New York Soccer: Golden Boot
October, 26, 2011
By Matthew Artus | ESPNNewYork.com
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.
October, 4, 2011
By Matthew Artus | ESPNNewYork.com
The stars tonight will be big and bright deep in the heart of... Jersey?
A New York Red Bulls club in the driver's seat for a playoff berth will share the marquee at its namesake arena with the star-studded Los Angeles Galaxy side on Tuesday evening (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes). Red Bulls team captain Thierry Henry will provide a heavy dose of attacking momentum for the home side, as the French striker netted a late equalizer to salvage last Saturday's 1-1 draw at Toronto FC as well as an early goal in what concluded as a 1-1 draw on May 7 in the first leg of the regular season encounters against the Galaxy.
The Galaxy arrive at Red Bull Arena to complete the third match of a busy seven-day stretch for the best of MLS this season by points. Los Angeles brings the momentum of a three-game winning streak across all competitions to Red Bull Arena that includes a 2-1 comeback win against Real Salt Lake last Saturday in MLS regular season action as well as last Wednesday's 2-1 win over Monarcas Morelia in CONCACAF Champions League play which came about courtesy of a stoppage-time strike by Brazilian midfielder Juninho.
New York (8-7-16, 40 pts) controls its own playoff destiny and can continue to do so with a win over the Galaxy, as both the Portland Timbers (11-13-7, 40 pts) and Houston Dynamo (10-9-13, 43 pts) will remain dormant until after the international break concludes next week. The Columbus Crew (12-12-8, 44 pts) created breathing room from the Red Bulls with a Sunday win over D.C. United (9-10-11, 38 pts), though the latter team still holds a game in hand on New York that will give D.C. a leg up as the playoff races wind down.
Shielded Stars. Los Angeles only needs two points to clinch the club's second consecutive Supporters' Shield win and fourth in team history, but Galaxy coach Bruce Arena also knows he has three matches to seal the deal. Rather than pull out all the stops at the end of a short work week and prior to the international break, Arena will instead keep team-leading goal scorer Landon Donovan, Irish striker Robbie Keane, and English midfielder Chris Birchall out of the visitor's Starting XI.
Donovan will recuperate from a quad injury incurred during the past week's action, while Keane and Birchall departed early to join the Irish and Trinidadian national teams, respectively. Their absences should ease the burden on a much-maligned Red Bulls back line charged with keeping pressure on the vaunted Galaxy attack.
Key Matchup: Rafa vs. Becks. Henry's pursuit of the MLS scoring title will earn the French striker his share of the limelight on Tuesday, but it will take a superb performance to turn the gaze of soccer supporters from the midfield.
David Beckham is expected to patrol the Los Angeles midfield for what could be one of his final matches in MLS. His contract with MLS and the Galaxy is up at season's end, with only idle speculation providing any indication of the English midfielder's intentions for next season and beyond. With Donovan and Keane unavailable, Los Angeles will look to their prized designated player -- who leads the league with 15 assists -- to lob balls behind the Red Bulls back line while managing the run of play for the visitors.
New York would like to ask the same of Rafael Marquez, but the maligned Mexican defender is suddenly a player without a position for a Red Bulls side not known for its depth. His move to defensive midfielder by Red Bulls coach Hans Backe backfired last weekend, as Marquez's poor pass and poorer attempt to get back on defense contributed to a Toronto FC lead last weekend. And his days on the back line are likely over, as Backe has confirmed that Marquez will once again man the midfield against L.A. rather than line up next to his former center back partner, Tim Ream.
One hopes to justify his existence in MLS with a Cup at season's end. The other hopes to justify his existence in New York with an effective performance. Only one of them will take a big step forward with a solid performance tonight and likely at the expense of the other. So who's up for the challenge?
Doughnut Delivery. Marquez's presence in the midfield will need to support a Red Bulls attack led by Henry and Luke Rodgers against a Galaxy defense that's one clean sheet away from tying the 2000 Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting Kansas City) for the MLS single-season shutout record of 17.
Galaxy 'keeper Josh Saunders has accrued seven shutouts and 10 wins in the 16 matches since seamlessly replacing an injured Donovan Ricketts, though his job gets easier with an MVP-caliber defender in Omar Gonzalez applying the press against opposing offenses. Dane Richards and Joel Lindpere will need to step in and create chaos in the box to prevent the Galaxy from tying the record on the Red Bulls' turf.
One. That's how many goals Henry needs to tie former Red Bull and D.C. United midfielder Dwayne De Rosario atop the leaderboard in the Golden Boot pursuit.
Henry ended a 436-minute personal scoring drought with his late strike at Toronto FC last weekend, but will need to find his finishing form if he wants to be a player for the Golden Boot. The Red Bulls hope he can as well, as only Rodgers (eight) and Lindpere (seven) have more than half as many goals as the former Gunner.
Elimination Chamber. While New York can't clinch a playoff berth with a positive result against the Galaxy, they can end the playoff pursuit of two Western Conference clubs still in contention. A draw for the Red Bulls would mathematically eliminate the San Jose Earthquakes from contention, while a win would snuff out the fleeting postseason aspirations of the other L.A. side that calls the Home Depot Center home -- Chivas USA.
October, 2, 2011
By Matthew Artus | ESPNNewYork.com
New York almost made it a month without collecting a draw, but that's a point the Red Bulls will accept as the playoff race gets tight.
Thierry Henry's equalizer bailed out a lifeless New York Red Bulls defense to salvage his side's 16th draw of the season in a 1-1 result against Toronto FC at BMO Field on Saturday. Henry received a Dax McCarty corner kick near the penalty spot and connected a whirlwind kick to bounce home the Red Bulls' only goal in the 88th minute.
The French striker's 13th goal of the season answered a goal by TFC forward Danny Koevermans, who completed a counterattack against a sleepy Red Bulls defense to slot home a TFC goal in the 50th minute.
"I think they allowed us to do it cause they just dropped," said Henry on how the equalizer came about. "Instead of passing the ball through the lines and hurting us, they were just kicking it and giving us the ball back. That allowed us to put pressure on them and have some more opportunities and thankfully, we came back into the game."
The draw gives New York (8-7-16, 40 pts) a temporary one-point boost to their grip on the final wild card berth, but now leaves them scoreboard watching as both D.C. United (9-9-11, 38 pts) and the Portland Timbers (10-13-7, 37 pts) kick off on Sunday afternoon. The Red Bulls will also keep an eye on the Philadelphia Union (10-7-13, 43 pts), who sit two points in front of the Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference's final automatic playoff berth and will play on Sunday evening as well. The slumping Columbus Crew (11-12-8, 41 pts) sit in between the Red Bulls and Union and will take the pitch on Sunday at Crew Stadium against D.C., who still have one game in hand on the Red Bulls.
Prestige Over Performance. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe elected to pick controversial defender Rafael Marquez over McCarty for Saturday's Starting XI, which gave the Red Bulls a notably more defensive-minded focus than it's seen in recent weeks against a Toronto FC side that has allowed a league-leading 56 goals this season. It also removed an effective cog in the Red Bulls' combined efforts of late, as McCarty has made himself present in his side's attack while leading the charge on recovering balls on defense.
McCarty eventually came on as a substitute for Marquez in the 79th minute. Henry scored nine minutes later, though the arrival of substitute Juan Agudelo also played a role in that result.
Play of the Game: Koeverman's Goal. The Dutch forward's opening strike may not elicit MLS Goal of the Week chatter, largely because it came about from a catastrophic failure of the Red Bulls' defense.
Toronto FC only gained possession in the moments prior to Koeverman's goal from a bad pass by Rafael Marquez being intercepted. As the Reds fired up their counterattack, both Marquez and Teemu Tainio jogged after Reds midfielder Ryan Johnson instead of engaging in full pursuit. Johnson dished the ball to Koeverman's on the left side past a Red Bulls back line that briefly halted its pressure after presuming the Dutchman was offside. He wasn't -- and he made the RBNY defense pay by tapping a ball off Frank Rost and inside the net for the match's first goal.
The goal seemed to snap the Red Bulls out of a malaise that hung over them for the first 50 minutes of the match, but the club's defense once again left New York chasing a lesser opponent's lead instead of burying them with one of their own.
Wake Up Time. New York's attack remained dormant until Koeverman's goal, with only two shots on target from six attempts on TFC backup 'keeper Milos Kocic to show for their efforts. That picked up in the second half, with the Red Bulls creating four shots on target from nine chances, culminating in Henry's goal in the waning moments of the match and a satisfying performance for the club's head coach.
"The work ethic was phenomenal in the second half," said Backe. "The way we controlled the game, the passing game, the number of chances, a lot of crosses (left us) very close to scoring. To respond after being one down like that, I'm quite pleased with the performance."
Fit to be Tied. The Red Bulls have reached half time all tied up with their opponent on 13 occasions this season. Of those 13 matches, New York has only won once -- the season opener against the Seattle Sounders on March 19. Since then, the Red Bulls are 0-3-9 in matches level at halftime. The trend itself may be an anomaly, which leaves Jan Gunnar Solli with a sense of optimism following another draw than another loss.
"A little bit unlucky tonight that we didn't score more goals," said Solli. "In the end, to get one point away -- that's good for us, especially when there was seven, eight minutes left in the game and then we scored. I was really happy with the boys."
14. Henry's late heroics netted the Red Bulls team captain his first goal in six matches (if you count the FC Dallas win, which Henry missed due to injury). That scoring drought left Henry chasing the league leader in goals scored and a familiar face to both New York and Toronto FC.
So who is the current Golden Boot favorite? D.C. United attacking midfielder Dwayne De Rosario.
New York gets no time to lick their wounds following their draw at Toronto as they head home to face the Los Angeles Galaxy on Tuesday (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes) at Red Bull Arena in a make-up match of the one postponed due to Hurricane Irene.