move on from the gaffe which created the Ecuador scoring chance that sent the U.S. Men's National Team to a 1-0 loss at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday. Unlike under Jurgen Klinsmann's system, Ream won't come on as a substitute on Saturday -- he'll be expected to anchor a Red Bulls back line against a possession-savvy SKC attack.

Ream's first chance at redemption will come by marking a world-class striker in Omar Bravo. The Mexican forward shares the team lead in goals scored with fellow forward Kei Kemara at nine, though Bravo reached the total despite missing five matches in the early part of the season due to a sports hernia.

Support will come for Ream and the Red Bulls' back line in the form of Stephen Keel and Bravo's Mexican national team peer in Rafael Marquez, but the spotlight will shine brightly on the 24-year-old center back. Someone has to get in the way of an SKC attack that's been shutout only once in MLS regular season play since June, and Ream will once again be charged with taking up those reins.

30. That's how many points Sporting Kansas City has accumulated in their new home at Livestrong Sporting Park, which is the second-highest total in the Eastern Conference (the Crew lead with 32 points) and fourth-highest in all of MLS. The Red Bulls have 16 points on the road, but 10 of those came from draws.

For a Red Bulls side that needs to keep winning to keep their playoff plans within their own control, they'll need to buck a couple of trends if they hope to win at one of the toughest places to play in the league -- a place that wasn't anyone's home until SKC's 11th match of the season.

Rost Rested. No Red Bulls player benefited more from the international break than goalkeeper Frank Rost. With his international duty days far behind him, Rost had eleven days to rest his legs and recuperate from any lingering effects of his quad injury following an intense five-game stretch over three weeks that saw the German netminder collect three wins and three clean sheets in the end.

His recent play has erased any lingering doubts about Red Bulls sporting director Erik Solér's decision to use a designated player slot in net and quieted any debate that reserve 'keeper Bouna Coundoul should be starting.

Going Streaking. Red Bulls team captain Thierry Henry heads to Kansas City mired in a three-way tie in the Golden Boot race. The French striker has scored in his club's last two matches to draw level at 14 goals with D.C. United midfielder and former Red Bull Dwayne De Rosario and Quakes striker Chris Wondolowski, with the latter netting a double against the New England Revolution last Saturday to vault into the race.

RBNY Notes: Updating the Red Bulls' playoff picture

October, 13, 2011
10/13/11
2:33
PM ET
Without lifting a finger for over a week, the Red Bulls just received a much brighter forecast for their MLS playoff chances.

New York's position in the standings became more stable courtesy of Wednesday losses for the Chicago Fire and D.C. United. The Fire are mathematically eliminated courtesy of a 2-1 loss to an FC Dallas side that clinched their own playoff berth in the process, while D.C. United mitigated the effects of their games in hand on the Red Bulls by dropping one of them to the lowly Vancouver Whitecaps in a 2-1 loss at BC Place.

So where does that leave the Red Bulls? Take a seat at their playoff table:
Club Points GL Max Magic # Tragic # TB?
FC Dallas 49 2 55 12 1 Y
Union 47 2 53 11 2 N
SKC 45 2 51 8 5 Y
Rapids 45 2 51 9 4 N
Crew 44 2 50 7 6 Y
RBNY 43 2 49 N/A N/A N/A
Dynamo 43 2 49 6 7 Y
Timbers 40 3 49 6 10 Y
D.C. United 38 3 47 4 12 Y

(For an explanation of how this table works, please review last week's introductory post about it.)

At the moment, New York sits in ninth place of the overall MLS standings with a firm grasp on a wild card berth and their own playoff destiny. However, the picture before you could change dramatically before Thierry Henry and his merry men lay a toe on a soccer ball in Kansas City this weekend. All of that is noise for the Red Bulls at the moment, but they'll need to monitor the out-of-town scoreboard to see what work has to be done at Livestrong Sporting Park this Saturday.

So how could this weekend's action affect the Red Bulls? There's still quite a few permutations available to help New York's chances, but here are the highlights heading into Saturday:

If New York wins and D.C. United doesn't, the Red Bulls are in regardless of what Houston and Portland do to each other on Friday night as long as someone wins. New York has the tiebreaker over all three clubs and either the Timbers or Dynamo are about to take a step back pending Friday's results. As any four points benefiting the Red Bulls would clinch a better finish in the regular season standings over D.C., a Saturday win coupled with a winner in the Portland-Houston clash and a DCU draw in any of their longtime rival's final three matches would officially lift New York into the postseason.

New York's still in contention for the Eastern Conference crown. There's one path available to the Red Bulls that could leave them atop the Eastern Conference standings at season's end, but it will take a little help from the bottom of that table to get it done.

If the Red Bulls beat Sporting Kansas City on Saturday while the Philadelphia Union and Columbus Crew fail to win their matches this weekend against Toronto FC and the New England Revolution respectively, New York could clinch the East's overall top spot with a win over Philly in the season finale.

It would take a lot of help from unlikely sources for the Red Bulls to get to that point, but an Eastern Conference automatic berth is theirs for the taking if they win out or the Crew falter over their two matches.

Portland is no friend of the Red Bulls. Before the referee blows his whistle to start the SKC clash this weekend, the Portland Timbers and Houston Dynamo will face off for their playoff survival on Friday.

A Portland win would leave the final wild card race open for the final week of the MLS season, but a Dynamo victory would all but kill any hopes the expansion side had at crashing the MLS playoffs in their inaugural season. It would then take only a Rapids draw -- Colorado plays Friday evening as well against a Real Salt Lake side without Kyle Beckerman -- to leave Portland's fate in the Red Bulls' hands.

What if Houston and Portland battle to a draw? If New York wins and D.C. loses or draws, it doesn't matter. If D.C. wins, New York only needs a DCU draw or loss in one of their remaining two games next week to clinch a playoff spot.

And if New York loses? It would take a while to sort out the wreckage.

There's still work to be done and Red Bulls coach Hans Backe must know he can't rest on the laurels of a strong win over the Supporters' Shield-winning Los Angeles Galaxy that will have occurred 10 days prior to the Red Bulls kicking off at SKC. But if Backe feels compelled to clarify his club's standings in the MLS Playoff race, he only needs to reiterate four sweet words.

Win, and you're in.

RBNY Recap: Red Bulls back in playoff groove following shutout win over Galaxy

October, 5, 2011
10/05/11
12:43
AM ET

The reports of the death of the Red Bulls are greatly exaggerated.

New York's playoff hopes are alive and well following a solid 2-0 win on Tuesday evening at Red Bull Arena against a Los Angeles Galaxy side missing a few key players. Luke Rodgers opened the scoring for the Red Bulls in the 32nd minute by finishing a rebound created by Galaxy 'keeper Donovan Ricketts with an astute volley at the six-yard-box.

Thierry Henry provided an insurance goal in the 59th minute by picking up a Rafael Marquez lob pass in stride and outpacing Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza en route to an easy chip shot over a diving Ricketts.

With the win, the Red Bulls (9-7-16, 43 pts) remain in firm control of their playoff destiny as they kept pace with the Houston Dynamo (10-9-13, 43 pts) and Portland Timbers (11-13-7, 40 pts) for the final wild card berth heading into the international break. D.C. United (9-10-11, 38 pts) can still overtake the fourth-place Red Bulls club in the standings by virtue of their game in hand, but New York's playoff standing remains secure due to their favorable tiebreakers over Houston and Portland.

New York also has an opportunity to overtake the Columbus Crew (12-12-8, 44 pts) for the final Eastern Conference automatic berth, but, like with D.C. United, will need some outside help to make that happen.

"It’s still very, very tight," said Red Bulls coach Hans Backe. "But this win today, it has definitely set us up with great possibility to play head-to-head with Kansas City and Philadelphia. But if we lose these games, we can be out of the playoffs. With the way we performed today, it reminds me a little bit of the beginning of the season. Not giving away anything and the willingness to defend with hard work. If we are in the playoffs, I think we would definitely be a threat."

Notable No-Shows. Not to take anything away from a clear win over a Galaxy side in position to clinch the Supporters' Shield any day now, but the missing stars on the visiting side may have tempered the capabilities of the best club in MLS by points. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena knew before kick off he'd be without Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, and Chris Birchall due to injury and international commitments, but also elected to start Jamaican 'keeper Donovan Ricketts over Josh Saunders in net.

Ricketts only surrendered the starting job due to an injury earlier this season, but had not started a match for L.A. since September 9 against the Colorado Rapids -- whereas Saunders has minded the net for every minute in between. Saunders likely needed the break, but that fatigue plagued more than just Ricketts's performance in Arena's eyes.

"It wasn’t our best night," said Arena. "I think we looked like a tired team. Tonight is a culmination of a lot of games over a short period of time, and it showed."

Play of the Game: Henry's Goal. It wasn't on par with the MLS Goal of the Week-caliber strike he completed against Toronto FC last weekend, but Henry's goal did more than just lift the French striker into a tie with D.C. United midfielder Dwayne De Rosario for the Golden Boot. It added another insurance goal -- a luxury for a Red Bulls attack that's struggled to put opponents to bed all season.

Henry's finish becomes doubly significant as it also came about from the foot of Marquez, who has earned the ire of Red Bulls supporters in recent days following his less-than-flattering appraisal of his teammates. Marquez, who started in the midfield once again, played as complete a game as anyone's seen since returning from a hamstring injury that chased him out of the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final in June. The pass, like many of his others on the evening, was crisp and perfectly timed -- exactly the kind of service which leaves Henry free to finish without needing to muster some fancy footwork to get behind the opposing back line.

Marquez to Henry -- It's the combination that sporting director Erik Solér had Red Bulls supporters dreaming about when New York acquired the two designated players last season, and the one they could use most as it prepares for the final playoff push.

German Efficency. After an ignominious debut that left supporters struggling with the decision to use a designated player spot on a goalkeeper, German shot stopper Frank Rost has removed all doubt about his capabilities following his third clean sheet in five matches. That Rost has done it at all is impressive, but that he's now kept playoff-caliber opponents scoreless twice in nine days indicates the Red Bulls' third designated player is rolling at the right time.

Plus 11. That's the interception differential from Tuesday and in the Red Bulls's favor. New York picked off more balls than the Galaxy and -- as the Opta Chalkboards point out -- did so across the width of the pitch and along the wings where Donovan usually plies his trade, whereas L.A. only managed to intercept passes down the middle of the field.

Tim Ream led the way with seven intercepted balls, with fellow center back Stephen Keel and left back Roy Miller chipping in five apiece for a New York side in which every starter not named Henry, Rodgers, or Rost picked off at least one ball.

"I felt pretty comfortable the last couple of starts," said Ream. "It’s a better feeling for the guy next to you and communication has been good, I think it’s just been the heart and the fight that everybody has shown has definitely rubbed off on everybody. I think (I should) be able to feel more comfortable playing that style and playing with more effort and more passion."

Ready to Rumble. For a New York side that's struggled to string two wins together in the same month, it's a night-and-day difference to suddenly start winning three of their last five matches. Their midseason form raised the eyebrows of league pundits everywhere about the club's potential to become the biggest albatross in MLS history, but Backe remains optimistic that the kinds of troubles that have plagued the Red Bulls this season will work themselves out in the end.

"These kinds of games take care of themselves," said Backe. "Every time you play the big guns, you don’t need any right way to motivate the players in any different or special style. It takes care of itself. We will see when we go on the road to Kansas City, if we can stay on the same level. Normally, I would analyze after our 34 games or after the playoffs. I am quite sure on what has gone wrong after the first seven games. But it seems that we are back now."

New York now gets an 11-day break to respect international competition before making their inaugural visit to Livestrong Sporting Park for a date with Eastern Conference rival Sporting Kansas City on Saturday, October 15. First kick is scheduled for 4:00 p.m.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls vs. LA Galaxy

October, 4, 2011
10/04/11
9:44
AM ET

The stars tonight will be big and bright deep in the heart of... Jersey?

A New York Red Bulls club in the driver's seat for a playoff berth will share the marquee at its namesake arena with the star-studded Los Angeles Galaxy side on Tuesday evening (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes). Red Bulls team captain Thierry Henry will provide a heavy dose of attacking momentum for the home side, as the French striker netted a late equalizer to salvage last Saturday's 1-1 draw at Toronto FC as well as an early goal in what concluded as a 1-1 draw on May 7 in the first leg of the regular season encounters against the Galaxy.

The Galaxy arrive at Red Bull Arena to complete the third match of a busy seven-day stretch for the best of MLS this season by points. Los Angeles brings the momentum of a three-game winning streak across all competitions to Red Bull Arena that includes a 2-1 comeback win against Real Salt Lake last Saturday in MLS regular season action as well as last Wednesday's 2-1 win over Monarcas Morelia in CONCACAF Champions League play which came about courtesy of a stoppage-time strike by Brazilian midfielder Juninho.

New York (8-7-16, 40 pts) controls its own playoff destiny and can continue to do so with a win over the Galaxy, as both the Portland Timbers (11-13-7, 40 pts) and Houston Dynamo (10-9-13, 43 pts) will remain dormant until after the international break concludes next week. The Columbus Crew (12-12-8, 44 pts) created breathing room from the Red Bulls with a Sunday win over D.C. United (9-10-11, 38 pts), though the latter team still holds a game in hand on New York that will give D.C. a leg up as the playoff races wind down.

Shielded Stars. Los Angeles only needs two points to clinch the club's second consecutive Supporters' Shield win and fourth in team history, but Galaxy coach Bruce Arena also knows he has three matches to seal the deal. Rather than pull out all the stops at the end of a short work week and prior to the international break, Arena will instead keep team-leading goal scorer Landon Donovan, Irish striker Robbie Keane, and English midfielder Chris Birchall out of the visitor's Starting XI.

Donovan will recuperate from a quad injury incurred during the past week's action, while Keane and Birchall departed early to join the Irish and Trinidadian national teams, respectively. Their absences should ease the burden on a much-maligned Red Bulls back line charged with keeping pressure on the vaunted Galaxy attack.

Key Matchup: Rafa vs. Becks. Henry's pursuit of the MLS scoring title will earn the French striker his share of the limelight on Tuesday, but it will take a superb performance to turn the gaze of soccer supporters from the midfield.

David Beckham is expected to patrol the Los Angeles midfield for what could be one of his final matches in MLS. His contract with MLS and the Galaxy is up at season's end, with only idle speculation providing any indication of the English midfielder's intentions for next season and beyond. With Donovan and Keane unavailable, Los Angeles will look to their prized designated player -- who leads the league with 15 assists -- to lob balls behind the Red Bulls back line while managing the run of play for the visitors.

New York would like to ask the same of Rafael Marquez, but the maligned Mexican defender is suddenly a player without a position for a Red Bulls side not known for its depth. His move to defensive midfielder by Red Bulls coach Hans Backe backfired last weekend, as Marquez's poor pass and poorer attempt to get back on defense contributed to a Toronto FC lead last weekend. And his days on the back line are likely over, as Backe has confirmed that Marquez will once again man the midfield against L.A. rather than line up next to his former center back partner, Tim Ream.

One hopes to justify his existence in MLS with a Cup at season's end. The other hopes to justify his existence in New York with an effective performance. Only one of them will take a big step forward with a solid performance tonight and likely at the expense of the other. So who's up for the challenge?

Doughnut Delivery. Marquez's presence in the midfield will need to support a Red Bulls attack led by Henry and Luke Rodgers against a Galaxy defense that's one clean sheet away from tying the 2000 Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting Kansas City) for the MLS single-season shutout record of 17.

Galaxy 'keeper Josh Saunders has accrued seven shutouts and 10 wins in the 16 matches since seamlessly replacing an injured Donovan Ricketts, though his job gets easier with an MVP-caliber defender in Omar Gonzalez applying the press against opposing offenses. Dane Richards and Joel Lindpere will need to step in and create chaos in the box to prevent the Galaxy from tying the record on the Red Bulls' turf.

One. That's how many goals Henry needs to tie former Red Bull and D.C. United midfielder Dwayne De Rosario atop the leaderboard in the Golden Boot pursuit.

Henry ended a 436-minute personal scoring drought with his late strike at Toronto FC last weekend, but will need to find his finishing form if he wants to be a player for the Golden Boot. The Red Bulls hope he can as well, as only Rodgers (eight) and Lindpere (seven) have more than half as many goals as the former Gunner.

Elimination Chamber. While New York can't clinch a playoff berth with a positive result against the Galaxy, they can end the playoff pursuit of two Western Conference clubs still in contention. A draw for the Red Bulls would mathematically eliminate the San Jose Earthquakes from contention, while a win would snuff out the fleeting postseason aspirations of the other L.A. side that calls the Home Depot Center home -- Chivas USA.

RBNY Notes: Red Bulls control own playoff destiny despite D.C.'s game in hand

October, 3, 2011
10/03/11
12:46
PM ET
Thanks to an imbalance in the number of matches played to this point and a needlessly complicated playoff structure that MLS commissioner Don Garber may tweak again soon, the Red Bulls' playoff picture looks muddied.

It looks like the Red Bulls have a tenuous grasp on the final wild card berth and need clubs like the Portland Timbers and Chicago Fire to cool off. It looks like D.C. United can knock them out of the postseason with winning ways and their game in hand. It looks like the Red Bulls are in trouble.

As the math bears out, looks can be deceiving -- and that's to the Red Bulls' benefit.

That's not to say the Red Bulls can skate into the MLS playoffs. They still have work to do, and the time for conceding draws at the expense of wins needs to be behind them over their final three matches. Their current standing doesn't absolve them of their responsibility to deal with Rafael Marquez's place on the club, nor how Red Bulls coach Hans Backe can keep his roster healthy for the final stretch.

But they do control their own destiny. And here's why:
Club Points GL Max Magic # Tragic # TB?
FCD 46 3 55 15 -4 Y
SKC 45 2 51 11 -5 Y
Rapids 45 2 51 12 -4 N
Union 44 3 53 14 -5 N
Crew 44 2 50 10 -6 Y
Dynamo 43 2 49 9 -7 Y
RBNY 40 3 49 - - -
Timbers 40 3 49 9 -10 Y
D.C. 38 4 50 10 -12 Y
Fire 37 3 46 6 -13 Y
Chivas 36 2 42 3 -13 N
Quakes 32 3 41 1 -18 Y

This table represents every eligible playoff club not presently in possession of a Western Conference automatic berth (i.e. the only three spots New York can't use to get in the playoffs). "Points" is how many points the clubs have in the regular season standings. "GL" represents the number of games that club has left. "MAX" is the maximum number of points a club can attain by season's end if that club wins out the remainder of its matches.

Then there's a few new numbers for you to crunch. "Magic #" is the magic number pundits use to describe the combination of events necessary to clinch a better finish in the standings than the club in question.

Basically, we're talking about any result which would favorably benefit the Red Bulls in the standings. That magic number represents the number of points the Red Bulls need to get or the opponent needs to concede for New York to overtake them.

For example, the Red Bulls will mathematically eliminate the Chicago Fire from overtaking them in the postseason standings if both clubs somehow create a six-point gap that benefits New York. If the Red Bulls collect at least six points (+6 points) over their final three matches, the Fire can't catch them. If New York collects three (+3) and the Fire lose once (+3, since they conceded an opportunity to collect three points and keep up), Chicago's out.

In the next column, the "Tragic #" lists the antithesis -- the number of points the Red Bulls need to concede or the opponent needs to get for New York to be unable to overtake them. This refers to any result which would unfavorably harm the Red Bulls in the standings.

Thus, a Sporting Kansas City win (-3) plus a New Red Bulls draw (-2, since the draw would concede two of a possible three points they'd receive from a win) would prevent New York from overtaking the tenants of Livestrong Sporting Park since the combination of events (-5 points) would add up to the tragic number.

(A note: "TB?" asks whether the Red Bulls control the playoff tiebreaker over the club in question according to the league's rules and regulations. If New York doesn't control the tiebreaker, the other club receives one extra point in their favor in the "Magic #" and "Tragic #" columns since New York can't finish tied in the standings without the tiebreaker to their benefit.)

So where does that leave the Red Bulls? Presently, they sit in the final wild card berth according to the MLS Playoff Standings and three points behind the Houston Dynamo.

That latter point is important because, as the MAX column shows, the Dynamo, Red Bulls, and Portland Timbers cannot finish with more than 49 points over their remaining matches.

The Red Bulls hold the tiebreaker over the Dynamo (goal differential) and Timbers (win-loss) as well, which means a three-way tie would give the edge to New York -- and the playoff spot with it. That's backed up by the current "Tragic #" column, which shows that neither the Dynamo nor Timbers can reach it on their own.

Moreover, Houston and Portland kick off against one another on Saturday, October 14 and force the losing side between the Timbers or Dynamo into a 46-point cap or both sides into a 47-point cap in the standings with a draw. If New York wins out, they're guaranteed to jump at least one of those sides.

And what about D.C. United and their recent surge of success and their game in hand on the Red Bulls?

D.C. can still overtake their longtime Eastern Conference rival if they win out, but remember that the Red Bulls are guaranteed to overtake either the Timbers or Dynamo with a three-game win streak of their own. That would mathematically clinch at least 10th place in the standings as well as the final wild card berth -- and that's before any mention of D.C.'s rescheduled match against the Timbers on Wednesday, October 19 and that encounter's ramifications on the Red Bulls pursuit.

So what's the takeaway? New York still has a long way to go before they can print their playoff itinerary, but their postseason plans are still within their control despite their inconsistency and controversies. A little help can go a long way to secure their chances, but there's only one plan Backe needs to implement to ensure a playoff berth before time runs out on the 2011 season.

Win, and you're in.

RBNY Recap: Henry saves another draw for Red Bulls in 1-1 result at Toronto FC

October, 2, 2011
10/02/11
11:55
AM ET

New York almost made it a month without collecting a draw, but that's a point the Red Bulls will accept as the playoff race gets tight.

Thierry Henry's equalizer bailed out a lifeless New York Red Bulls defense to salvage his side's 16th draw of the season in a 1-1 result against Toronto FC at BMO Field on Saturday. Henry received a Dax McCarty corner kick near the penalty spot and connected a whirlwind kick to bounce home the Red Bulls' only goal in the 88th minute.

The French striker's 13th goal of the season answered a goal by TFC forward Danny Koevermans, who completed a counterattack against a sleepy Red Bulls defense to slot home a TFC goal in the 50th minute.

"I think they allowed us to do it cause they just dropped," said Henry on how the equalizer came about. "Instead of passing the ball through the lines and hurting us, they were just kicking it and giving us the ball back. That allowed us to put pressure on them and have some more opportunities and thankfully, we came back into the game."

The draw gives New York (8-7-16, 40 pts) a temporary one-point boost to their grip on the final wild card berth, but now leaves them scoreboard watching as both D.C. United (9-9-11, 38 pts) and the Portland Timbers (10-13-7, 37 pts) kick off on Sunday afternoon. The Red Bulls will also keep an eye on the Philadelphia Union (10-7-13, 43 pts), who sit two points in front of the Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference's final automatic playoff berth and will play on Sunday evening as well. The slumping Columbus Crew (11-12-8, 41 pts) sit in between the Red Bulls and Union and will take the pitch on Sunday at Crew Stadium against D.C., who still have one game in hand on the Red Bulls.

Prestige Over Performance. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe elected to pick controversial defender Rafael Marquez over McCarty for Saturday's Starting XI, which gave the Red Bulls a notably more defensive-minded focus than it's seen in recent weeks against a Toronto FC side that has allowed a league-leading 56 goals this season. It also removed an effective cog in the Red Bulls' combined efforts of late, as McCarty has made himself present in his side's attack while leading the charge on recovering balls on defense.

McCarty eventually came on as a substitute for Marquez in the 79th minute. Henry scored nine minutes later, though the arrival of substitute Juan Agudelo also played a role in that result.

Play of the Game: Koeverman's Goal. The Dutch forward's opening strike may not elicit MLS Goal of the Week chatter, largely because it came about from a catastrophic failure of the Red Bulls' defense.

Toronto FC only gained possession in the moments prior to Koeverman's goal from a bad pass by Rafael Marquez being intercepted. As the Reds fired up their counterattack, both Marquez and Teemu Tainio jogged after Reds midfielder Ryan Johnson instead of engaging in full pursuit. Johnson dished the ball to Koeverman's on the left side past a Red Bulls back line that briefly halted its pressure after presuming the Dutchman was offside. He wasn't -- and he made the RBNY defense pay by tapping a ball off Frank Rost and inside the net for the match's first goal.

The goal seemed to snap the Red Bulls out of a malaise that hung over them for the first 50 minutes of the match, but the club's defense once again left New York chasing a lesser opponent's lead instead of burying them with one of their own.

Wake Up Time. New York's attack remained dormant until Koeverman's goal, with only two shots on target from six attempts on TFC backup 'keeper Milos Kocic to show for their efforts. That picked up in the second half, with the Red Bulls creating four shots on target from nine chances, culminating in Henry's goal in the waning moments of the match and a satisfying performance for the club's head coach.

"The work ethic was phenomenal in the second half," said Backe. "The way we controlled the game, the passing game, the number of chances, a lot of crosses (left us) very close to scoring. To respond after being one down like that, I'm quite pleased with the performance."

Fit to be Tied. The Red Bulls have reached half time all tied up with their opponent on 13 occasions this season. Of those 13 matches, New York has only won once -- the season opener against the Seattle Sounders on March 19. Since then, the Red Bulls are 0-3-9 in matches level at halftime. The trend itself may be an anomaly, which leaves Jan Gunnar Solli with a sense of optimism following another draw than another loss.

"A little bit unlucky tonight that we didn't score more goals," said Solli. "In the end, to get one point away -- that's good for us, especially when there was seven, eight minutes left in the game and then we scored. I was really happy with the boys."

14. Henry's late heroics netted the Red Bulls team captain his first goal in six matches (if you count the FC Dallas win, which Henry missed due to injury). That scoring drought left Henry chasing the league leader in goals scored and a familiar face to both New York and Toronto FC.

So who is the current Golden Boot favorite? D.C. United attacking midfielder Dwayne De Rosario.

New York gets no time to lick their wounds following their draw at Toronto as they head home to face the Los Angeles Galaxy on Tuesday (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes) at Red Bull Arena in a make-up match of the one postponed due to Hurricane Irene.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at Toronto FC

October, 1, 2011
10/01/11
11:40
AM ET
Two out of three wins ain't bad. Three out of four would be better.

That's the mindset of a New York Red Bulls side looking to keep their recent momentum going as they head north of the border to kick off against Toronto FC on Saturday evening. New York heads to BMO Field with heads held high following a solid 2-0 win over the Portland Timbers at Red Bull Arena last Saturday as well as a decisive 5-0 romp over the Reds in the first leg of their regular season encounters on July 6.

Toronto FC returns home this weekend with their attention divided as they play out the string in the MLS regular season while focusing their efforts on staying alive in the CONCACAF Champions League. Danny Koevermans has netted four goals in as many games for TFC in combined MLS and Champions League play, lifting the Reds to a 1-1 draw against Mexican side Pumas last Tuesday while failing to appear on the score sheet against Chivas USA last Saturday.

A Thurdsay win for the Philadelphia Union (10-7-13, 43 pts) kept D.C. United (9-9-11, 38 pts) out of the playoff picture for the time being, though DCU still owns a game in hand on the Red Bulls (8-7-15, 39 pts) and their tenuous grip on the final wild card berth. New York now sits two points behind a fourth-place Columbus Crew (11-12-8, 41 pts) club mired in a three-game winless streak and three points behind the Houston Dynamo (10-9-12, 42 pts) for the Eastern Conference's final automatic playoff berth.

The New Guys. New York will kick off against a very different Toronto FC side then the one they faced at Red Bull Arena this summer, though they've expected the new look since that match in July.

The Reds acquired Koevermans and German midfielder Torsten Frings as designated players during the summer transfer window, but neither international was eligible for selection by TFC coach Aron Winter due to transfer rules. The designated duo has given a much-needed boost to a Canadian side in full-on rebuild mode. Koevermans has six goals across that eight-game stretch, while Frings has boosted a struggling TFC defense as a midfielder and a static sweeper in Winter's 4-3-3 system. New York didn't have many to worry about in round one against the Reds; the same won't be said for the rematch.

Key Matchup: Marquez vs. The Guy He's Replacing. Saturday's match will mark the first appearance for Rafael Marquez since unloading on his teammates about their level of play as compared to the caliber of the Mexican defender. The comments themselves may have faded in the background, but the stellar play of center back combination Tim Ream and Stephen Keel has not.

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe has two options for Marquez. Start him over Keel or Carlos Mendes in the back and let him reestablish the chemistry with Ream which powered the Red Bulls defense earlier this season, or bump him up into a defensive midfield role at the expense of the recently-effective and offensive-minded Dax McCarty. In one instance, Backe picks Marquez over the hot hand. On the other, Backe removes a weapon from his offensive arsenal by benching McCarty in a possible 4-5-1 formation that might also see Luke Rodgers ride pine.

Most coaches would kill for that kind of problem, but most coaches don't have to deal with the cloud of controversy following Marquez. If Backe gets this one wrong, it could undo the positive momentum built by the Red Bulls in recent weeks.

The Missing Link? It oversimplifies the Red Bulls' recent success to say that the return of Luke Rodgers made it possible, but the correlation between New York's winning ways and the English striker's contributions is likely more than chance. Rodgers has a goal in each recent Red Bulls win and two in the three matches he's played since returning from a bout of plantar fasciitis, including a penalty kick that gave New York it's first two-goal lead in over three months.

And the last match Rodgers played in before his feet failed him? Against Toronto FC on July 6, in a match where Rodgers scored the second of the Red Bulls' five goals.

Stacking the Deck. If the Red Bulls attack intends to impose its will on the TFC back line, it will need to focus on providing service to Henry and Rodgers through a formation built on five in the back for the Reds. Winter beefs up his back line when his opponent calls for it -- and an opponent that has scored in all but one of its non-Real Salt Lake matches since last kicking off against TFC would qualify as such a special opponent.

Frings will likely resume his role as a de-facto sweeper between Andy Iro and Ty Harden, with Ashtone Morgan and Matt Stinson as TFC's fullbacks. Separate, they have their troubles. Together, they should create sufficient traffic between the Red Bulls and the goal area minded by TFC 'keeper Stefan Frei.

Road Warriors. Much has been made of the Red Bulls' troubles away from their namesake arena, with their league-leading nine road draws supporting that argument. However, New York hits the road following a gutsy road win against a beleaguered FC Dallas club that restored New York's confidence as much as its place in the standings.

Even with two wins in the away column, the FCD win demonstrated that the Red Bulls can win away from home. A win at Toronto FC would further cement it for a club whose present playoff state dictates more road games to come following the conclusion of the MLS regular season.

RBNY Notes: Henry concentrating on good momentum for MLS Playoffs push

September, 30, 2011
9/30/11
12:18
PM ET
The MLS Playoff picture is often murky, with both conferences vying for the same playoff spots while clubs kick off with different totals of games played. In one week, the Red Bulls' postseason chances look long. The next, they're back in the driver's seat

Watching the scoreboard is a natural temptation at this time of year, but doing so does not bring the Red Bulls any closer to a postseason berth. The players can see the comings-and-goings in the playoff standings -- which recently changed again following a Philadelphia Union win on Thursday -- but team captain Thierry Henry recognizes that the focus for his side needs to remain singular over the final four matches.

"We just have to do what we can do and not concentrate on others," said Henry. "Maybe that’s what we were doing sometimes during the season and looking at it and saying, ‘Oh, we're still just two points ahead of them or three.’ You just have to go and take care of yourself and see what you can do. At the end, we don’t have to count anymore. We will see who will go through or not."

The Red Bulls see themselves with a tenuous grasp on the final wild card berth, clinging to a one-point lead over a D.C. United side with a game in hand following their loss to Philly on Thursday. That's of no concern to Henry, who feels his Red Bulls are finally rolling at the right time.

"We are in a good momentum," said Henry. "Before the three games we had in Dallas, Salt Lake, and Portland, if someone said we were going to win two out of three – the end was to win three out of three – we would have been happy about that."

"(It's) kind of weird because we had a hard one in the middle of that against Salt Lake, but we are in a good momentum and we have to try to carry on."

Getting the Call. The Red Bulls learned on Thursday that six of their squad would once again receive the call of duty for their national sides next week. New York Red Bulls forward Juan Agudelo and defender Tim Ream will once again suit up for the United States Men's National Team, while defenders Rafael Marquez (Mexico) and Roy Miller (Costa Rica), midfielder Dane Richards (Jamaica), and goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul (Senegal) will also see international action.

Depending on where you stand regarding Marquez's level of ability these days, the biggest depth decision facing Red Bulls coach Hans Backe these days may lie between the posts. German 'keeper Frank Rost has collected two clean sheets in the club's last three matches, but now faces two matches in four days against Toronto FC and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

If Rost is showing any rust from his long layoff following his recent quad injury, Backe may need to call upon his Senegalese shot stopper for his starting XI against TFC. Coundoul will not be available to play against the Galaxy at Red Bull Arena next Tuesday, leaving Backe to either start Rost twice on short rest or go with a reserve goalkeeper in Alex Horwath or Mike Konopka against the best of the Western Conference.

Back Problems. Backe announcer earlier this week that Miller should be available to play this weekend at Toronto, but the same cannot be said for Chris Albright. The MLS veteran fullback endured a strained calf in the early moments of the match against Real Salt Lake, leaving Backe uncertain about his availability for the stretch run.

“[The medical staff] said it looks better than they thought,” Backe said to MLSsoccer.com. “[But] it could be the whole season, we just don’t know.”

RBNY Recap: Red Bulls take playoff hopes to next level in win vs. Timbers

September, 25, 2011
9/25/11
12:29
PM ET
Apparently, a bout of "foot-in-mouth" disease can extend to your opponent's goalmouth.

As a suspended Rafael Marquez watched from the owner's box on Saturday due to a one-game suspension for his disparaging comments regarding his teammates' form, the Red Bulls struck twice in a 2-0 win over the Portland Timbers at Red Bull Arena. Dane Richards outran Timbers midfielder Diego Chara and tapped a ball across the goalmouth and inside the far post in the 21st minute for the game's first goal, while Luke Rodgers converted a penalty kick in the 66th minute to add some breathing room on the score sheet. Frank Rost collected three saves en route to his second clean sheet and MLS regular season win of the season.

By collecting a valuable three points in the standings over the Timbers (10-13-7, 37 pts), New York (8-7-15, 39 pts) maintains their tenuous hold on the final wild card berth while picking up the valuable win-loss tiebreaker over Portland. D.C. United (9-8-11, 38 pts) remains one point back with two games in hand on the Red Bulls following their decisive 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake on Saturday.

However, the Eastern Conference's automatic berths experienced a shakeup as the Houston Dynamo (10-9-12, 42 pts) leapfrogged into first place courtesy of a losing Columbus Crew (11-11-8, 41 pts) side and a draw between Sporting Kansas City (10-9-11, 41 pts) and the Philadelphia Union (9-7-13, 40 pts). According to MLSsoccer.com's Playoff Standings, the Red Bulls now sit two points behind Sporting KC for the conference's final spot in what Red Bulls coach Hans Backe believes is now a wide-open playoff chase for his club.

“I think it is up to us now," said Backe. "We will need to win two or three games to have a chance. We have the chance now, it’s up to us and we have three games at home. But of course, the key game that counts in Philly will probably show if we are in the playoffs or not.”

Plus-11. That's the recovery differential on balls in the middle and attacking thirds for the Red Bulls over Portland on Saturday. The Timbers created a comparable number of attempts (15) on goal as compared to New York (12), but it was an effective and organized defensive press by the Red Bulls that stifled the Portland attack all evening. Dax McCarty led that charge with five recoveries in the middle and final third in what was an all-around solid effort for all defensive parties involved.

"We kind of got back to defending first and foremost; kind of how we had it in Dallas," said Stephen Keel, who started in place of the suspended Marquez. "Cynical defending is what they want to call it. Just keeping everything in front of us, nice and organized, keep everything tight and keep a clean sheet.”

Play of the Game: Rodgers' Penalty Kick. It wasn't as sexy as Richards's opener, as the Jamaican midfielder sprinted past Chara and effectively crossed the ball across the goalmouth for a dramatic finish. And the circumstances making the penalty kick possible -- Timbers midfielder Kalif Alhassan received a straight red card in the 64th minute for a handball at the goal line on a Thierry Henry shot -- merely delayed the inevitable.

When Rodgers struck his right-footed shot from the spot past a diving Troy Perkins and inside the left post, it was fundamental but nonetheless significant. Rodgers's goal gave the Red Bulls their first two-goal lead over any opponent since going up 2-0 on the New England Revolution on June 10. Insurance goals have not been a strong suit for the Red Bulls all season, which made the penalty kick all the more important and the cathartic effect of a Red Bulls club coping with a teammate's criticisms all the more satisfying.

"We came in at halftime down a goal, but still felt we were definitely in it," said Timbers team captain Jack Jewsbury. "In the second half I thought we were banging on the door to get that tying goal. Next thing you know, the penalty is called and all of a sudden we’re down a man. Down two goals and a man is tough anyway, especially away from home.”

They were up by a wide margin over an expansion side that has yet two score two goals in a match away from home in MLS. That's a recipe for success every time.

Six in the Mix. The Red Bulls drew comparisons after Saturday's match to their gutty shutout at FC Dallas last weekend, citing the specific absence of Marquez and the solid defensive efforts by a patchwork back four producing a clean sheet for Rost.

However, one critical difference comes on the offensive ends. New York created six attempts on goal against FCD, while they produced 15 against the Timbers at home. That offensive output resulted in six Red Bulls -- Richards, Rodgers, Henry, Joel Lindpere, Jan Gunnar Solli, and Carlos Mendes -- combining to take the club's eight shots on target. It looks doubly impressive against a Timbers side that collected two shots on target before halftime and one afterwards. New York balanced their intensity across all facets of their game on Saturday, which defender Tim Ream acknowledges was long overdue.

"“Actually we needed to do that starting six, seven, even 10 games ago," said Ream. "That’s something that we really made a conscious effort on coming into this game. it definitely paid off for us, getting a solid 2-0 win and three points and putting us right back into the playoff picture.”

Miss Marquez Much? Speaking of Ream, he came under fire in recent days after being singled out by Marquez in the Mexican defender's post-game comments on Saturday. According to Empire of Soccer, Marquez described his back line partner as "a young player with a lot to learn" and criticized the sophomore center back for committing "errors that are very infantile and cost us goals." So, did it get to Ream?

"“Honestly, I think it would have happened even if the comments weren’t made," Ream said to MLSsoccer.com. "After you take a solid 3-1 beating, you have something to prove. We wanted to prove it was a fluke and that wasn’t who we are. We put our heads down more because of the way we played [on Wednesday], not because of the comments.”

25,008 Strong. The Red Bulls have had their share of sellouts this season, but some of those attendance numbers felt a bit padded with marketing techniques such as announcing the seats sold as compared to seats filled. That wasn't the case on Saturday, as a racuous crowd of 25,008 fans arrived to create an electric atmosphere just three days after a match that saw Red Bulls supporters booing Rafa Marquez's every touch.

New York now gets a week to prepare to travel north of the border for a match against a revamped Toronto FC at BMO Field on Saturday. First kick is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls vs. Portland Timbers

September, 24, 2011
9/24/11
1:28
PM ET
They've certainly talked the talk. Now it's time to walk the walk.

Three days after enduring a demoralizing 3-0 loss at home to Real Salt Lake as well as inflammatory post-game comments by Rafael Marquez, New York seeks to stabilize its form on Saturday Night at Red Bull Arena against a Portland Timbers side seeking to end the Red Bulls' postseason push. That's not to say Fabian Espindola's double against a dysfunctional Red Bulls defense will keep the Timbers out of focus this weekend, as the two sides faced off in a fast and furious 3-3 draw at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland on June 19.

Portland arrives at Red Bull Arena in sole possession of the final wild card berth after collecting one point at home in a 1-1 draw against the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday. Kenny Cooper chipped home a Darlington Nagbe cross to give the Timbers a lead in the 9th minute, only to see Khari Stephenson net the equalizer for the Quakes with 20 minutes to play.

Following Wednesday's draw, the Timbers (10-12-7, 37 pts) claimed a one-point lead among all MLS sides jockeying for the final wild card berth including the Red Bulls (7-7-15, 36 pts). D.C. United (8-8-11, 35 pts) surrendered a 2-2 draw to fringe postseason prospect Chivas USA (7-12-11, 32 pts) on Wednesday, but still possess two games in hand on both the Timbers and Red Bulls. Meanwhile, the Houston Dynamo (9-9-12, 39 pts) still stand in between the Red Bulls and the final Eastern Conference automatic berth following a 1-1 draw for the third-place Philadelphia Union (9-7-13, 40 pts) at Sporting Kansas City on Friday.

Rafa Remanded. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe suspended his Mexican center back for Saturday's match due to Marquez's comments criticizing his teammates including Tim Ream. Backe declared the issue an "internal" manner, but will need to externalize his resolution to Marquez's self-inflicted absence soon.

Marquez's suspension likely opens to the door to Stephen Keel pairing with Ream at center back, with Carlos Mendes stepping in at fullback in place of the injured Roy Miller and Chris Albright.

Key Matchup: NY's Back Line vs. Bruised Egos. Unfortunately for the Red Bulls back four, Marquez's comments touched a nerve exposed by the club's poor defensive form in recent weeks. Whether or not Marquez himself played above or below the level of his teammates is debatable, but the net result has been far below what one would expect of a club that entered the season with MLS Cup aspirations.

If Marquez's teammates want to prove him wrong, they'll need to start by making their own wrongs right on defense. With five games left in the season and a match against another side looking to benefit with a playoff berth at the Red Bulls expense, the back line simply has no time to brood over the disparaging comments made by Marquez. Backe will once again pick a makeshift back four against the Timbers, but it was a Marquez-less makeshift four that helped 'keeper Frank Rost collect his first MLS win and clean sheet just one week ago at FC Dallas.

Saturday's makeshift four will have their hands full keeping Cooper and Nagbe at bay while taking great care to not allow any free kicks in favorable positions for Timbers captain Jack Jewsbury. Ream, Keel, Mendes, and Jan Gunnar Solli know what they need to do -- but can they do it?

Fresh Start. New York's visit to Jeld-Wen Field earlier this season resulted in a wild finish and all the controversy that one can squeeze out of 90 minutes, but the players who led to that result are now out of the picture. Adam Moffat, who engaged Henry in a verbal exchange that resulted in a straight red card for the French striker, is now patrolling the midfield for the Dynamo after a July trade. Meanwhile, the man who scored the equalizer via penalty kick for the Red Bulls, Dwayne De Rosario, is now plying his trade for conference rival D.C. United.

That only leaves Henry with any kind of axe to grind for their recent history, with his teammates and the Portland Starting XI unlikely to feel compelled to seek revenge.

Edge of Glory. If the MLS regular season ended right now and the Red Bulls and Timbers were level in the standings, the Red Bulls would get the edge for the final wild card berth due to the league's tiebreaker scenarios. New York presently has a +3 goal differential as compared to Portland's -2, which isn't an insurmountable gap but should hold up over the final five matches.

However, a club's record in head-to-head matches trumps goal differential in playoff tiebreaker scenarios. Since the Red Bulls and Timbers battled to a draw in June, that means a win to either side would immediately give that victorious club the edge in tiebreakers while a draw would keep the edge at goal differential.

Down and Away. Portland has seen a fair amount of success in recent weeks, which includes three wins fueling a five-game unbeaten streak that has the Timbers right in the mix for a wild card berth. However, all three wins came in the cozy confines of Jeld-Wen Field.

The Timbers have not seen that kind of success on the road in their inaugural season, with a 1-4-8 record away for Jeld-Wen to show for their efforts. In fact, Portland has yet to score more than one goal in any MLS regular season game on the road. If there were ever a club whom the Red Bulls needed to run up the score against, it is this Timbers club.

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