New York Soccer: Emirates Cup

W2W4: NY Red Bulls vs. Real Salt Lake

September, 21, 2011
Things are about to get Real for a Red Bulls side bearing renewed postseason aspirations.

New York returns home on Wednesday to kick off at Red Bull Arena against red-hot Real Salt Lake. A go-ahead goal by Luke Rodgers and Frank Rost's clean sheet helped the Red Bulls restore a modicum of respect with a 1-0 win over FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park on Saturday, but New York is still smarting from a comprehensive 3-0 loss to Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium on August 6 that reversed the goodwill of an Emirates Cup win in late July.

Real Salt Lake is rolling in recent weeks as a four-game winning streak has the Claret-and-Cobalt on the periphery of the Supporters' Shield race. Nat Borchers headed home a Kyle Beckerman free kick to convert the goal needed by RSL in a 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City at Livestrong Sporting Park last Saturday. RSL has scored six goals in that four-game regular season stretch, with Beckerman and Alvaro Saborio playing prominent roles in establishing the club's winning ways.

A win would help boost the Red Bulls (7-6-15, 36 pts) further into the playoff picture as they prepare for their final six matches of the regular season. D.C. United (8-8-10, 34 pts) and the Portland Timbers (10-12-6, 36 pts) are two MLS clubs in action Wednesday that hope to lay claim on the final wild card berth in New York's possession. Meanwhile, the third-place Philadelphia Union (9-7-12, 39 pts) and fourth-place Houston Dynamo (9-9-12, 39 pts) remain idle in the chase for the Eastern Conference's final automatic playoff berth.

Can't Find a Beckerman. If RSL coach Jason Kreis hopes for a repeat performance of his club's thrashing of the Red Bulls in August, he'll need to do so without the services of his team captain. Kyle Beckerman will watch Wednesday's match from the sidelines as he serves a one-game suspension for his accumulated yellow card total.

Kreis could turn to the newly-acquired Yordany Álvarez or Jean Alexandre as well as pull Will Johnson or Ned Grabavoy back into Beckerman's holding midfield role, but none of them can be expected to replicate the contributions of RSL's dynamic playmaker.

Beckerman may need the rest after appearing in all of the club's 26 regualr season matches this season in addition to CONCACAF Champions League and U.S. Men's National Team commitments, but he also has one goal and two assist in the club's recent winning streak and also assisted on two of RSL's three goals scored against the Red Bulls in August. You don't just replace that production with anyone.

Key Matchup: Tainio vs. the Diamond. Kreis will undoubtedly call upon his vaunted diamond 4-4-2 formation at the outset of Wednesday's match to establish RSL's possession prowess and dictate a pace that passed the Red Bulls into submission in August. Once Kreis decides on how to replace Beckerman, he'll work quick to implement the game plan of providing service to Saborio, Fabian Espindola, or Luis Gil up top.

As Steve Davis points out over at, Red Bulls holding midfielder Teemu Tainio dropped back a bit more than usual to support a patchwork back line that appeared porous in recent weeks. It worked well as New York withstood an FC Dallas side that generated three times as many attempts on goal as the Red Bulls but only completed three shots on target. Even if Tainio refrained from his usual linking role to provide support to the young center back tandem of Tim Ream and Stephen Keel, it helped subdue FCD's constant control of the run of play.

Why wouldn't Red Bulls coach Hans Backe try it again? RSL proved its passing prowess and finishing touch in the first leg of the regular season encounters, but Tainio missed that match due to flu-like symptoms. He can't help the Red Bulls forwards get behind one of the best back lines in MLS, but his presence can keep the Red Bulls on the defensive in the best sense of the word.

Comeback Kids. Except for an injury to Roy Miller that will keep the Costa Rican fullback on the sidelines, Backe will have a as close to a full roster as he's had in some time for Wednesday's match.

Rafael Marquez and Jan Gunnar Solli will return to action after serving one-game suspensions, while Thierry Henry is expected to be available after tending to an Achilles tendon injury that kept the French striker off the pitch against FC Dallas. Toss in successful encores for Rodgers as well as Rost and Backe has more answers than questions on his depth chart for a change.

New York won't be the only club getting good news from the medical staff, though. Argentine playmaker Javier Morales, who hasn't appeared in a regular season match for RSL since breaking his ankle in May, and RSL left back and Babylon, NY native Chris Wingert will travel with the Claret-and-Cobalt and may be available to Kreis in at least a substitute capacity.

Rost Redux? Rost earned due praise for his strong outing against FC Dallas, but lost in the hysteria is that last Saturday's match was his first since a poor showing against Real Salt Lake in August that ultimately came about due to the German shot stopper's right quadriceps tear.

He should be in better form for Wednesday's rematch, but the Red Bulls have four matches scheduled in the next 15 days. Backe may not let his third designated player mind the net for every minute of that stretch if he has any lingering concerns about Rost's recovery, which could open the door to a Bouna Coundoul spot start or substitution at a moment's notice. That likely won't come on Wednesday, but it could come more sooner than later.

Seven Up. While their ugly 1-0 win over FC Dallas is a win nonetheless, it remains to be seen what New York can do for an encore. Since April 30, the Red Bulls have averaged only one win in every seven regular season matches. Considering that New York only has six matches left on their 2011 schedule, they can't let that trend or anything close to it continue.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at Real Salt Lake

August, 6, 2011
New York has not played a match that's meaningful to their postseason chances in two weeks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at Arsenal FC

July, 31, 2011
Forget Paris -- Tell the world Titi's coming home.

Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry returns to the scene of his greatest career triumphs as his New York Red Bulls club faces English Premier League stalwart Arsenal FC in the Emirates Cup finale at Emirates Stadium in London, England on Sunday. Henry will make his first start against the Gunners since departing for FC Barcelona in 2007, though the French striker briefly appeared as a substitute for Barça at Arsenal in the first leg of the 2009-10 UEFA Champions League quarterfinal match.

New York will need to overcome the pomp and circumstance surrounding Henry's homecoming to leave with the host's hardware on Sunday. The Red Bulls sit atop the two-day tournament's four-team group with three points by making a Joel Lindpere goal hold up against a barrage of shots by their opponents in a 1-0 victory over Ligue 1 side Paris Saint-Germain on Saturday.

Arsenal and Boca Juniors consummated a 2-2 draw in the second-half of the doubleheader at Emirates Stadium, giving each side one point heading into Sunday's doubleheader finale.

Key Matchup: Henry vs. the Gooners. New York may consider taking the Emirates Cup home with them a priority, but this prestigious invitation to kick off against one of the elite English Premier League sides on their home turf simply does not happen if not for the presence of Henry.

This match may morph into a de facto testimonial for the Arsenal legend, but his current club owes him an equal debt of gratitude for enabling the Red Bulls to kick off on such a prominent stage. The contest is nothing more than a preseason warmup for the Gunners, but everyone will watch in hopes of getting a passing glance at the magic that helped Henry deliver two EPL titles, two FA Cups, four Golden Boots, five Player of the Year awards and a club-record 226 goals in 370 contests to Arsenal.

For a fleeting moment, New York now stands in the soccer spotlight. So what can they do with it?

Let's Play 21. From the 21 players selected to make the trip across the Atlantic, Red Bulls coach Hans Backe fielded a very aggressive lineup against Paris Saint-Germain on Saturday that included eight of his regular starters as well as teenage phenom Juan Agudelo. All of that grouping but Teemu Tainio saw more than 70 minutes of action while Agudelo departed after 74 minutes as a precautionary measure after banging up his ankle in the 49th minute and another snag which Saturday's broadcast team described as a "groin strain."

Backe saved Henry and Rafael Marquez for the Sunday finale, but it remains to be seen who else the NY coach will call upon to represent the Red Bulls against the Gunners -- and more importantly, which players will receive double duty this weekend.

Gunners Blazing. Arsenal may have kept tabs on their former captain (Gunners captain Cesc Fabergas and Robert Van Persie were guests of Henry for the Red Bulls match against Colorado on May 25), but they'll enter Sunday's match with an eye towards August 12 -- also known as their first week of competition in the 2011-12 EPL season.

Fabergas will miss Sunday's finale as speculation builds about the Arsenal captain's potential transfer to FC Barcelona (the same move Henry made in 2007), but Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger can't wait for that situation to sort itself out and simultaneously acclimate his newest acqusitions, Ivorian forward Gervinho and English defender Carl Jenkinson, and the rest of his club to EPL season form.

Considering Wenger is overseeing a light preseason schedule with only one more match before their EPL season commences in Newcastle, he'll need to see more than a club with some offseason rust to shed.

Rapid Reax: Red Bulls 1, Paris St.-Germain 0

July, 30, 2011
New York opened its participation in the Emirates Cup tournament with a 1-0 win over Ligue 1 side Paris Saint-Germain at Emirates Stadium in London on Saturday. Joel Lindpere finished a nutmeg through ball from Juan Agudelo in the 27th minute to provide what amounted to be the game-winner for the Red Bulls.

The win leaves New York with four points and atop the group in the two-day competition.

Play Of The Game: The Non-Call On Miller: Paris SG created multiple attacking chances throughout the game, including a sequence in the 64th minute which included a lot of physical activity in the box. Roy Miller joined the scrum to clear the ball near the penalty spot, only to make incidental contact with Paris SG winger Jérémy Ménez.

Replays showed that the contact was slight at best, but easily could have been called a penalty shot considering the heightened activity in the box dividing the referee's attention.

Swing And A Miss: A one-goal lead proved sufficient for the Red Bulls on Saturday, but it wasn't for lack of effort on the part of Les Parisiens. Paris SG picked up the press after Lindpere's goal and dominated possession throughout the second half, allowing the Ligue 1 side to dominate attempts on goal ... and dominate missing those attempts. Despite Le Parisiens mustering a 25-to-5 edge in attempts on goal, Red Bulls 'keeper Frank Rost only accrued six saves due to the numerous shots directed wide by Paris SG. PSG forwards Mevlut Erding and Jean Christophe Bahebeck mustered a dozen shots between them, but best represented their club's troubles as they directed only two on target and frequently missed wide or saw their chances blocked by a very efficient Red Bulls back line led by team captain Tim Ream.

Call It The Streak: The win gives New York its first victory on European soil since the Red Bulls collected a 1-0 win over Polish side Lech Poznan at La Manga resort in Spain in Jan. 2010. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe remains undefeated on European soil since taking the reins of his New York side mere weeks before that preseason victory at La Manga.

New York now gets a 24-hour breather before Thierry Henry steps on the pitch against the club that made him a household name in the soccer world, Arsenal FC, on Sunday. First kick is scheduled for 11 a.m. ET.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls vs. Paris Saint-Germain at Emirates Stadium

July, 30, 2011
Leave it to the City of Lights to unite an Arsenal legend with his old supporters against a common foe.

Before the Gooners can welcome back Gunners great Thierry Henry in the weekend finale, the New York Red Bulls will kick off against Ligue 1 side Paris Saint-Germain at Emirates Stadium in London, England on Saturday. This trans-Atlantic clash represents the first leg of the Emirates Cup, a two-day exhibition tournament hosted by English Premier League side Arsenal FC.

The four clubs involved in this year's Emirates Cup -- Arsenal, Paris SG, Boca Juniors, and the Red Bulls -- play two matches with the standard tournament scoring of three points awarded for a win, one point for a draw, and the added incentive of a point for every goal scored. Arsenal has won the Emirates Cup three times in the four years of the tournament's existence, including last year's edition.

Key Matchup: The Red Bulls vs. Their Depth Chart. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe has worked hard to mixed results in balancing a very busy July schedule that includes MLS regular season, US Open Cup, and MLS All-Star Game commitments for many of his key players.

Make no mistake -- the Emirates Cup sat on the Red Bulls' calendar with a big circle around these next two days. These games may not factor in to the MLS standings, but they stand to help benefit the club's reputation on the global soccer scene and within MLS. They will not punt these matches in the same way they seemingly punted the US Open Cup quarterfinal at Chicago.

Backe has 21 players at his disposal to play two matches in two days before the Red Bulls can finally have their full first week of rest since the middle of June. With Luke Rodgers and Mehdi Ballouchy missing the trip due to injury and visa issues respectively, Backe has one more balancing act to peform with his reserves and regular personnel to make a strong impression under the bright lights of the second largest club stadium in London.

Time Zone Tizzy. New York generally hasn't fared well in their matches away from Eastern Standard/Daylight Time, going 0-2-8 in MLS play this season as well as the US Open Cup loss at Chicago.

Factor in the five-hour time difference to Greenwich Mean Time and that the club did not leave New York until Thursday nor send any non-All-Stars in advance to adjust to the time difference and it could make for a sluggish start by whatever combination of players that Backe decides to start against Les Parisiens.

A Moveable Feast. Paris Saint-Germain is a club on an upward trajectory, with their fourth-place finish in the 2010-11 season being their best finish in a decade and a mere three seasons after narrowly avoiding relegation. New Paris SG sporting director Leonardo took the reins in July after being courted away from his post as Inter head coach.

Leonardo promptly brought Roma winger Jérémy Ménez and former Juventus defensive midfielder Mohamed Sissoko to bolster his defensive efforts as well as French 'keeper Nicolas Douchez and former Palermo shot stopper Salvatore Sirigu to handle the netminding duties. A lot of Paris SG manager Antoine Kombouaré's weekend tactics may revolve around Leonardo's efforts to help these players establish chemistry for the upcoming season and the accompanying run in the UEFA Europa League.