New York Soccer: Gold Cup

U.S. Men's National Team to face Ecuador at Red Bull Arena on Oct. 11

September, 12, 2011
The U.S. Soccer Federation announced on Monday afternoon that the U.S. Men's National Team would kick off against Ecuador at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday, October 11.

The match marks the first ever appearance by the USMNT at the MLS soccer-specific arena. The national side previously visited the greater New York area earlier this year by battling Argentina to a 1-1 draw at New Meadowlands (now MetLife) Stadium on Saturday, March 26.

“We want to expose the team to as many styles as possible, and we know the quality of Ecuador,” said USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “We are also excited for the opportunity to play in Red Bull Arena. The stadium is one of the best soccer-specific venues in the United States and we are looking forward to playing our first ever national team match in Harrison.”

Ecuador also played in the greater New York City area earlier this year in an international friendly against Greece at Citi Field in Flushing, Queens on June 7. 39,656 supporters turned out for a match that at the time was the second-highest attended event in 2011 at the baseball-specific stadium, with a vast majority of the fans in attendance supporting La Tri in what resulted as a 1-1 draw.

Red Bull Arena has also hosted its share of international clubs this year, which includes Gold Cup appearances by Guatemala, Grenada, Jamaica, and Honduras in addition to an international friendly between Honduras and Columbia earlier this month.

The USMNT will take the pitch just three days after competing against Honduras at Sun-Life Stadium in Miami, Florida on Saturday, October 8.

First kick is scheduled for 7 p.m.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire

August, 13, 2011
Is home where the heart is for the New York Red Bulls?

21 days, three matches, one MLS All-Star Game, and one trade with a conference rival later, the Red Bulls finally return home to Red Bull Arena on Saturday for a conference clash with the Chicago Fire. A second-half goal by Guatemalan midfielder Marco Pappa helped Chicago save a draw in the first leg of their regular season encounters on June 25, while the Fire took offense to New York's decision to effectively punt their US Open Cup quarterfinal match at Toyota Park away by decimating the shorthanded side of baby Bulls with a 4-0 win on July 12.

New York looks to claim their first victory in over a month after a discouraging 3-0 loss at Real Salt Lake last weekend deflated the club's spirits following their Emirates Cup win. RSL captain Kyle Beckerman fueled the Claret-and-Cobalt attack against a Red Bulls side that failed to recover from its own mistakes and lost not just the game but also starting goalkeeper Frank Rost and Norwegian winger Jan Gunnar Solli to injury.

Chicago continues to reestablish a club identity that once haunted all Eastern Conference clubs by fostering its speedy attack led by Pappa, Dominic Oduro, and Diego Chaves. The Fire arrive at Red Bull Arena still plagued by its season-long inconsistency, most recently following a 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union with a 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps last week.

Sporting Kansas City (7-7-9, 30 pts) remains tied with Red Bulls (6-6-12, 30 pts) for third place, while four points separate the two clubs from the conference-leading Columbus Crew (9-7-7, 34 pts). The second-place Union (8-5-9, 33 pts), who announced the signing of the American phenom Freddy Adu on Friday, also stand between the Red Bulls and first place.

The New Guy. New York announced on Friday that it acquired Guadeloupean defensive midfielder Stéphane Auvray in a trade with conference rival Sporting Kansas City. Sporting KC received New York’s natural 2013 second round MLS SuperDraft pick as compensation.

Auvray held down the defensive midfield role for Sporting KC (then the Kansas City Wizards) in 2010 until a nagging knee injury appeared to weaken his form down the stretch. Still in the club's plans for 2011, he failed to regain that 2010 form and saw his playing time dwindle until he departed to captain the Guadaloupe side in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in June. His playing time did not return after the Gold Cup, leaving the discontent midfielder sitting out from practices until Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes found him a new home.

Now, Auvray arrives at Red Bull Arena to a club still grasping at playoff straws and with an opening in the midfield necessitated by the nagging injuries and illness plaguing Teemu Tainio and the ineffectiveness of Dax McCarty. What will he contribute to the playoff chase?

Key Matchup: Dane Richards vs. Chicago's Back Line. The trio of Thierry Henry, Joel Lindpere, and Juan Agudelo remain the only active Red Bulls to net a goal in regular season play since June. Agudelo mustered New York's only shot on goal against Real Salt Lake last weekend, creating further questions about where to look for a much-needed offensive outburst.

That's where Dane Richards comes in. The Jamaican midfielder missed last Saturday's match while serving a one-game suspension for a red card and left New York lacking pace on the right flank that Richards consistently delivers -- especially after Solli left the game due to injury.

Richards now returns to a Red Bulls attack that will look to exploit the absence of Chicago defender Cory Gibbs, who will miss Saturday's match with a groin injury. New York knows what to expect from Henry, Lindpere, and Agudelo, but what it gets from the return of Richards may be the catalyst for the Red Bulls' stagnant offense.

Bouna Time is the Right Time. With Rost missing action on a week-to-week basis due to a right quadriceps tear, Bouna Coundoul is expected to get his first MLS start since collecting consecutive draws against the Fire on June 26 and San Jose Earthquakes on July 2. Coundoul also started for the baby Bulls squad in the US Open Cup quarterfinal match against the Fire.

Coundoul's familiarity with facing the Fire this season may ease the loss of Rost to a Red Bulls squad that went all-in on their third designated player. Coundoul just needs to show his resiliency from jet lag after making a round trip to Dakar this week for international duty as well as shaking off any disappointment from his role in his native Senegal's 2-0 upset loss to Morocco on Wednesday.

Second to None. Chicago has scored the second-fewest number of goals of any MLS club with 24, just one more than the league-worst 23 goals by New England. That comes despite taking the third-most shots (315) and fifth-most shots on goal (106), indicating a trouble for the Fire of being able to hit 'em where they ain't -- but at the goalmouth.

For a Fire side built on speed, it remains susceptible to having their attack broken up by traffic -- giving newcomer Auvray and McCarty along with the Red Bulls back line an added incentive to pick up their own pace and take a few balls away from the visitors.

Three to Tango. While much has been made of the Red Bulls troubles of late, they can still boast a healthy 5-2-4 record at home. New York's last three wins all came at home, though one must go all the way back to an April 30 win over Sporting Kansas City to complete that trifecta.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at Colorado Rapids

July, 20, 2011
A Rocky Mountain rematch is on deck as the New York Red Bulls pay a visit to the defending MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Wednesday.

New York will seek to regain its attacking form after leaving the Home Depot Center with a scoreless draw against Chivas USA on Saturday. Roy Miller headlined a Red Bulls defense that empowered new German goalkeeper Frank Rost into collecting his first clean sheet by preventing the Goats from registering a shot on target, while Chivas kept the New York press at bay until late in the second half.

Colorado continues to tread water in the Western Conference after dropping a 4-3 result to the Seattle Sounders in a wild match at CenturyLink Field on Sunday. The Rapids hope to regain the form that created two early leads over New York before leaving Red Bull Arena with a 2-2 draw in the first leg of this regular season matchup on May 25.

An easy 3-0 victory for the Philadelphia Union (8-4-7, 31 pts) over the New England Revolution on Sunday once again relegates the Red Bulls (6-4-11, 29 pts) to second place in the Eastern Conference and two points behind the first-place Philly side.

Mighty Casey Strikes Out. While Colorado's loss to the Sounders further damaged their chances at defending the MLS Cup this fall, it's another loss from that game which is creating greater concern.

The Rapids lost their leading scorer for the rest of the season after Conor Casey fell to the ground unchallenged in the first half of Sunday's loss at Seattle with what an MRI later revealed as a torn Achilles tendon. Rapids coach Gary Smith indicated to that Caleb Foran will likely fill in up top for Casey, who has six of the club's 25 goals this season.

Key Matchup: NY's Central Defense vs. Rapids Forwards. With the Rapids having a very short period to rebound from Casey's injury, it creates uncertainty as to whether Colorado can establish an attacking form that they've lacked at full strength this season.

Casey made an impact against the Red Bulls tandem of Tim Ream and Carlos Mendes upon entering the May 25 tilt -- Mendes filled in for Rafael Marquez, who was tending to a hamstring injury ahead of the Gold Cup -- as a substitute after returning from a hamstring injury. He almost scored the game-winner in the 77th minute after deflecting a net-bound shot off Red Bulls 'keeper Greg Sutton, only to have Ream knock it away at the goalmouth.

No team just replaces a player like Casey. And it's inevitably up to Ream and Mendes to prevent any contenders from filling Casey's shoes on Wednesday.

Set Piece Salsa. Both Colorado goals in May came from the foot of Jeff Larentowicz, who scored one from a set piece and finished the other by collecting his own rebound from another free kick. New York didn't surrender many free kicks against the Rapids, but the visitors made them pay for each occurrence. The zonal marking system implemented by Red Bulls coach Hans Backe could be put to the test again and will be judged by that poor performance in May.

Turnover Town. New York dominated possession against the Rapids in the first leg in May, but Colorado did just enough to cut the legs out of the Red Bulls attack with timely turnovers. It made things tough in the defensive third for the Rapids, with only Drew Moor consistently establishing any distribution from the back. But it made things impossible for the Red Bulls, who simply couldn't get behind the Rapids back line and finish off their guests after the half.

Five. If you include the 2011 AT&T MLS All-Star Game, that's how many games Backe could call Ream, Thierry Henry, and Juan Agudelo to participate in over the next 11 days.

Luke Rodgers, who described his Red Bulls tenure to Staffordshire's The Sentinel as "the happiest (he's) been in football," remains in limbo due the lingering effects of plantar fasciitis. New York's depth also took a hit with their Monday trade of Austin da Luz to D.C. United, leaving Backe with his work cut out for him in balancing the team's attacking depth for the MLS regular season, their appraisal in the MLS All-Star Game, and their reputation in next week's Emirates Cup challenge.

Everton's Tim Howard talks transfer, MLS

July, 20, 2011
As Everton prepares to commences its US tour on Wednesday evening at PPL Park against the Philadelphia Union, they will do so without longtime goalkeeper Tim Howard.

Howard, who will not be between the posts for the Toffees against the Union, is still resting after a grueling CONCACAF Gold Cup Tournament in which the North Brunswick, N.J. native served admirably as the shot stopper for the U.S. Men's National Team. He should have ample opportunities to gain match fitness before the start of the upcoming 2011-12 English Premier League season, but Howard may need a bit more time in the interim to recharge the batteries before resuming his role as one of the best 'keepers in the EPL and one of the great success stories in U.S. Soccer.

His club's loss during their U.S. tour is our gain, as Howard gave a few moments of his time to chat by phone on Wednesday morning with your friendly neighborhood soccer blogger about his own preparations ahead of the EPL season, his club's lack of noise thus far in the transfer market, his thoughts on missing the U.S. matches this week and on next week's MLS All-Star Game, and his enthusiasm in appearing in a slew of advertisements for Allstate.

Without further ado, here's my conversation with Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard:

ESPNNY: How are things going with preparation for the upcoming season with Everton?

Howard: Part of preparation is the rest and mentally preparing is the biggest part because it is a long, tough, grueling season. All in all, it’s going well. The spirit in the group is high. I’m ready and looking forward to getting back into action. Fingers crossed, we can have a good start and put ourselves into the position to hopefully get into the top four.

ESPNNY: There hasn’t been much chatter in terms of transfers for Everton going through this particular window. What are your feelings about the lack of movement for your club thus far?

Howard: We’re always disappointed when there’s not a lot of player movement. I think everyone involved is. Our manager, David Moyes, has shown that’s he’s pretty shrewd in the transfer market and can wheel and deal without a ton of money. But yes, I think in order to move forward, the club needs to spend money and keep up with each other. At the moment, we haven’t brought anybody in but we’re optimistic that will happen before the close of the transfer window. I do think it’s important – it just lifts the squad a little bit and gives everybody a boost.

ESPNNY: Is there anything in particular position or area that the team could use?

Howard: We have two very good top strikers, but when it comes to strikers, they’re priceless. You can always use more firepower – it’s a long season. In losing Stephen Pienaar last year, he was one of our top wingers. He’s a guy we’re trying to replace. And of course in the back, we’re on the fortunate side but we keep talking about how long the season is, those kind of things are forced to have quality and depth.

ESPNNY: There was some reports yesterday about how you won’t be with the team over the next few days at Philadelphia and at Washington. Is that accurate?

Howard: It is. I’m going on my manager’s advice to shut it down and take some more rest. He knows how much I’ve put in the last 12 months and what the next 12 months look like. He’s been generous enough to give me an opportunity to rest and get ready for this next long stretch of the season.

And part of that, unfortunately, is not being around tonight. I wish I could be there. I know the people of Philadelphia are excited for it and that’s the reason we came. We knew what good preparation it would be.

ESPNNY: So, in the end, it was the manager’s advice and not necessarily that you requested the next few days off?

Howard: Yes. Those decisions are obviously made jointly, but unfortunately, they were made quite a long time ago. They don’t get made this week. Those types of things are discussed amongst ourselves months and months in advance. That’s the unfortunate part.

ESPNNY: I wanted to change speeds a bit. Next week, Major League Soccer is preparing for its All-Star Game. You had the distinction of being able to play on both sides in that you played once upon a time for MLS and also, in 2009, you were there with Everton. I was curious about your impressions of that match since you were on both sides of the MLS All-Star Game.

Howard: That’s a good point. I’ve played for both of those teams – I’ve played for Everton against the All-Star team. I think it can be a pretty intense game. I think the All-Stars in the new format have something to prove. A European club comes over and they’re promoting themselves as well. I think the MLS All-Stars can handle themselves.

In terms of Manchester United, I think they’re very much in a transition. That usually means bad things, but not for ManU. It’s going to be exciting to watch them revamp their team from last year and kind of see what they have going on going forward. They have to replace a few different players, but they always do that and do it well.

ESPNNY: So will there be a small part of you maybe scouting as ManU prepares for the upcoming season?

Howard: If I watch, it’ll be fan first. We do enough scouting over the course of the year. We’ll have plenty of meetings on what Manchester United does. So, I won’t watch it just for that reason. But yeah, I’ll certaintly tune in. I have no doubt that they’ll play that in England. And I’ll be tuning in to see my new Allstate commercial.

ESPNNY: Could you tell me a bit about the new commercial?

Howard: It’s quite a funny one, I think, of all of them. The most entertaining. It’s called “Borange” and actually airs today on YouTube. (Ed. Note: You can see it here.) I’m super excitied to partner with Allstate this year, first year partner of MLS and and the U.S. Men's National Team. Those are all things that mean a lot to me as well as the protective side of things, being a goalkeeper and all. It’s going to be kinda cool, kind of exciting, and I think people will really enjoy this commercial. I will, I’m going to watch and enjoy the game as well.

ESPNNY: Did you have any problems with your own humility, or having a sense of humor in doing these commercials?

Howard: I think that’s the part I like about it the most -- The humor and how they twist it and made it not your run-of-the-mill type of sports commercial. I enjoyed watching, being in the process, being a part of making it, and then seeing it come to fruition.

ESPNNY: Before I let you go, could you handicap your expectations for the start of the upcoming EPL season?

Howard: I think that the Champions League, a lot of people talk about it. It’s very difficult – most clubs don’t actually attain that goal until the end of May at the last games of the season. All of that is put in place, particularly early on, we’ve shown over the course of the last 10 years that when the winter months come, the really hard, tough months, that we can grind with the best of them and we’ve always seemed to flourish in that time.

Our goal and the key to this season will be get off to a fast start and collect a lot of points early on, really make it tough on the teams around us and try to pull away earlier. Last year, we started to pull away from some teams but it happened later in the season. I think every team’s trying to do that, but the more players we can bring in with quality, the better we’ll be in that regard. Having said that, our top players are very, very good.

We have every opportunity to make that right, get some points early on. If we can do that, we’ll be a happy bunch of guys and our manager will be happy as well.

RBNY Recap: Bouna's blunder fuels Fire draw

June, 27, 2011
New York's attempt to reclaim first place in the East just took another bad bounce.

Guatemalan midfielder Marco Pappa's bouncing shot from distance in the 58th minute helped his Chicago side collect a 1-1 draw against the visiting Red Bulls at Toyota Park on Sunday. Red Bulls 'keeper Bouna Coundoul, making his first start in any competition since representing his native Senegal on June 4 as well as his first MLS start since May 21, fell short in his attempt to parry Pappa's dribbler and enabled the Fire to answer an early Joel Lindpere goal for the side's MLS-record sixth consecutive draw at home.

The draw leaves New York (5-3-9) looking up at the Philadelphia Union (7-4-5) in the Eastern Conference standings after the Union reclaimed first place with a win against Chivas USA on Saturday.

Lindy Hop. While many will point to perceptions of goalkeeping struggles for the Red Bulls, they may just as easily overlook the goal by Lindpere that sent New York into halftime with a lead. Thierry Henry sent a ball through traffic into the box that deflected off Fire defender Yamith Cuesta. Lindpere then picked up the rebound and hit a grounder past Chicago 'keeper Sean Johnson for an easy finish.

With Lindpere's goal, New York has now scored at least one goal in the first half of the club's last 13 matches. No club has kept a clean sheet against the Red Bulls since the Union accomplished the feat on April 9.

Play of the Game: Bouna's Blunder. New York accomplished all the things one would expect of a winning side on Sunday. Lindpere produced a lead before halftime. The back line largely kept a speedy Fire attack in check. They completed over 100 more passes that the home side and kept their fouls to a minimum.

And then Coundoul surrendered what was by all accounts a soft goal to Pappa. The Sengalese 'keeper was in position when Pappa took a rather pedestrian shot from 25 yards out. Unfortunately, Coundoul struggled with a short hop at the last moment and was left flailing at the ball as it bounced inside the far post.

New York now has only one since April 30 -- a stretch of ten matches littered with blown leads, mental gaffes, and shortcomings. Those troubles are wearing on the players who now find themselves struggling to enjoy their day jobs.

"It's not fun anymore," Lindpere said to Big Apple Soccer. "We score one, but we give goals back. They get very stupid, easy goals against us, and then we fight to get the goals back. Then we do something stupid again."

Out of Service. While the Red Bulls midfield helped smother the Fire's attacking efforts, they forgot to leave the embers burning for their own offense.

Three fourths of the Red Bulls' midfield is now intact, with only Dwayne De Rosario playing out of position as he started up top to replace Luke Rodgers. However, the chemistry remains out of sorts as they could not feed the Red Bulls offense in the attacking zone. Chicago out-shot New York 9-1 in the second half, indicating a lack of service to balance that total by maintaining possession. Henry frequently came back to join the midfield and get the ball, which was previously a telltale sign of the dysfunction that crippled the the Red Bulls offense in April.

Lindpere gave New York an early lead, but he and his cohorts did little else on the offensive end for the rest of the match.

Back in the High Life. With the Gold Cup tournament concluding last Saturday, defenders Stephen Keel and Carlos Mendes likely saw their chances dwindling to make up for past transgressions.

Save for a yellow card issued to Mendes in the 53rd minute, the pairing rose to the challenge and left the Fire frustrated for most of the match. Fire forwards Dominic Oduro and Orr Barouch failed to register a shot on target and could not get behind the Red Bulls' back line despite showing better pace for much of the match. That includes an early save by Keel in the 15th minute, who rushed back to deflect a shot towards net by Oduro mere moments before Chicago would claim an early lead.

Coupled with Jan Gunnar Solli patrolling the right flank again and an effective outing by left back Roy Miller, the defense distrusted Fire passing lanes and cut off distribution in a solid defensive effort that will be fortified with the remaining Gold Cup participants soon.

Golden Band-Aid. The conclusion of the Gold Cup means forward Juan Agudelo and defender Tim Ream should return soon, but the same can't be said for Ream's counter part, Rafael Marquez. The Mexican captain left the Gold Cup final match on a stretcher last Saturday with what was later described as a hamstring injury, leaving his prognosis in doubt for the foreseeable future. Marquez likely wasn't going to play in New York's next match on Tuesday, but now their Saturday trip to San Jose is in limbo as well.

The Red Bulls now head home to prepare for a true derby match as they welcome USL side FC New York to Red Bull Arena on Tuesday as part of the 2011 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament. First kick is scheduled for 8:00 p.m.

Rapid Reaction: Sounders 4, Red Bulls 2

June, 24, 2011
It rains a great deal in Seattle, but only the Red Bulls ended up wet this time around.

Sounders sub Roger Levesque earned a second-half brace to answer an own goal by Zach Scott as Seattle laid claim to a 4-2 victory over a depleted New York side at the newly-renamed CenturyLink Field on Thursday. A faulty back line and static Greg Sutton enabled Seattle midfielders Eric Friberg and Osvaldo Alonso to convert two early set pieces into goals, while Dane Richards declared his Red Bulls return from the Gold Cup by scoring his third goal of the season.

The loss leaves New York tied with the Philadelphia Union atop the Eastern Conference at 23 points apiece, with Philly (6-4-5) coming in one win better than the Red Bulls (5-3-8).

Play of the Game: Montero's Bump on Sutton. Seattle found itself with a corner kick mere moments after Friberg opened scoring. Mauro Rosales directed a ball in the box to the right side of the spot, which enticed Sutton to charge through the sea of bodies crowding the area and towards the ball's landing spot.

Sutton, however, forgot to watch his step as he bumped into Freddy Montero en route to the ball. The bump rattled the Canadian 'keeper, who expected a foul. Instead of picking up the ball to close out the angles, Sutton stayed in place as Alonso swung a low shot from the right of the arc through the crowded penalty area and past a helpless Sutton.

While New York's set piece inability to defend against set pieces was front and center, Sutton's shortcomings were equally on display. He displayed limited range and found himself constantly struggling to get in the right position to block the Seattle attack. He struggled to handle a pass from his own defender that he lost moments later to Levesque, who scrambled past him for his second goal of the game.

Mama said there'd be games like this, but one wonders if Red Bulls coach Hans Backe will finally call upon Bouna Coundoul to give Sutton a much-needed break.

Stuck in the Middle. While the numbers reflect a 63%-to-37% edge in possession for the Red Bulls, that gap is largely attributed to New York finding itself with the ball in its own defensive end. The Seattle midfield of Alonso, Friberg, Rosales, and Alonso frustrated the patchwork Red Bulls attack all evening by cutting off passing lanes and preventing anyone from providing service to Richards and Dwayne De Rosario up top. New York found itself with only three of its 13 shots on target, and Seattle did not allow any of those shots to morph into a more potent attack.

Backing Down. With the Gold Cup final involving the United States and Mexico on Saturday, the Red Bulls will need to fare without Rafael Marquez and Tim Ream for a bit longer.

Whether they'll make it that far is another question. Stephen Keel and Carlos Mendes filled in for the Gold Cup duo again at Seattle, and again found themselves constantly rattled by the potent attack and the antagonistic atmosphere. Keel struggled to mark his man on the early Alonso and Friberg goals, and keeps showing up in the wrong spot when Seattle was at its best. Roy Miller also found himself getting beat with regularity out on the left flank, but what can he do when there's no one capable of getting his back?

What Went Right. Excluded from the deficiencies found in the back line and midfield is right back Jan Gunnar Solli, who reminded onlookers of his speed and creativity pushing the ball up a right flank that Seattle defended with spare parts.

Solli's night culminated with his work to obtain New York's second goal of the night. He picked up a long lob pass from De Rosario and rushed it clear down the right flank to the end line. After executing a nutmeg through defender Leonardo Gonzalez before taking a strong shot from the right of the penalty area that deflected off Scott in front of the six-yard-box and redirected into the net for the equalizer.

New York couldn't make Solli's strike stand up, but the Norwegian raised his game in a match where so many fell to lower levels.

Minus Three. That's the penalty differential between the 11 fouls called on New York versus eight for Seattle. Both sides finished level with yellow cards at three apiece. In an interesting note, Michael Kennedy served as the match referee on Thursday, four days after clarifying the red card assessed to Thierry Henry by Ricardo Salazar on behalf of U.S. Soccer. Coincidence?

There is no rest for the Red Bulls as they leave the left coast to face the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park for a matinee on Sunday (2 p.m. ET, ESPN, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes).

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at Seattle Sounders

June, 23, 2011
New York continues its transcontinental tour as the Red Bulls visit the recently-renamed CenturyLink Field to face the Seattle Sounders on Thursday evening (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes).

The Red Bulls find themselves in the middle of a three-game road trip after escaping Jeld-Wen Field with a 3-3 draw against the Portland Timbers on Sunday. Dwayne De Rosario converted the club's second penalty kick of the season to cap a tumultuous second half that opened with two quick goals by Jack Jewsbury and Kevin Goldwaithe of the Timbers and an own goal by Red Bulls central defender Stephen Keel. Thierry Henry recorded the soccer equivalent of the Gordie Howe hat trick by tallying a goal and assist before receiving a straight red card for striking Timbers midfielder Adam Moffat in the back of the head during stoppage time.

Seattle returns home after collecting a 1-o win over Toronto FC at BMO Field last Saturday. Colombian striker Freddy Montero scored the game winner in the 90' minute by curling a free kick from distance around the TFC wall and just inside the top corner of the right post. The Sounders carry a four-game unbeaten streak into Thursday's contest.

A scoreless draw at PPL Park brings the Philadelphia Union into a tie with the Red Bulls for first place in the Eastern Conference, with New York's 5-2-8 record falling one win below Philly's record of 6-4-5.

Help Wanted. Henry will miss Thursday's match due to the automatic one-game suspension that culminates from his red card. Luke Rodgers did not make the trip out west as he continues to rest the plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Wednesday's 1-0 win for the United States over Panama in the Gold Cup semifinals means Juan Agudelo remains committed to his national team responsibilities through Saturday. So what does that leave for the Red Bulls at forward?

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe indicated that De Rosario will start up top alongside Dane Richards, who returned to the club earlier this week after the US eliminated Jamaica from the Gold Cup quarterfinals on Sunday. Neither De Rosario nor Richards are strangers to the job, but they may be strangers to one another after last playing together on May 21 against the Houston Dynamo. They'll need to translate their midfield magic to the forward position in order to fuel one more makeshift Red Bulls attack.

Key Matchup: Red Bulls' Back Line vs. Freddy Montero. After Timbers team captain Jack Jewsbury opened the scoring in the 48' minute of last Sunday's match, the Red Bulls defense fell apart at the seams and found itself incapable of regaining the run of play from Portland. A New York 'keeper has not kept a clean sheet since Bouna Coundoul kept Sporting Kansas City scoreless on April 30, but the central defense took a major hit when stalwarts Tim Ream and Rafael Marquez departed for international duty in late May.

Enter Montero, whose goal against TFC last weekend should give him some positive momentum heading into Thursday's tilt. Montero is a dynamic playmaker and striker for the Sounders who could benefit from the pairing of Alvaro Fernandez and Erik Friberg regaining their form in the midfield. If Kassel and Carlos Mendes do not create enough disruption for the Sounders' passing lanes in the middle, it won't be long before Montero soils another sheet for a Red Bulls 'keeper.

Defense and Duct Tape. The Red Bulls will not be the only club struggling with a patchwork back line on Thursday. Colombian defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado received a red card in last Saturday's match at Toronto, rendering him unable to play and leaves Seattle coach Sigi Schmid looking to Patrick Ianni or Hawaiian defender Zach Scott for relief. The latter has played admirably in a reserve role, while the former has left enough room in his form for Scott to emerge. Both represent unknown quanities, and a potential hole for the Red Bulls' attack to exploit.

'Keeping the Faith. Despite the short work week and three-goal outburst by Portland, Backe indicated that he favors Greg Sutton to mind the net for New York. It's tough to blame the Canadian goalie for the complete failure by his defense in the second half at Portland, but Sutton would accrue seven consecutive caps with a start at Seattle while New York still faces two more matches against the Chicago Fire and FC New York in the next five days. Can Sutton handle the heavy workload?

Go Crazy, Folks. Go Crazy. While the Red Bulls successfully escaped the raucous atmosphere found in the cozy confines of Jeld-Wen Field, that experience may look quaint compared to what awaits at CenturyLink Field. The Sounders are expected to remove the tarps from the upper decks for the first time in anticipation of a crowd that could easily exceed 45,000.

New York could have brought the full onslaught of their supporters groups along for the ride and barely made a dent in what will likely be a very energetic and pro-Sounders audience. New York will need to keep the composure they lost in the second half last week and take charge in front of a big soccer crowd.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at Portland Timbers

June, 19, 2011
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.

RBNY Notebook: De Ro return eases Red Bulls' roster issues

June, 15, 2011
Canada's loss is the Red Bulls' gain.

Canadian midfielder Dwayne De Rosario should return to MLS duty later this week after Panama eliminated the Canucks from the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament on Tuesday. With Canada needing a win to advance to the Gold Cup quarterfinals and receiving the lead from a successful De Rosario penalty kick, Panama forward Luis Tejada scored the equalizer in stoppage time to draw Los Canaleros level for a 1-1 result.

After the loss, De Rosario indicated on Twitter that his itinerary consists of an "early morning flight back to NY." He should return to training with the Red Bulls during their next scheduled practice session on Thursday.

Red Bulls sporting director Erik Solér indicated the club's intentions to speak with De Rosario about a contract extension to earlier this week. Solér acknowledged the club's preference to allow De Rosario to complete his national team commitments before holding any conversations about the former Toronto FC captain's future.

“When he’s back, we will speak to him to see where he’s at and what is possible,” Solér said to “We hope, of course, that we can have him for more years.”

Solér intimated that he also expects New York to make another roster move in addition to inquiring about a contract extension for De Rosario, though New York will likely not add another designated player in 2011.

“I think we’re going to do a little here or there,” Solér said. “I’d be surprised if we didn’t do anything.”

It's (Still) Miller Time. Despite expectations to the contrary, Costa Rica did not select Red Bulls left back Roy Miller to join the national club for the upcoming Copa America tournament. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe expected the Ticos to select Miller after passing on him for the Gold Cup.

“From what I know the list has already been given out, and my name’s not on it,’’ Miller said to the New York Post. “From what I spoke to the club and the national team, and they didn’t want me to go to Gold Cup because we’re losing so many players, and there was the option for me to go to Copa America with the national team.

“But at the moment, the list is out and my name isn’t on it and I haven’t been contacted by anyone.’’

Miller does not believe that this omission will hurt his chances to join the Ticos for the FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifers.

We're All Day-to-Day. Backe also expressed that Joel Lindpere (ankle), Teemu Tainio (groin), and Luke Rodgers (heel) have less severe injuries than previously believed, which may allow the threesome to join the club for its match on Sunday in Portland against the expansion Timbers.

Bull Rush. After sparking speculation with news of a trialist arriving to train with the Red Bulls on Monday, the Red Bulls introduced Formula 1 racing star Sebastian Vettel -- who drives under the Red Bull racing banner -- as the mystery man. Vettel joins the ranks of celebrity MLS trialists that also includes NBA point guard Steve Nash and NFL wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.

W2W4: Red Bulls v. Columbus Crew

June, 4, 2011
The Red Bulls return home on Saturday evening with a five-game winless streak intact for a regular season rematch against the middling Columbus Crew.

New York failed to secure a win in the month of May after departing Empire Field in Vancouver with a 1-1 draw against the expansion Whitecaps last Saturday. New York conceded its sixth dead ball goal in nine games when Eric Hassli converted an early penalty kick, though Luke Rodgers brought the score level ten minutes later by tapping a Jan Gunnar Solli cross past 'Caps goalkeeper Jay Nolly. However, Rodgers and Dwayne De Rosario -- who started up top in place of the injured Thierry Henry -- did not follow up with the offensive touch necessary to leave Canada with a win.

Three consecutive draws leaves the Red Bulls with a 4-2-6 record and 18 points, or two behind the first-place Philadelphia Union in the Eastern Conference.

It's Déjà Vu All Over Again. Speak up if you have heard this one before: Injuries and international call-ups have left the Red Bulls fielding a makeshift lineup.

If that sentiment sounds familiar, it should for more reasons than the upcoming Gold Cup tournament. New York played Columbus to a 0-0 draw on March 26 despite losing five starters -- Tim Ream, Juan Agudelo, Rafael Marquez, Dane Richards, and Bouna Coundoul -- to international duty as well as Henry and goalkeeper Greg Sutton to injury. That lineup held the line defensively in front of 'keeper Alex Horwath -- who New York signed one day prior to the match -- but struggled to produce in the attacking zone.

While De Rosario joins the five March call-ups in international play starting this weekend, Henry should resume his attacking duties alongside Rodgers. That should help New York improve on the paltry two shots on target they mustered at Crew Stadium in March.

Key Matchup: Solli v. Columbus's Left Midfield. Solli has eased the absence of Dane Richards by continuing to push up on the right wing and frequently dabbling in the midfield. His club-leading four assists culminated from his work on the wing and his scrambling up and down the flank.

Meanwhile, Columbus still lacks a clear consensus on who can play on the left side after losing Robbie Rogers to Gold Cup duty. Josh Gardner lacked the proper form while attempting to fill Rogers's shoes last week against Chivas USA before being pushed back to his natural left back role at halftime. It is unclear who Crew head coach Robert Warzycha considers plan C or if that plan will fill the gap.

That gap should leave Solli and whoever Hans Backe lines up at right midfield with enough room to create service for the forwards.

Ekpo's Expo. While the Crew's offense has suffered greatly following the departure of longtime captain Guillermo Barros Schelotto, they appeared to unlock something in Emmanuel Ekpo during last week's draw against Chivas USA.

After failing to produce at forward, Warzycha started Ekpo at holding midfielder. The decision rewarded the Nigerian midfielder with his first assist since September 2009, while the decision to let Ekpo join the attack in the second half produced Ekpo's first goal in two years.

New York will need to keep an eye on Ekpo to assure that last week's performance was an aberration and not a new standard.

Setting Expectations. While much has been made of New York's struggles to defend against set pieces, they will have as good an opportunity as any to correct those troubles against Columbus. Despite a long history of success with dead balls, the Crew are the only MLS side left without a goal from a set piece this season.

Crossing the Streams. According to Opta Sports, the New York Red Bulls average more crosses than any other MLS side this season. They also rank third in being called offsides. That should offer enough evidence to demonstrate the pressure of the vaunted Red Bulls' attack. If New York can keep the crosses up while cutting back on the offsides trouble, goals should surely follow.

RBNY Recap: Depleted NY can't top 'Caps in 1-1 draw

May, 29, 2011
Twelve games into the season, the Red Bulls are fit to be tied.

A New York lineup depleted by international call-ups and injuries prolonged its ongoing five-game winless streak in a 1-1 draw against the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps. A Carlos Mendes foul in the penalty area gave the 'Caps a penalty kick -- the third penalty kick conceded by the Red Bulls in as many weeks -- in the 24' minute that Eric Hassli converted for an early lead. Luke Rodgers responded 10 minutes later by picking up a soft cross from Jan Gunnar Solli from the right side of the box and tapping it past 'Caps keeper Jay Nolly to draw level.

The draw combined with a 6-2 Philadelphia Union win over Toronto FC pushes the Red Bulls two points back of first place in the Eastern Conference.

The Patchwork XI. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe had his work cut out for him early as he worked to accommodate a depleted roster. He lost two -- Rafael Marquez and Dane Richards -- to international duty and three -- Thierry Henry, Carl Robinson, and Chris Albright -- to injury.

Backe's response left Red Bulls fans shaking their heads at first kick. He placed Juan Agudelo in the starting lineup in place of Henry, but moved the young forward to left midfield in favor of starting Dwayne De Rosario alongside Rodgers up top. Solli moved up from right back to right midfield, which left Mehdi Ballouchy watching from New York due to visa issues. Mendes shifted from center back to right back in favor of Stephen Keel receiving his second MLS start alongside Tim Ream.

As Agudelo, Ream, and De Rosario will now depart for the Gold Cup, Backe will be forced to concoct more makeshift starting XIs in June. If Saturday's any indication, no one is cemented at any role save the forwards.

Play of the Game: Jolly's Save on Kassel. In the 79' minute, a tired Red Bulls squad mustered one last scoring chance after moving the ball quickly up the left wing to De Rosario. De Ro lobbed a pass from the left side of the penalty area to the right side of the arc, where rookie midfielder Matt Kassel volleyed it toward the top right corner of the net. If not for a spectacular save by Nolly, Kassel would have delivered a late lead so desperately sought by New York.

According to Opta Sports, the Red Bulls have once converted a tie at half-time into a win this season -- out of eight opportunities. When a club is converting 12.5% of its ties into wins, it can make a nice save against Kassel a little tougher to accept.

Suddenly Sutton. Despite Bouna Coundoul making a big splash as the Red Bulls 'keeper in the early part of the season, Greg Sutton returned to the starting job without controversy upon his return from a concussion. Sutton has now overseen the club's three consecutive ties while allowing two goals to the Houston Dynamo and one apiece to Vancouver and the Colorado Rapids.

It's unfair to point the finger at Sutton for the club's troubles with set pieces and penalty kicks. However, he may need to steal a game if the weakened Red Bulls lineup struggles to muster much offense in June. If he is not up to the task, the drum beat for Coundoul may grow louder.

Fire at Will. New York sustained the attack on Vancouver throughout the match, leading in possession at 56%-to-44% and taking 15 attempts on goal. The Red Bulls also did not stifle their own attacking, finding themselves offside only twice throughout Saturday's match.

Only three of those attempts concluded as shots on target, though. Vancouver blocked four and New York sent the other eight elsewhere. Backe can find some relief in seeing his club take so many shots with the possession edge, but that relief will be tempered by the club's shoddy targeting.

Moral Victories. While the Red Bulls fought to keep themselves in Saturday's match, they fought against a lowly 'Caps side with a 1-5-6 record that leaves Vancouver tied with the Chicago Fire for the second worst record in MLS. New York has 22 games ahead to chase a playoff spot and the Supporters' Shield, but one would think exiting Rain City with a more positive result would make those chases a bit easier.

The Red Bulls have a full week to sort out their new roster configurations before welcoming the Columbus Crew to Red Bull Arena next Saturday. First kick is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

W2W4: Red Bulls at Vancouver Whitecaps

May, 28, 2011
New York takes another transcontinental trip this weekend as the Red Bulls make their inaugural visit to Empire Field on Saturday to face the Vancouver Whitecaps.

The Red Bulls will look to leave their four-game winless streak in Rain City after battling the defending MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids to a 2-2 draw on Wednesday at Red Bull Arena. Thierry Henry and Luke Rodgers quickly answered two first-half goals by Rapids midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, saving the draw and giving New York a share of the first-place lead in the Eastern Conference.

Vancouver will look to find form at home after completing a transcontinental trip that only left the club with extra frequent flier miles. The Whitecaps saw a 1-0 lead in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship finale over Toronto FC washed out due to heavy rain and lightning. Vancouver will now replay the match in its entirety on Saturday, July 2 -- negating the go-ahead goal scored by 'Caps forward Eric Hassli.

Saturday's match will be the third regular season game in eight days for the Red Bulls. New York raised preparation concerns after the club's previous three-games-in-eight-days stretch, which included a friendly loss to the NASL's Montreal Impact and culminated with a 3-2 loss at home to Chivas USA by a Red Bulls club lacking proper form. It remains to be seen how Red Bulls coach Hans Backe modified the club's training regimen to account for the busy work week and the inherent schedule disruption.

However, Vancouver returns home to complete a busy week of its own. The club preceded its washout in Toronto on Wednesday with a 1-0 regular season loss at Gillette Stadium against the New England Revolution last Saturday. That's a three-game-in-eight-days stretch of Vancouver's own, with no positive results to show for it.

Key Matchup: Hans Backe vs. The Depth Chart. Though Dwayne De Rosario, Juan Agudelo, and Tim Ream will take the pitch one last time before departing to join their respective national teams, Gold Cup duties will preclude Dane Richards and Rafael Marquez from joining their teammates at Empire Field. Add in Henry's ongoing knee issue knocking him out of action in Saturday's match and the injuries keeping Carl Robinson and Chris Albright out indefinitely, and Backe will need to try everything to fill in the gaps.

Agudelo will once again get the call to fill in for the injured Henry but was largely invisible in starting last Saturday's draw to the Houston Dynamo and as a substitute against the Rapids. Mehdi Ballouchy filled in admirably for Richards on Wednesday but continues to lack a true position -- or even an obvious gap to fill -- in the Red Bulls' midfield. Defender Carlos Mendes filled in adequately for the injured Marquez but will only have one more outing to find form before possibly being asked to lead the back line.

Different Looks. While Backe knows that any further injuries will exponentially increase his depth problems, Vancouver head coach Teitur Thordarson will simply look for stability from his starting XI. Wednesday's match against Toronto FC represented the first time Thordarson used the same starting XI in two consecutive matches after never previously using that combination. Thordarson can repeat that one more time before Canadian midfielder Terry Dunfield departs for international duty with the Canucks.

"It's been a long time coming," 'Caps captain Jay DeMerit said to about the consecutive starting XI feat. "That shows the roller coaster that we’ve been on this season."

Zero. That's how many wins were accrued by Vancouver since the club's 4-2 win over Toronto FC on March 19 -- also known as the first week of the season. The 'Caps have five draws and five losses over that stretch and have not scored more than one goal in any match since Camilo netted two stoppage-time strikes in a wild 3-3 draw against Sporting Kansas City on April 2. (The Brazilian striker is also goalless since a 3-1 loss on April 10 against the Houston Dynamo.)

Pop-Up Empire. Saturday's match represents New York's first match against the expansion Whitecaps and the club's first and last visit to Empire Field. Vancouver presently plays in a temporary pop-up stadium while the province executes renovations at B.C. Place, the permanent home for the 'Caps and the Canadian Football League's B.C. Lions. It sits on the former site of Empire Stadium, the former home of the 'Caps during their NASL tenure in the 1970s and '80s, and features a FieldTurf playing surface -- making it New York's first match on FieldTurf this season.

RBNY Recap: Rapids takeaway NY's finish

May, 26, 2011
It should always be easier to attack with the ball, even if the Red Bulls keep producing evidence to the contrary.

Despite a 62%-to-38% edge in possession over the Colorado Rapids during Wednesday's 2-2 draw at Red Bull Arena, the defending MLS Cup champions put more shots on target than New York by a margin of 10 to six. A stout Rapids defense kept the potent Red Bulls attack in check with a +10 giveaway/takeaway margin, which was largely fueled by Colorado's execution of 30 takeaways as compared to 18 by New York.

"We couldn't break them up," said Red Bulls coach Hans Backe. "The creativity in the last third left not much and space and time for our players. Also, the passing game left too many unforced errors."

To improve on that disparity going forward, forward Luke Rodgers suggests picking up the offensive pace to create more pressure on opposing defenses.

"High tempo game," said Rodgers. "Keep pressing them aggressively. Do that and you’re going to score more goals."

Rodgers's sentiments about increasing the offensive pressure were also echoed by Dwayne De Rosario. "We just have to be a little more nasty and a little more hungry on winning every ball,” said the Canadian midfielder.

Miller Maligned. While much will be made of New York's continued troubles with defending against set pieces, the foul which set up Jeff Larentowicz's penalty kick gave New York a reason to gripe.

Referee Jorge Gonazlez awarded a penalty kick to Colorado after apparent contact in the penalty area by Red Bulls defender Roy Miller sent Rapids forward Andre Akpan to the ground. Replays showed that Miller made contact to right of the arc outside of the area, which would have resulted in a free kick but not an unobstructed penalty kick.

"I think it was a rash decision," said De Rosario. "I think the lineman should’ve stayed his ground and pointed outside the 18. It was what it was. The penalty is definitely questionable."

Jack of All Trades. Midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy played another solid game for New York and should expect to see his playing time increase with De Rosario and Dane Richards departing for the Gold Cup. The Moroccan midfielder admitted his desire to support his club in any way he can from the top three midfield positions.

"Whatever works for the team," said Ballouchy. "I’m the last guy to complain about position. If the coaching staff thinks I should play there, I would work on it and do my best."