The Red Bulls run for the Rose City on Sunday evening as they kick off an 11-day, three-game road trip against the expansion Portland Timbers at Jeld-Wen Field.
New York will look to continue their winning ways after collecting a 2-1 victory over the New England Revolution nine days ago at Red Bull Arena. Thierry Henry played a pivotal role on both Red Bulls goals, as Henry scored the game-winner in the second half and also shot the ball that deflected off Revs defender Ryan Cochrane into the wrong net for an own goal.
Portland brings a three-game losing streak into Sunday's contest -- or four, if you include a friendly loss to AFC Ajax on May 25 -- after dropping a 1-0 result to the Colorado Rapids on June 11. The Timbers saw defender Futty Danso leave the pitch on a stretcher before Rapids defender Drew Moor finished a rebound in the penalty area during stoppage time.
Philadelphia lost to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, leaving the Red Bulls tied with the Union atop the Eastern Conference with 22 points. However, the Union's 6-4-4 record is one win better than New York's 5-2-7 resume.
Into the Woods. Kevin Clark of the Wall Street Journal recently described the Red Bulls supporters' groups as "some of the craziest fans in New York," citing their passionate performances in the South Ward during every home game.
The NY supporters always make their presence felt, but they didn't make SportsCenter for their rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. In their short MLS tenure, the Timbers Army helped create a reputation for Jeld-Wen Field as one of the rowdiest places to play in all of the league.
While the likes of Henry and former Tottenham midfielder Teemu Tainio should be familiar with such a European match atmosphere, the same can't be said for a make shift Red Bulls back line built of MLS career backs Carlos Mendes and Stephen Keel. If they can't keep their composure, the Timbers could make them pay dearly.
Key Matchup: NY's Defense v. Portland's Set Pieces. The Timbers love the set piece, with 10 of their 15 goals scored in 13 games this season culminating from the dead ball. And while Red Bulls 'keeper Greg Sutton has stopped two penalty kicks in as many weeks, NY's troubles with defending against the set piece are well documented in 2011.
While Timbers coach John Spencer -- who is suspended for Sunday's match due to his recent remarks about the refereeing -- rounded up many players capable of handling free kick duties, midfielder Jack Jewsbury tends to figure the most prominently in the role.
Without the set piece, Portland tends to find themselves competing against the run of play. The Red Bulls will need to flawlessly execute their zonal marking system when defending against the set piece, but they may find better success by being more judicious with their challenges.
Turf Warfare. Sunday's match in Portland marks the second time this season that the Red Bulls played on FieldTurf. While that should keep the ball moving on the pitch, the same can't be said for Tainio, Luke Rodgers, Joel Lindpere, and others with lingering injuries.
With a short period to recuperate before visiting the Seattle Sounders on Thursday, Red Bulls coach Hans Backe will likely take great care to protect the health of the squad still diminished by Gold Cup call-ups.
Laying the Golden Egg. Canadian midfielder Dwayne De Rosario returned to the Red Bulls last week after his Canadian side was eliminated from the Gold Cup. He should help lighten the offensive load carried by Henry and Rodgers over the past few weeks.
But De Ro's return may not have the biggest Gold Cup implications on the match. Before New York kicks off Sunday evening, they will know the result of the quarterfinal match between the United States and Jamaica. A US loss means Backe will have forward Juan Agudelo and defender Tim Ream back in the rotation, while a defeat for the Reggae Boyz means midfielder Dane Richards should return this week.
Depending on the US-Jamaica result, Backe may play his lineup differently to account for the depth at his disposal. He might let Henry play all out if Agudelo will be available Thursday, or might rely more on a midfield that will get a boost from Richards's return.
East Coast Bias. Three of the five Timbers wins at home have come against Eastern Conference teams. Only D.C. United left Portland with a positive result by collecting the first-ever win for an away team at Jeld-Wen Field on May 29.
Portland's 5-6-2 record may leave them mired in eighth place out west, but those 17 points would be good enough for a fifth-place tie with DC in the East. Considering that the majority of those wins came against teams chasing the Red Bulls, New York might as well consider Sunday's tilt as a conference clash.