New York Soccer: FC Dallas

RBNY Recap: Cynical soccer leaves Red Bulls sitting pretty after FCD win

October, 27, 2011
10/27/11
10:56
AM ET

Cynical soccer, as Red Bulls coach Hans Backe describes it, isn’t supposed to be pretty.

During the majority of the Red Bulls’ 2-0 wild card victory over FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park on Wednesday night, Backe’s description was apt. New York rarely controlled the run of play for meaningful stretches and generally stuck to game plan of withstanding the FCD pressure and obstructing every pass and cross that could feed the opposing attack.

Still, a game plan executed to perfection can still create soccer worth seeing – just as it did in the 61st minute by way of a Joel Lindpere go-ahead goal. FCD ‘keeper Kevin Hartman parried a Lindpere shot wide and towards Dane Richards, who smartly backheeled the ball parallel to the penalty area up to Mehdi Ballouchy. Ballouchy, who had entered the match only moments earlier for his first meaningful MLS action since mid-September, took care of the rest.

“Dane got the ball up high on the right and I was yelling right behind him ‘Play me back the ball’ and I decided (to pass low) instead of crossing, because I think most fullbacks are expecting the block off of the cross but forget about the pass on the ground,” said Ballouchy. “The back four stepped up and opened up Joel and he was able to finish. We were fortunate to get the first goal against the run of play.”

It came about quickly and came together perfectly, with Lindpere crediting the Morocccan midfielder in creating the Red Bulls’ best scoring chance of the game.

“Mehdi gave me a great ball,” said Lindpere. “I was timing my run very perfectly and maybe I didn’t hit (it) so hard but it was difficult to reach for the goalie.”

Thierry Henry’s stoppage-time strike lacked the suave of Lindpere’s goal, but the Red Bulls team captain finished that ball following 90-plus minutes of keeping FCD midfielder Daniel Hernandez in check. Henry was charged with keeping Hernandez out of the picture on the FCD offensive end, with Backe admitting that the Red Bulls’ game plan hinged on his French striker’s results.

“We said before the game was the key has to be to close down Hernandez’s distribution,” said Backe. “We put Thierry on him and set with the back four and midfield just to cover the space for the pace guys in Dallas, the front three guys, and give them as little space as possible in closing down Hernandez. That worked quite well, because (Igo) Ihemelu or (George) John has to drive out and had to do the distribution. They went wide sometimes, but we were solid in the middle.”

That solid performance left New York standing at the final whistle with a two-goal victory and two games against the Los Angeles Galaxy in the Western Conference bracket now added to the schedule. It wasn’t always pretty and it wasn’t always telegenic.

But, as Backe sees it, that just wouldn’t be the Red Bulls’ cynical style these days.

“We have played decent football,” said Backe. “I think we’re at the right time. Perhaps close to our peak.”

Empty Net. New York now has four wins in their past six matches between the regular season and postseason, with ‘keeper Frank Rost playing a prominent role in each victory. The German shot stopper has accrued clean sheets in each of the club’s last five wins dating back to New York’s prior visit to Pizza Hut Park in September. While he certainly played a role in keeping opposing offenses out of the New York net, Rost acknowledges that his side’s seeming ability to score often makes his job a little easier.

“We shoot a goal in every match if we get no goal,” said Rost. “Maybe the players have this now in the blood.”

Game of Chance. FCD created twice as many scoring chances as the Red Bulls on Wednesday, but never quite cracked the combination that would make the Red Bulls back line sweat. The numbers paint a picture favoring the Dallas attack, but Backe didn’t feel the pressure outside of a first-half header by Jackson that went for naught.

“I don’t think it was that many chances,” said Backe. “It had one good header or close, but otherwise, I can’t really find a free run or a 100-percent scoring chance. Some half chances, but not the really big one.”

Looking Ahead. Now that New York has dispatched of the 2010 MLS Cup runners-up in the do-or-die wild card round, they can focus their efforts on preparing for their home-and-home semifinal series against the Supporters Shield winners in Los Angeles.

Henry recognizes that the path through the Galaxy won’t be easy, but admits that his side’s form will prepare them better than any self-esteem derived from their recent success.

“The confidence level doesn’t mean anything in the playoffs,” said Henry. “We know it won’t be easy, but don’t get me wrong -- We are in a better situation now the way we are playing, mentally. The team is much stronger because we’re playing as a team. Everyone’s going to say LA against the Red Bulls is going to be a big game, but they are the favorites. So we’ll try to cause an upset.”

Rapid Reaction: Red Bulls 2, FC Dallas 0

October, 26, 2011
10/26/11
11:11
PM ET
A second-half strike by Joel Lindpere helped a shorthanded Red Bulls side rise to the semifinal round of the 2011 MLS Playoffs following a 2-0 win over FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park on Wednesday evening.

Lindpere threaded the FCD back line near the penalty spot and converted a Mehdi Ballouchy cross in the 61st minute to net the game winner and lift the Red Bulls out of the Wild Card round and into a home-and-home series against the Supporters Shield winner, the Los Angeles Galaxy. Thierry Henry provided an insurance goal in stoppage time by tapping in a rebound from his own shot off FCD 'keeper Kevin Hartman in the 98th minute to seal the win for the visiting side.

Lindpere's goal also came about despite a shaky effort from a Red Bulls attacking corps that only controlled the run of play in fits and starts. New York registered six shots on target from 13 attempts against a relentless home side, with a Henry shot before halftime that sailed over the top crossbar representing the Red Bulls' best scoring chance preceding Lindpere's goal.

However, FC Dallas once again struggled to turn their many chances created into pressure on Red Bulls 'keeper Frank Rost. FCD created seven shots on target from 23 attempts with midfielders Brek Shea and Martin Chavez leading the way with three and five attempts respectively but only one shot on target between them. That duo fell behind FCD defender Jackson, who led the way with four of the club's seven shots on target and firing away from inside and outside the penalty area.

Play of the Game: Solli Sees Red. New York held on for the win, but they needed to do it a man down for the final 10 minutes courtesy of a red card awarded to right fullback Jan Gunnar Solli.

With Colombian defender Jair Benitez obstructing his run, Solli conceded a ball to FCD midfielder Daniel Cruz near the center circle in the 79th minute. In an attempt to make up for his own miscue, the Norwegian fullback immediately sprinted and dived from behind into Daniel Hernandez. Solli's slide brought Hernandez to the ground and brought the red card out of referee Ricardo Salazar's pocket.

It didn't affect the final result, but it left New York in danger of blowing the lead in the game's final moments just as they have so many times in their league-tying 16 draws during the 2011 regular season. It also triggers an automatic one-game suspension for Solli, who will now miss the first leg of the home-and-home series against the Galaxy and leave Red Bulls coach Hans Backe searching for his replacement on short notice.

Zero. That's how many goals Frank Rost allowed in collecting his first MLS postseason clean sheet and his sixth shutout of the season. Rost also earned his first career clean sheet in MLS play in the Red Bulls' 1-0 win at FC Dallas on September 17.

Free Falling. FC Dallas hoped to repeat the run that left them as the MLS Cup runners-up in 2010, but failed to find the form that kept them near the top of the table in the early goings of the 2011 regular season. FCD coach Schellas Hyndman saw his side sink to a 2-8 finish in all competition since losing to the Red Bulls in September.

Five for Fighting. Backe couldn't do much to counter having to play the final minutes of Wednesday's match with 10 men, but he did not leave himself with many options on his own bench. The Red Bulls coach picked five players -- Ballouchy, Juan Agudelo, Stephane Auvray, Carlos Mendes, and reserve 'keeper Bouna Coundoul -- to ride the pine in Dallas and see their teammates advance to victory.

Backe indicated to MLSsoccer.com's Jason Saghini before the match that he may intend to put fresh legs on the field in next weekend's match against the Galaxy. But how many of them would come from the Red Bulls reserves that didn't make the trip to Dallas?

As the lowest living seed in the MLS Playoffs, New York's playoff path will run through Red Bull Arena next Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes) but against a star-studded Los Angeles Galaxy side that will be a lot healthier than the club's prior visit to Harrison earlier this month.

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: 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."

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.

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 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. Real Salt Lake

September, 21, 2011
9/21/11
9:21
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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 MLSsoccer.com, 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.

RBNY Recap: Rost saves Red Bulls' playoff chances in win over FC Dallas

September, 18, 2011
9/18/11
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New York finally rekindled its winning ways courtesy of a little R&R.

R&R, in this case, refers to contributions of Luke Rodgers and Frank Rost which boosted the Red Bulls to the club's first victory since July 6 in a 1-0 win over FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas on Saturday. The international duo made their first starts since recovering from their respective injuries -- Rodgers with plantar fascitis, Rost with a right quadriceps tear -- and played key roles in the result, with the English striker finishing a Juan Agudelo cross in the 36th minute for the game's only goal and the German shot stopper collecting a clean sheet for his first win in MLS.

In addition to a morale boost, the three points from their long-awaited win over FCD also gives the Red Bulls (7-6-15, 36 pts) an immediate boost back into the playoff picture. According to MLSsoccer.com's playoff standings, New York reclaimed control of the final wild card berth as their +5 goal differential gives them the playoff tiebreaker over the Portland Timbers (10-12-6, 36 pts). D.C. United (8-8-10, 34 pts), who previously held the final berth prior to the start of action in Week 27 and has two games in hand on the Red Bulls, conceded a 3-0 defeat to the Seattle Sounders on Saturday.

The Red Bulls also kept pace in their pursuit for an Eastern Conference automatic playoff berth, as both the third-place Philadelphia Union (9-7-12, 39 pts) and fourth-place Houston Dynamo (9-9-12, 39 pts) collected wins on Saturday as well.

Give It a Go. New York knew of their shorthanded status before they boarded their Dallas charter plane on Friday. Rafael Marquez and Jan Gunnar Solli would not join them as they served one-game suspensions. Thierry Henry and Roy Miller also stayed home as they nursed injuries.

However, four questionable players who made the trip produced answers for the Red Bulls on Saturday night. The return of Rodgers and Rost directly factored into the result, while Tim Ream's recovery from his injury and Teemu Tainio's return from a one-game suspension helped stablize a patchwork defense charged with keeping a beleaguered FC Dallas side -- FCD winger Brek Shea was suspended, David Ferreira and Martin Chavez were hurt -- at bay.

Play of the Game: Rost's Saves on Santos. It's not hard for the Red Bulls to knock their opponents down, as they've taken early leads against MLS sides all season. When Rodgers collected Agudelo's cross and hit a grounder inside the far post past a diving George John and a helpless Kevin Hartman in net, it wasn't pretty but it was never beyond the realm of possibility.

Instead, it's getting opposing teams to stay down that's the trick. Rost, who made his first start since August 6 over a recently-effective Bouna Coundoul, made that happen with his best performance as a Red Bull, as he kept a clean sheet against an FC Dallas side that controlled the run of play for huge swaths of Saturday's match. FC Dallas accrued 19 attempts on goal as compared to New York's six, but only generated three shots on target for their efforts. FCD forward Maicon Santos created a team-leading eight attempts against a Red Bulls back line that appeared porous at times, but Rost saved Santos's only shot on target while his positioning helped cut down angles and force the Brazilian's shots wide of the net.

A solid defensive effort kept FCD off the scoreboard, but Rost eliminated any chance for a soft goal from stealing Rodgers's thunder.

Moroccan Meddling. Unlike last Saturday when Red Bulls coach Hans Backe sent his shorthanded side's attack into overdrive with a late Agudelo substitution, he did the exact opposite with a swap of Rodgers for Mehdi Ballouchy at halftime. The Moroccan midfielder's arrival effectively sent the Red Bulls into defensive mode, as evidenced by FCD's early attacking surge tapering off in the second half.

As previously mentioned, New York only created six attempts on Saturday night. Five of those came before halftime, with only a Joel Lindpere miss at point-blank range in the 64th minute to show for their efforts. Meanwhile, Ballouchy added nothing to the Red Bulls attack while his role up top muted any passing distribution he can typically bring to any match. It was a risky call by Backe to protect his recovering English forward at the expense of any chance at creating an insurance goal, but ultimately paid off through the efforts of New York's back line and Rost.

205. According to the Opta Chalkboards, that's how many passes New York completed on Saturday at Pizza Hut Park. That's far and away the lowest number of completed passes this season for a Red Bulls side that typically accrues 350-400 completed passes with ease. It's also over 100 fewer than the previous low of 308 completed passes accrued in a 2-2 draw against the San Jose Earthquakes on July 2. So if you're curious as to why FC Dallas claimed a 59.5%-to-40.5% advantage in possession on Saturday night, start here.

Slump Buster. New York's win over FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park gives the Red Bulls their first win outside the Eastern time zone in regular season play in almost a year. New York is now 1-2-8 in games west of Ohio, and have one more match -- October 15 at Sporting Kansas City -- of their final six that will require them to wind their watches upon arrival.

New York now heads home to Red Bull Arena looking to exact revenge on Wednesday against a Real Salt Lake side that delivered a decisive 3-0 win to the Red Bulls in the first leg of their regular season encounters on August 6 at Rio Tinto Stadium. First kick is scheduled for 8:00 p.m.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at FC Dallas

September, 17, 2011
9/17/11
8:49
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Sixteen draws and what do you get?

Another week older and deeper in trouble if the New York Red Bulls can't successfully mess with Texas this weekend.

The Red Bulls will take their umpteenth chance at collecting the club's first win since July as they head west to face FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas on Saturday. New York kicks off in search of the much-needed victory that eluded them in the first leg of their regular season encounters against FCD. Thierry Henry scored a brilliant equalizer in the waning moments of that match to answer a second-half brace by FCD midfielder Martin Chavez and sent a shorthanded Red Bulls side off to the All-Star break with a 2-2 draw for their efforts.

New York also salvaged a 1-1 draw last Saturday at Red Bull Arena against an expansion Vancouver Whitecaps side that still lacks its first-ever MLS regular season win on the road. Juan Agudelo came on as a substitute to finish a Rafael Marquez cross and answer a one-man highlight reel goal by Davide Chiumiento, sending the Red Bulls running from home with the club's fifteenth draw of the season.

FC Dallas should be so lucky to collect that kind of result considering their recent form. Despite having the third-best record by points in all of MLS with 46, FCD has lost three of their last five matches including a 2-0 loss against a rebuilding New England Revolution side at Gillette Stadium last Saturday. They're also in the midst of a short work week after failing to make a very early Daniel Cruz goal stand up in a 1-1 draw of a CONCACAF Champions League group stage match on Wednesday at home against Panamanian side Tauro FC.

According to MLSsoccer.com, a decisive Portland Timbers (10-12-6, 36 pts) win on Friday evening over the lowly Revs temporarily pushes the Red Bulls (6-6-15, 33 pts) into the ten spot of the overall league standings. With two games in hand, D.C. United (8-7-10, 34 pts) also sits in between the Red Bulls and the final playoff spot. The Union (8-7-12, 36 pts) maintain a three-point edge over New York to keep hold of the final automatic Eastern Conference playoff berth, though both D.C. and the Houston Dynamo (8-9-12, 36 pts) stand between the Red Bulls and Philadelphia.

Exiguous XI. Though Red Bulls coach Hans Backe notoriously keeps a short bench at his disposal for most matches, it's not entirely his choice to travel to Dallas shorthanded this weekend. Backe's back line will miss the likes of Marquez and Jan Gunnar Solli due to suspension as well as Roy Miller and possibly Tim Ream due to injury, while his offense could lack the forward pairing of Henry and Luke Rodgers as that duo nurse injuries that arose in training earlier this week.

Those absences should create playing time for young playmaker Juan Agudelo up top and Red Bulls rookie defender Stephen Keel, who is expected to make his first appearance since coming on as a sub on August 6 at Real Salt Lake.

Key Matchup: NY's Wide Midfielders vs. FCD's Press. In the first leg of their regular season matches, FCD coach Schellas Hyndman saw his side apply a press that paralyzed the Red Bulls attack while inadvertently muting their own offensive efforts. A late substitute opened up the FCD offense, culminating in Chavez netting two goals in short order.

Meanwhile, New York succumbed to a lesser-caliber press applied by the 'Caps last weekend with a back line not known for its depth. Service was sparse for Henry and Dane Richards up top until Agudelo reinforced the attack with his late arrival as a sub. Save a late shot on goal against a 'Caps defense in prevent mode, Joel Lindpere was present in name only for the majority of the match.

With Henry and Rodgers bearing injuries and possibly missing Saturday's match, someone besides Agudelo will need to step up and step into a Red Bulls attack that hasn't scored an insurance goal in months. Richards could start up top if Henry and/or Rodgers can't go, but Lindpere and possibly Mehdi Ballouchy could be looked upon to join the attacking corps and create traffic in the box.

Price to Pay. One injury New York does not need to accommodate any further is the one to German goalkeeper Frank Rost. Backe cleared Rost to play this weekend in Dallas after reviewing his form in training this week, which could once again bump Bouna Coundoul back to the bench despite a recent run of solid play.

The MLS Players Union recently released its updated payroll earlier this month, which reflects that Rost's designated player status helps him make three times what MLS and the Red Bulls pay their Senegalese shot stopper. New York paid a premium to bring in Rost as a difference maker, but would Backe have made the same decision considering Coundoul's recent successes -- including two consecutive draws in MLS play and a shutout for his native Senegal -- if his German 'keeper and Coundoul collected similar sums?

Zero. While New York's hoping to capture their first win in over two months at Pizza Hut Park, that goose egg represents another streak the Red Bulls hope to put to bed this weekend.

The Red Bulls remain winless this season in away matches outside of their own time zone, with nothing but an 0-3-8 record to show for it. In fact, it has been almost a year since New York has won a regular season match west of Ohio. The Red Bulls last won an away match in a time zone other than Eastern last September 24 in a 2-0 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Home Depot Center. They also claimed a 1-0 result at Buck Shaw Stadium against the San Jose Earthquakes in the first leg of the MLS playoff quarterfinals last October, only to concede that lead in the second leg before losing 3-2 on aggregate to the Quakes.

Heavy Hearts. If FC Dallas kicks off in a melancholy mood, it's not necessarily due to their recent form in league play.

Saturday's match represents the club's first home match since the loss of Dallas stalwart Bobby Rhine, who passed away on September 5 at the age of 35. Rhine joined the then-Dallas Burn as a player in 1999 and later served in the club's front office and as the team's color commentator on televisions broadcasts, leaving an indelible mark on the soccer legacy of an original MLS side.

FC Dallas will honor Rhine with a pregame ceremony that will include Rhine's family and MLS commissioner Don Garber and a video montage at halftime, while the FCD players will wear black armbands to honor their former forward. FCD fullback Zach Loyd also changed his jersey number from 19 to 12 for the remainder of the season, as the former number belonged to Rhine during his playing days with the club.

FC Dallas endured another loss in recent days as U18 Academy player Jose Perez was killed in a car accident on September 13.

RBNY Notes: US Soccer can't corroborate Solli seeing Red

September, 15, 2011
9/15/11
10:35
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As New York prepares for their rematch at F.C. Dallas this weekend, they do so without Jan Gunnar Solli in their plans.

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe did not draw it up that way, as a straight red card issued by referee Terry Vaughn in last Saturday's 1-1 draw against Vancouver made Solli's absence necessary. Vaughn, a 24-year veteran referee with full FIFA international accreditation since 2004, issued the red for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity after seeing Solli tumble over 'Caps forward Camilo on the rush.

Unfortunately for Backe, U.S. Soccer referee Michael Kennedy would not have corroborated Vaughn's call. At the U.S. Soccer Referee Week in Review blog, Kennedy reviewed the play that ended Solli's night prematurely and questions the validity of Vaughn's call:
In order to send off a player for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity, one of the criteria that must be met is that there is only one other defender present between the foul and the goal, not including the player who commits the foul. In this case, there are two: the supporting defender in the area, as well as the goalkeeper behind them. Therefore, the defender committing the foul should only have been cautioned for a tactical foul.

Kennedy's comments do not represent the official position of U.S. Soccer, but they do add gravitas to a dialogue about refereeing that typically degrades into a he-said, he-said argument without an official stepping in. Besides, Backe had already come to the same conclusion prior to Kennedy's assessment being published on Wednesday.

“It is not a red card," Backe said to MLSsoccer.com. "First of all, it has to be a clear goal-scoring opportunity to get a red card – Carlos Mendes is behind and Solli is shoulder to shoulder. It’s too far out to be an obvious goal-scoring opportunity; of course it’s not a red card.”

Solli added precious depth to Backe's beleaguered roster, as the Norwegian winger had just returned from a right quadriceps strain that forced him out of the club's prior two matches. With suspensions to Solli and Rafael Marquez forcing them to join Roy Miller and possibly Frank Rost on the sidelines as the latter pair nurse injuries, Backe needs to spin his roster carousel once again to produce a patchwork 11 against the third-best club by points in MLS.

Score one for the skeptics, though. The eyes of Red Bulls supporters had not deceived them on the play that sent Solli to the showers.

Cynical Coverage. Speaking of skepticism, Backe indicated earlier this week that he wants to see more of it out of his back line going forward. He pleads for the reality check to wake up a back four whose injury woes and mental lapses have all but negated any defensive pressure on opposing attackers.

“We’re giving away too many unforced errors," Backe said to the New York Post. "We get breaks against us too much. At the end of the day, a team will score. You just have to defend, defend when you give it away in the middle of the park. (You make) those unforced errors, so you just drop deeper and deeper, and you will get one chance against you and a goal. We just need to play a little bit more cynical, both ways.’’

Irish writer Oscar Wilde defined the cynic in his play Lady Windermere's Fan as “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." Red Bulls supporters know all too well the price being paid to elevate the New York side into the MLS elite. They have to hope that Backe's defenders will ignore their coach's cynical ploys and find value in picking up their play, or risk being left with nothing but failed expectations come playoff time.

Price Tag. New York does not appear to be aiming for any significant roster moves before today's roster freeze deadline kicks in at 5 p.m. ET.

Of course, that won't stop the club from boosting its coffers. The Red Bulls released their season ticket renewal forms earlier this week, which, according to Vipers' Nest blogger Dan Dickinson, raised ticket prices in the lower bowl of Red Bull Arena while lowering them in the upper bowl. As Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl recounted a friend's claim about exhorbitant boosts in the costs of season tickets, the club's official Twitter account explained that the costs changes ultimately added up in the fans' favor.

"71% of seats at RBA decreased price or remained the same for 2012. Average ST increase is 1%, providing affordable options," said a Red Bulls official via the club's official Twitter account.

Prices go up for every professional sports team, but the trouble is in the timing. Season tickets subscribers must renew their plans and pay in full by September 30 to keep their seat and all rights and privileges afforded to it, which falls three weeks before the end of an MLS regular season that may not see the Red Bulls clinch a playoff spot.

The seats are still very affordable by North American professional sports standards, but what's the rush in collecting for 2012?

RBNY Recap: Agudelo scores as ref leaves 10-man Red Bulls fit to be tied vs. 'Caps

September, 11, 2011
9/11/11
1:00
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For a club with playoff aspirations and a meager eight games left to realize them, New York likely did not aspire to keep level with the worst of MLS.

And yet, that's where a shorthanded Red Bulls side found themselves as they collected their 15th draw of the season in a 1-1 stalemate against the Vancouver Whitecaps at Red Bull Arena on Saturday. Juan Agudelo tapped in a long Rafael Marquez cross in the 68th minute to answer a brilliant first-half strike by Vancouver's Davide Chiumiento and salvage the draw for the home side.

According to MLSsoccer.com's Playoff Standings, the draw pushes New York (6-6-15, 33 pts) out of the playoff picture as D.C. United (8-7-10, 34 pts) snuck past them into fifth place in the Eastern Conference following a win over Chivas USA. The Philadelphia Union (8-7-12, 36 pts) widened their lead for the East's final automatic playoff berth by one point following a scoreless draw against the Portland Timbers, while the Houston Dynamo (8-9-11, 35 pts) idled in fourth place following a loss to Sporting Kansas City (10-8-10, 40 pts).

While no Eastern Conference teams created significant distance between themselves and the Red Bulls during the club's extended break, New York is continuing to struggle with establishing a home-field advantage. D.C. United, the newest team in the Red Bulls' postseason path, now sits above them in the standings and with two games in hand.

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe previously stated that it would take 45 points to clinch a playoff spot, meaning New York must now win four or collect three wins and three draws in their remaining seven games to reach that target. They now have to get those wins with only four remaining home games over their final seven, and with D.C. comfortably in their way.

Crying Foul. It wasn't the aggregate or differential in fouls called by referee Terry Vaughn that left New York up in arms about the officiating on Saturday. New York accrued 13 fouls as compared to 8 by the 'Caps.

Rather, it was the validity of the important calls that hurt the Red Bulls' manpower both on Saturday and preceding next week's match at F.C. Dallas. Vaughn issued Marquez a yellow card in the 31st minute for bumping Chiumiento from behind, but didn't issue a second yellow in the 44th minute for the Mexican defender's tough tackle on Eric Hassli.

The first yellow card had the same effect as a red card on Marquez's availability for next week as he triggered a suspension for his accumulated yellow cards. But the missed call had ramifications for Jan Gunnar Solli, who received a straight red card moments later for tripping up Camilo on a run. Replays showed that Camilo still had Carlos Mendes to beat before securing a shot on goal, hinting that Vaughn may have booted Solli as a make-up call for the non-call on Marquez.

That chain of events left New York with a shorthanded side for the second-half, doubly so when recalling that Teemu Tainio was already unavailable for Saturday's match due to suspension. Now, New York will be without Marquez and Solli due to suspensions as well as Roy Miller and possibly Frank Rost due to injuries next week.

Play of the Game: Agudelo's Substitution. It's easy to point the finger at Solli's ejection to explain the less-than-desirable result for the Red Bulls, but they had appeared flat to that point and failed to create much pressure against a patchwork 'Caps back line. A glance at the Opta Chalkboards reflects that as a 20-to-9 advantage in recoveries on balls in the middle and attacking thirds shows that the 'Caps forwards applied appropriate pressure while the Red Bulls attackers didn't push up nearly enough.

That did not improve until Backe swapped out the defensive-minded Stephane Auvray for Agudelo. In addition to providing a jolt of energy into the 10-man Red Bulls side, Backe's substitution reflected a positive substitution strategy for a coach who usually shies away from them. He substituted a defender for an attacker. And seven minutes after Backe's call, Agudelo drew his side level.

Backe did it again in the final ten minutes, giving Luke Rodgers his first playing time since July 5 against Toronto FC at the expense of another defensive-minded midfielder in Dax McCarty. That move proved too little too late, but Backe deserves credit for not ordering his team to go into a shell after being down a man. Backe tried to go for the kill -- marking the first time anyone's been able to write those words about these Red Bulls in months.

Clipped Wings. Backe picked a heavy-defensive starting XI, highlighted by McCarty and Auvray starting in the midfield, Marquez playing a hybrid center back/holding midfielder role alongside Tim Ream, and Chris Albright and Carlos Mendes as full backs. That left Solli and Joel Lindpere available to join the attack, but that duo didn't do much to support Thierry Henry and Dane Richards.

New York attempted only five crosses in the first half, with only one connection executed by Solli. They completed two more in the second half -- one by Lindpere, one by Albright -- but not much came about until Agudelo arrived late in the second match. Some of that came from successful pressure by Vancouver, some from a defensive-minded shape by the Red Bulls. All of it made anyone not named Henry or Richards invisible in the attacking end until the final thirty minutes.

Stop the Presses. For as questionable as the officiating and as flat as the Red Bulls appeared at time, the goalkeeping on both sides sparkled all evening. Senegalese shot stopper Bouna Coundoul registered only three saves on the night, but never fell prey to the Bouna Blunders that have plagued him this season. Vancouver's only goal came about from Marquez's lack of marking on Chiumiento, which enabled the 'Caps midfielder to chip up a ball near the penalty spot and whirlwind kick it off the top crossbar for the goal. Goals like that can't get hung around the neck of the 'keeper.

Meanwhile, 'Caps netminder Jay Nolly kept an early surge by the Red Bulls at bay and held firm towards the end, especially on a diving save of a free kick in the 87th minute by Henry. Both goalkeepers deserve credit for keeping their respective sides in Saturday's match.

Zero. That's how many chances the Red Bulls have left to chase the Supporters' Shield this season, as their draw combined with a Los Angeles Galaxy win on Friday night mathematically eliminated New York from the top spot in the league standings.

New York will now pack its bags and head west as they prepare to face F.C. Dallas at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas next Saturday. First kick is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.

RBNY Recap: Henry salvages draw vs. FCD

July, 24, 2011
7/24/11
11:53
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For a club with championship aspirations, the Red Bulls likely wanted to level the 2010 MLS Cup runners-up rather than draw level with them.

New York accumulated their league-leading 12th tie of the season in a 2-2 draw with FC Dallas at Red Bull Arena on Saturday. Thierry Henry collected his league-leading 11th goal of the season for an equalizer in the 85th minute that built upon a goal before halftime by Juan Agudelo and a second-half brace by FCD midfielder Martin Chavez.

All appeared lost as Chavez netted his second goal in the 78th minute and Dane Richards was sent off with his second yellow card two minutes later. Then Henry picked up a Dax McCarty chip and badly beat FCD right back Zach Loyd before firing a strike high and inside the near post for a brilliant goal that allows New York to enter the All-Star break on even footing.

A win over the Portland Timbers helped the Columbus Crew (8-6-7, 31 pts) leapfrog the Red Bulls (6-5-12, 30 pts) to join a two-way tie for first place in the Eastern Conference with the Philadelphia Union (8-4-7, 31 pts), who fell to La Liga powerhouse Real Madrid in a World Football Challenge friendy on Saturday.

Red Rover. Henry scored the equalizer for New York despite the Red Bulls being shorthanded in the final 10 minutes of the match. Referee Jorge Gonzalez sent off Richards the 80th minute after the Jamaican winger received his second yellow card in the second half. The resulting red card means Richards is now automatically suspended for the Red Bulls' next MLS match at Real Salt Lake on August 6.

Play of the Game: FCD's Decision to Draw Back. Perhaps following the Colorado Rapids script that led to Wednesday's rout, FC Dallas attackers pressed up to restrain the Red Bulls to only one goal in the first half. However, it also appeared to handcuff the visitor's ability to build their own attacking efforts. As a result, FCD led New York in ball recoveries in the middle and attacking thirds but had not registered an attempt on goal at the half.

FCD coach Schellas Hyndman appeared to call off the dogs in the second half with the midfield substitution of Eric Avila for Bruno Guarda, which opened up the visitor's possession game and unlocked the pressure that ultimately resulted in Chavez's double. Both goals started from a passing chain that started from dead balls (the first a throw-in, the second a free kick) and let Dallas get back to what it does best.

Cheap Shot Stopping. Earlier this week, Canadian 'keeper Greg Sutton told the Winnipeg Free Press that his departure made him the fall guy for the troubles holding back the Red Bulls this season. Presently, current Red Bulls netminder Frank Rost has allowed six goals while blocking only five shots during his three-game honeymoon period. If Rost can't fix that differential soon, he will inevitably start feeling the heat that exiled Sutton.

Collateral Damage. Agudelo arguably played his best game as a pro on Saturday with his clever chip shot in the 39th minute giving his team a lead and giving his solid performance an exclamation point.

But a rookie mistake may resonate longer. Agudelo received a yellow card in the 88th minute for what the referee deemed a dive. While that would ordinarily be the end of it, Real Salt Lake benefited in their match against the San Jose Earthquakes from a more obvious dive by Alvaro Saborio that resulted in a penalty kick and ultimately the first goal for RSL.

The MLS Disciplinary Committee already made an example of D.C. United forward Charlie Davies with a $1,000 fine for his dive against Real Salt Lake in June. Should the league decide to make another statement about diving after Saborio's antics, Agudelo could feel the repercussions as well.

Rerun in Real Time. Speak up if you've heard this one before: The Red Bulls claim an early lead, only to concede two goals to the opposition before summoning a late strike for an equalizer and an inevitable draw.

Saturday's match represents the third time the Red Bulls followed that script, with early leads and late strikes salvaging draws at Houston on May 22 and at San Jose on July 3. Henry's goal was the only one to occur at home, though both he and Joel Lindpere scored their game-tying goals in the 85th minute. Mehdi Ballouchy netted his equalizer against Houston in the 91st minute.

New York now enters the All-Star Break but will have little time to rest as they prepare for next week's Emirates Cup tournament in London. In the interim, Red Bulls coach Hans Backe along with Henry, Agudelo, and Tim Ream will stick around for the 2011 AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes).

W2W4: NY Red Bulls vs. FC Dallas

July, 23, 2011
7/23/11
10:53
AM ET
With a stinging loss still fresh in their minds, the Red Bulls face one more test before a much-needed All-Star break as they welcome 2010 MLS Cup runner-up FC Dallas to Red Bull Arena on Saturday evening.

New York returns home with its tail between its legs after being summarily trounced 4-1 by the defending MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids on Wednesday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Sanna Nyassi created the offensive spark for the Rapids by netting his first career hat trick, while Thierry Henry spoiled Colorado's clean sheet by scoring his league-leading 10th goal of the season.

FC Dallas has claimed wins in four of their past six MLS regular season matches, with a 1-0 victory over a revamped Toronto FC squad on Wednesday capping their hot streak. Dallas midfielder Brek Shea burned TFC 'keeper Stefan Frei with a bold shot from distance that found the upper 90 of the near post to break a 242-minute scoreless drought for FC Dallas with the game's only goal. It was Shea's ninth goal of the season.

Nothing changed atop the Eastern Conference, as the Philadelphia Union (8-4-7, 31 points) remain two points better than the second-place Red Bulls (6-5-11, 29 points). The Columbus Crew (7-6-7, 28 points) continue to bide their time in third place.

Feel The Burn: As New York prepares to rebound from being burned by the Rapids and to face the MLS squad formally known as the Burn, their most pressing concern will involve the burning sun bearing down on them at first kick. The forecast predicts a temperature of 96 degrees at the start, not to mention the heat index nor what the surface temperature will feel like on the pitch.

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe will need to take great care in not letting his squad overheat en route to finishing the club's last full 90 in MLS play for two weeks -- even if the looming 2011 MLS All-Star Game and Emirates Cup will preclude his squad from resting during that time.

Key Matchup -- Rafael Marquez vs. Brek Shea: Nyassi exposed a fatal flaw in the Red Bulls' back line on Wednesday as he blew past them on all three goals and set up the fourth: Tim Ream and Carlos Mendes lack speed.

Mercifully, Mendes will return to the bench as the Red Bulls welcome Rafael Marquez back to the back line in his first action since leaving the Gold Cup finale with a hamstring injury. New York will need Marquez to quickly plug the hole that Nyassi exploited for a hat trick, or risk FCD midfielders Andrew Jacobson, Daniel Hernandez and Martin Chavez providing service to Shea's lead on the FC Dallas attack through the same gap.

Fixing The Hype Machine: Juan Agudelo continues to carry the weight of lofty expectations on his shoulders after MLS commissioner Don Garber selected him with one of his two picks for next week's All-Star Game.

That unfortunate reality, combined with the lingering absence of Luke Rodgers, means the young Red Bulls forward will be asked to punch above his weight. He has four goals this season -- two during the Toronto FC blowout, one in April against D.C. United, and one in the season opener against Seattle -- and showed a bit of chemistry with Henry up top in setting up the former Gunner's goal on Wednesday.

That chemistry now fuels the Red Bulls offense, whether or not Agudelo is ready for that responsibility.

Scandinavian Shuffle: Backe may be without Teemu Tainio once again as he recovers from a quadriceps strain, which could lead to Mehdi Ballouchy starting alongside Dax McCarty at a holding midfield position, or on the left wing with Joel Lindpere entrenching at center midfield.

If those combinations don't work, the return of Chris Albright could give Backe another option at midfield with Jan Gunnar Solli. Backe has already indicated that Albright will not start on Saturday. But Solli, who has admirably filled the right back role in Albright's absence, is a natural midfielder and could be relieved of his defensive responsibilities with a late Albright substitution to join the Red Bulls attack.

Welcome Home: New York has only one win in 12 games on the road this season, but its home record of 5-2-3 implies that the cozy confines of Red Bull Arena could help lift their spirits. Combining that with an FC Dallas losing streak in New Jersey that stretches back to 2007, and there's a solid setup for the Red Bulls to end the supporters' planned silent protests and give them a reason to cheer.

Red Bulls trade Austin da Luz to D.C. United

July, 18, 2011
7/18/11
11:31
AM ET
According to a statement on the team's website, the Red Bulls traded 23-year-old midfielder Austin da Luz to D.C. United on Monday. The move completes a weekend transaction between the Eastern Conference rivals in which D.C. United sent an international spot to New York in return for future considerations.

"We are excited to be adding a quality left-sided midfielder to our team," said D.C. United General Manager Dave Kasper in a press release on the club's website. "Austin is a very smart, technical player who is just coming into his own as a professional, and we are excited about his future."

Da Luz has one goal and one assist in seven appearances in MLS play this season including four games started, but has seen his playing time diminish in recent weeks as various players returned from injuries and international duty commitments.

He last appeared in a regular season match as a late substitute in the 82nd minute against D.C. United on July 9 and had not received significant playing time since receiving the starting nod against the Seattle Sounders on June 23.

Da Luz, who joined the Red Bulls in 2010 after completing a decorated collegiate career at Wake Forest University, also played the full 90 as part of the baby Bulls squad that fell to the Chicago Fire in the US Open Cup quarterfinal match on July 12.

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe now finds himself with one less player in his rotation as he juggles the team's upcoming matches at Colorado against the Rapids on Wednesday and at home on Saturday against FC Dallas as well as the upcoming Emirates Cup doubleheader in London next week. Backe has not hidden his frustration with the mixed results produced by the vaunted Red Bulls midfield which previously included da Luz as a member.

"I think if you look at the balance in our midfield, it's a lot of so-called football players, technical skill, pace. But we could see normally it's only Teemu Tainio who's winning 50-50 balls for us," Backe said to the Wall Street Journal on July 12. "And even if you are a so-called football player, technical wise, you just need to use your body. You need to step out in a better pressing game, win 50-50's because that's normally where the battle is, it's in midfield."

The trade follows a pair of player transactions over the weekend in which the Red Bulls loaned goalkeeper Greg Sutton to the NASL's Montreal Impact for the remainder of the season in order to clear a roster spot for German 'keeper Frank Rost, who officially signed with New York on Friday.

D.C. United previously executed another trade with New York on June 27 in which D.C. received attacking midfielder Dwayne De Rosario in exchange for defensive midfielder Dax McCarty.

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