New York Soccer: Donovan Ricketts

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.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at San Jose Earthquakes

July, 2, 2011
7/02/11
9:00
AM ET
Their long and winding road trip leads the Red Bulls to the door of the San Jose Earthquakes at Stanford Stadium on Saturday evening (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes).

While New York carries the goodwill of their 2-1 comeback win against FC New York in the US Open Cup match on Tuesday, they still possess only one win since April 30 in MLS play after conceding a 1-1 draw to the Chicago Fire on Sunday. Guatemalan midfielder Marco Pappa answered a first-half goal by Joel Lindpere with a soft shot that badly beat Bouna Coundoul in the NY goalie's first start in seven matches. New York will look to complete the season sweep after a Luke Rodgers brace left the Quakes chasing a 3-0 result on April 16.

San Jose will look to reestablish its scoring touch after completing a scoreless draw at home against the Los Angeles Galaxy last Saturday. The Quakes could not finish off a shorthanded LA side that called upon former Red Bulls midfielder Mike Magee to mind the net for more than a half after Galaxy shot stoppers Donovan Ricketts and Josh Saunders left due to an injury and a red card, respectively.

New York (5-3-9) sits two points behind the Philadelphia Union (7-4-5) in the Eastern Conference standings and find themselves tied with the Columbus Crew (6-4-6) for second place.

Dax's a Fact. The Red Bulls' midfield will have a new look as it debuts midfielder Dax McCarty on Saturday. New York received the veteran midfielder in a trade with D.C. United for Dwayne De Rosario on Monday.

The change in personnel may initiate a transition from the Red Bulls' 4-4-2 diamond formation to a flatter 4-2-3-1, with the defensive-minded McCarty joining Teemu Tainio in a holding midfield tandem that's expected to ease transitions from defense to offense. Whatever new look is drawn up, McCarty's presence should free wingers Dane Richards and Joel Lindpere to reinforce NY's attack.

Key Matchup: Tim Ream v. the San Jose Forwards. While Juan Agudelo's return from the Gold Cup provides much-needed depth up top for New York, Tim Ream returns with a sense of urgency to quarterback a Red Bulls back line that has played to mixed results in recent weeks.

With Rafael Marquez still tending to a hamstring injury, Ream will need to lead the defensive efforts against a dangerous Quakes attack led by 2010 Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski and the pesky presence of Steven Lenhart. Wondo -- who was Ream's roommate at the Gold Cup -- likes to play the scavenger role in the box while Lenhart tends to play a more abrasive style (A headbutt on the ball by Lenhart led to Saunders's ejection last week).

Ream didn't appear during the knockout stages of the Gold Cup, but Red Bulls coach Hans Backe gave his young center back some much-needed playing time alongside Stephen Keel during Tuesday's US Open Cup match. Ream will need to be ready for the full 90 at MLS speed against San Jose's dynamic duo.

Depth Charges. New York wasn't the only club to make a trade with D.C. United on Monday. San Jose dealt longtime center back Brandon McDonald to DC for cash considerations, which is perceived as an endorsement of defender Bobby Burling with Quakes back line stalwart Jason Hernandez.

McDonald has only played 12 minutes in the club's last six matches, meaning his departure should hardly disrupt the Quakes' attempts to keep Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls' attack at bay. That said, his departure should signal to the Red Bulls that San Jose is very comfortable with the status quo on defense -- and disrupting them could prove difficult.

Backe Out. Assistant coach Jan Halvor Halvorsen will oversee the sideline responsibilities for the Red Bulls on Saturday as Backe stayed behind in New York to recover from surgery for an undisclosed condition. While all indications are that Halvorsen will implement whatever game plan Backe drew up for San Jose, it remains to be seen what that will look like with the Red Bulls debut of McCarty and reinsertion of Ream and Agudelo.

A Sort of Homecoming. During halftime of Saturday's match, the Earthquakes will welcome back the 1994 U.S. Men's National Team to the site of the US's last stand against Brazil during the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Following a five-minute montage recalling the US run on home soil, the likes of Cobi Jones, Paul Caligiuri, and Tab Ramos will be recognized for one of the more memorable runs in the nation's history.

No word on whether former Red Bulls captain Claudio Reyna will be in attendance, but it's no secret that the 1994 World Cup served as a catalyst for the rebirth of professional soccer in the United States under the banner of MLS -- which made this and every other great American soccer blog necessary.

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