New York Soccer: Houston Dynamo

RBNY Recap: Galaxy's free kicks finish off Red Bulls' run in MLS Playoffs

November, 4, 2011
11/04/11
12:58
PM ET

On a night where they committed twice as many fouls as their opponent, an errant kick effectively set the Red Bulls free from any further MLS postseason obligations. Ain't that a kick in the head?

Actually, yes. Landon Donovan still needed to convert the awarded penalty kick moments later to cement the Los Angeles Galaxy's 2-1 win over the Red Bulls on Thursday night and 3-1 win on aggregate in the MLS Western Conference semifinals, but it was a sloppy Roy Miller clearance kick to David Beckham's groggy noggin in the penalty area that made possible the last of a litany of free kicks which haunted New York all season.

It's a frustrating way to end a season, not only because the effective series winner was scored earlier in the match on another free kick -- that one courtesy of a Beckham free kick culminating in a header by newly-minted Red Bulls killer Mike Magee -- but moreso because the majority of goals typically scored in soccer come in the run of play. Free kicks are passing moments in soccer, with formations designed by coaches who understand fully that any greater strategy to defend against them will dissipate in seconds once the run of play is restored from the stoppage.

Of the 96 goals scored or allowed by the Red Bulls during the 2011 MLS regular season, 29 of them -- or approximately 30% -- resulted due to or immediately following a dead ball. New York finished 10 of those free kicks, meaning they allowed twice as many penalty-area headers and goalmouth tap-ins as they scored. Considering the Red Bulls committed two more fouls than they suffered per 90 minutes in 2011, that's enough of an inefficiency for a precision kicker like Beckham to exploit with ease.

It was also enough to make heroes of Colorado Rapids midfielder Jeff Larentowicz last May and Real Salt Lake striker Alvaro Saborio in August and September. Free kicks let Dynamo striker Cam Weaver net an equalizer in the early goings of the season and let Seattle Sounders sub Roger Levesque finish off New York last summer.

Donovan and Beckham didn't just finish off the Red Bulls with their free kick follies. They finished off the Red Bulls again, joining a long list of opponents this season who just seemed to convert timely chances from dead balls while painfully reminding Luke Rodgers and his Red Bulls side that, despite finding their confidence and form late in the season, they remain the same ol' Red Bulls that can't defend against the set piece.

"We’re starting to get all over them," said Rodgers. "And, once again, we’re conceding from set pieces. I don’t care what team you’re on, if you’re conceding set-piece goals, you’re not going to win many games. If you look at the season, there’s been a pattern and we need to eliminate it next season or we will be in the same position."

That same position, watching some other side raise the MLS Cup in triumph, is one the Red Bulls have remained in for 15 seasons now and counting. They also remain in the same position as last season, as the San Jose Earthquakes also cut short the Red Bulls' postseason run in the second leg of the Western Conference semifinal rounds.

Unfortunately, the Red Bulls finished out of position on their set pieces Thursday night as they have done enough times throughout the season to worry supporters everywhere. It was a combination of poor marking and a case of bad luck.

And, it resulted in the same ol' Red Bulls being kicked free and clear of the MLS Playoffs once again.

Tainio Take Out. Rodgers's goal in the 4th minute let the Red Bulls set the tone to open the match, but the injury to defensive midfielder Teemu Tainio 10 minutes later seemed to expose a gap in the Red Bulls midfield already missing a suspended Rafael Marquez. The troubles didn't follow immediately, but Thierry Henry admitted after the match that the absences of Tainio and Marquez made their mark on the final result.

“You kind of don’t think about it when you are playing the game," said Henry. "But we already lost Rafa. I don’t when exactly he came out, but losing a player like Teemu basically you losing two players that play in front of the defense usually. Now that I think about it you don’t want to have them out of the field, but we still gave them a good run.”

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe also admitted that Tainio's premature exit forced Henry to drop deeper into the midfield to provide support to Dax McCarty and Stephane Auvray.

"When Teemu is not on the pitch with his distribution, I feel Thierry likes to get involved deep as a second striker to get involved in the build up,” said Backe.

48. That's the last minute a Red Bulls player registered a shot on target as L.A. netminder Josh Saunders kept Rodgers out of the net in the 48th minute for his second and last save of the match. New York created multiple chances in the second half, but struggled to direct any of them on net against a Galaxy defense led by Omar Gonzalez that firmly established its shape.

“I think that we figured out how to deal with them," said Donovan. "Henry came back into the midfield and made it difficult. He was finding little spots and we were kind of pulled apart. I think once we figured that out and once we were better with the ball we started picking them apart and creating chances."

Two Step. New York were the only MLS club to claim a regular season series win against the Galaxy with a draw in May and win in October. That provides little consolation to Henry, who concedes that the Galaxy ultimately won the matches when they counted the most.

“They won," said Henry. "They beat us at our place. They beat us at their place. So, at the end of the day, there’s nothing to say about it. We gave it a go.”

W2W4: NY Red Bulls vs. Philadelphia Union

October, 20, 2011
10/20/11
9:58
AM ET
To finally claim a spot on the 2011 MLS Playoffs marquee, the Red Bulls will need to take just one more step forward.

One point separates the Red Bulls from clinching the last remaining playoff berth as they kick off in their regular-season finale against the Philadelphia Union at Red Bull Arena on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes). New York will decide its postseason plans without team captain Thierry Henry, who will serve a one-game suspension for earning a red card that left his club short-handed for more than an hour in a dispiriting 2-0 loss at Sporting Kansas City last Saturday.

The Union visit Red Bull Arena with their MLS playoff berth all wrapped up, though Philly continues to jockey for position in the playoff standings. Philly could not make a go-ahead curler inside the far post by French forward Sebastian Le Toux stand up in a 1-1 draw against Toronto FC last Saturday, but that result combined with the Red Bulls' loss guaranteed playoff soccer for the City of Brotherly Love.

A wild Wednesday draw between D.C. United and the Portland Timbers left the former eliminated from postseason play and the latter waiting to see if the Red Bulls will cede control of their playoff destiny one last time. Portland needs nothing less than a New York loss to stay alive in the playoff race heading into their season finale at Real Salt Lake on Saturday. An unlikely series of fortunate events could also bring the Chicago Fire back from the brink of playoff elimination if the Timbers and Red Bulls can't claim the last remaining wild-card berth for themselves.

The Guarantee. New York sports teams feature a proud tradition of superstars guaranteeing postseason glory for their sides, from Joe Namath to Mark Messier to Jim Fassel and everyone in between. And with the Red Bulls trying to establish themselves in the NY sports hierarchy, they're now ready for this rite of passage with a little help from English striker Luke Rodgers.

"I’m quite positive we’re going to win the game, and I’m really looking forward to it," Rodgers said to MLSsoccer.com about his club's chances on Thursday. "In my eyes, we can’t be in a better situation, we can only let ourselves down. Win and you’re in. It’s up to us now, there’s no more hiding."

Key Matchup: Richards vs. Philly's Back Four. The Union's back line usually doesn't need much to keep opposing attackers at bay, but speed is always among of their biggest concerns. If Gabriel Farfan or Danny Califf join too many Philly attacks from the back, a speedster could likely outpace them on an ensuing counter and strike before Union 'keeper Faryd Mondragon knows what hit him.

New York can feed its need for speed by calling upon their Jamaican pace setter in midfielder Dane Richards. Richards, along with Joel Lindpere, will need to be prepared to work quickly on the flanks while not allowing Le Toux or Freddy Adu to set their rhythm with wide passing lanes. It means working hard on both sides of the ball, but moreso about stepping on the gas as often as possible to try and catch Philly's back four on their heels or with their back to attack.

Providing service to the forwards up top will remain job one for the Red Bulls midfield, but any added pressure that Richards can add with his speed will only help to put pressure on a Philly defense not renowned for its fleet feet.

Here's Looking at You, Kid. His red card for a retaliatory hit on Sporting midfielder Roger Espinosa may leave Henry missing his shot at winning the league's MVP award, but it's the 14 goals that made the French striker's candidacy possible that his club will miss the most.

Henry's absence forces Red Bulls coach Hans Backe to turn to teenage phenom Juan Agudelo as an attacking answer alongside Rodgers. Their combined total of 15 goals may only be one better than a solo Henry, but that track record should support the eligible pairing's ability to put crooked numbers on the score sheet for the home side. Rodgers can't do it on his own, so Backe will need to fire up the Agudelo Hype Machine and let his young striker pick up where Henry left off in the attacking third.

Oh Captain, My Captain? With Henry watching from the owners' box on Thursday, someone else will need to lead the Red Bulls onto the pitch bearing the captain's armband. And who better to represent all that is right and good about the Red Bulls these days than Rafael Marquez.

Marquez will serve as the temporary captain for the season finale less than one month after he called out his teammates for not playing at the Mexican midfielder's level. Backe did not pick an unqualified captain -- Marquez wears the captain's strap for Mexico -- but did select the one player that can polarize the club's supporters with one poor play. It's likely a vote of confidence in Marquez for his solid play since moving back into the midfield, but will it last?

Something to Believe In. New York's not the only club with something to play for in their regular season finale. The Union remain deadlocked with Sporting KC in the race for the Eastern Conference's overall top spot with the Columbus Crew and Houston Dynamo still within shouting distance. No club can finish higher than the 51 points Philly would have with a win, though Sporting can tie that mark and claim the conference's top spot on tiebreakers.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at Sporting KC

October, 15, 2011
10/15/11
10:22
AM ET
An MLS playoff opportunity will knock on the door in Kansas City this afternoon. Are the Red Bulls ready to answer it?

The New York Red Bulls make their inaugural visit to Livestrong Sporting Park to kick off against Sporting Kansas City in an afternoon match rife with playoff implications. New York arrives with its playoff destiny in its own hands following a 2-0 win over a beleaguered Los Angeles Galaxy side on Oct. 4, though the red-hot Red Bulls side that had won three of its last five contests needs to regain form following an 11-day hiatus due to the international break.

The Red Bulls also lead the regular season series over SKC after Luke Rodgers scored the game-winner in a 1-0 result at Red Bull Arena on April 30.

Sporting Kansas City comes home looking for better results following a stretch of accruing three draws in four matches. They arrive in shaky form after quickly conceding an equalizer following a go-ahead goal by Kevin Ellis in their international friendly against Mexican powerhouse C.D. Guadalajara last Wednesday, though Teal Bunbury netted a late equalizer of his own in SKC's MLS regular season match against the San Jose Earthquakes on Oct. 1.

The Houston Dynamo (11-9-13, 46 pts) did their job in boosting the Red Bulls' playoff profile with a win on Friday night that delivered a near-fatal blow to the postseason chances of their opponent, the Portland Timbers (11-14-7, 40 pts). A New York (9-7-16, 43 pts) win coupled with a D.C. United loss (9-11-11, 38 pts) would put the Red Bulls in position to effectively clinch a playoff berth as they control tiebreakers over Portland and D.C. It would also vault them over Sporting KC (11-9-12, 45 pts) and into an Eastern Conference automatic berth if the Columbus Crew (12-12-8, 44 pts) lose or draw on Saturday.

Who Wants It More? New York's not the only club playing with playoff aspirations on Saturday, as a Red Bulls loss would clinch a playoff berth for Sporting. SKC's footing may be a little surer than the Red Bulls, but a loss at home would surely deal a major blow to any club's playoff chances at such a late stage of the season.

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe continues to preach the tenets of "cynical soccer," a possession-driven style similar to the Italian Catenaccio system but with a stronger emphasis on playing keep away rather than for keeps, while Sporting coach Peter Vemes's 4-3-3 system caters to a more attack-friendly, possession-oriented offense. Backe's side will make it as hard as possible for SKC to create pressure in the attacking third, but SKC needs to not leave themselves vulnerable to the counter by making a mistake. Will either side blink?

Key Matchup: Ream vs. Bravo. Saturday will be Tim Ream's first chance to move on from the gaffe which created the Ecuador scoring chance that sent the U.S. Men's National Team to a 1-0 loss at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday. Unlike under Jurgen Klinsmann's system, Ream won't come on as a substitute on Saturday -- he'll be expected to anchor a Red Bulls back line against a possession-savvy SKC attack.

Ream's first chance at redemption will come by marking a world-class striker in Omar Bravo. The Mexican forward shares the team lead in goals scored with fellow forward Kei Kemara at nine, though Bravo reached the total despite missing five matches in the early part of the season due to a sports hernia.

Support will come for Ream and the Red Bulls' back line in the form of Stephen Keel and Bravo's Mexican national team peer in Rafael Marquez, but the spotlight will shine brightly on the 24-year-old center back. Someone has to get in the way of an SKC attack that's been shutout only once in MLS regular season play since June, and Ream will once again be charged with taking up those reins.

30. That's how many points Sporting Kansas City has accumulated in their new home at Livestrong Sporting Park, which is the second-highest total in the Eastern Conference (the Crew lead with 32 points) and fourth-highest in all of MLS. The Red Bulls have 16 points on the road, but 10 of those came from draws.

For a Red Bulls side that needs to keep winning to keep their playoff plans within their own control, they'll need to buck a couple of trends if they hope to win at one of the toughest places to play in the league -- a place that wasn't anyone's home until SKC's 11th match of the season.

Rost Rested. No Red Bulls player benefited more from the international break than goalkeeper Frank Rost. With his international duty days far behind him, Rost had eleven days to rest his legs and recuperate from any lingering effects of his quad injury following an intense five-game stretch over three weeks that saw the German netminder collect three wins and three clean sheets in the end.

His recent play has erased any lingering doubts about Red Bulls sporting director Erik Solér's decision to use a designated player slot in net and quieted any debate that reserve 'keeper Bouna Coundoul should be starting.

Going Streaking. Red Bulls team captain Thierry Henry heads to Kansas City mired in a three-way tie in the Golden Boot race. The French striker has scored in his club's last two matches to draw level at 14 goals with D.C. United midfielder and former Red Bull Dwayne De Rosario and Quakes striker Chris Wondolowski, with the latter netting a double against the New England Revolution last Saturday to vault into the race.

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.

RBNY Recap: Red Bulls back in playoff groove following shutout win over Galaxy

October, 5, 2011
10/05/11
12:43
AM ET

The reports of the death of the Red Bulls are greatly exaggerated.

New York's playoff hopes are alive and well following a solid 2-0 win on Tuesday evening at Red Bull Arena against a Los Angeles Galaxy side missing a few key players. Luke Rodgers opened the scoring for the Red Bulls in the 32nd minute by finishing a rebound created by Galaxy 'keeper Donovan Ricketts with an astute volley at the six-yard-box.

Thierry Henry provided an insurance goal in the 59th minute by picking up a Rafael Marquez lob pass in stride and outpacing Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza en route to an easy chip shot over a diving Ricketts.

With the win, the Red Bulls (9-7-16, 43 pts) remain in firm control of their playoff destiny as they kept pace with the Houston Dynamo (10-9-13, 43 pts) and Portland Timbers (11-13-7, 40 pts) for the final wild card berth heading into the international break. D.C. United (9-10-11, 38 pts) can still overtake the fourth-place Red Bulls club in the standings by virtue of their game in hand, but New York's playoff standing remains secure due to their favorable tiebreakers over Houston and Portland.

New York also has an opportunity to overtake the Columbus Crew (12-12-8, 44 pts) for the final Eastern Conference automatic berth, but, like with D.C. United, will need some outside help to make that happen.

"It’s still very, very tight," said Red Bulls coach Hans Backe. "But this win today, it has definitely set us up with great possibility to play head-to-head with Kansas City and Philadelphia. But if we lose these games, we can be out of the playoffs. With the way we performed today, it reminds me a little bit of the beginning of the season. Not giving away anything and the willingness to defend with hard work. If we are in the playoffs, I think we would definitely be a threat."

Notable No-Shows. Not to take anything away from a clear win over a Galaxy side in position to clinch the Supporters' Shield any day now, but the missing stars on the visiting side may have tempered the capabilities of the best club in MLS by points. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena knew before kick off he'd be without Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, and Chris Birchall due to injury and international commitments, but also elected to start Jamaican 'keeper Donovan Ricketts over Josh Saunders in net.

Ricketts only surrendered the starting job due to an injury earlier this season, but had not started a match for L.A. since September 9 against the Colorado Rapids -- whereas Saunders has minded the net for every minute in between. Saunders likely needed the break, but that fatigue plagued more than just Ricketts's performance in Arena's eyes.

"It wasn’t our best night," said Arena. "I think we looked like a tired team. Tonight is a culmination of a lot of games over a short period of time, and it showed."

Play of the Game: Henry's Goal. It wasn't on par with the MLS Goal of the Week-caliber strike he completed against Toronto FC last weekend, but Henry's goal did more than just lift the French striker into a tie with D.C. United midfielder Dwayne De Rosario for the Golden Boot. It added another insurance goal -- a luxury for a Red Bulls attack that's struggled to put opponents to bed all season.

Henry's finish becomes doubly significant as it also came about from the foot of Marquez, who has earned the ire of Red Bulls supporters in recent days following his less-than-flattering appraisal of his teammates. Marquez, who started in the midfield once again, played as complete a game as anyone's seen since returning from a hamstring injury that chased him out of the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final in June. The pass, like many of his others on the evening, was crisp and perfectly timed -- exactly the kind of service which leaves Henry free to finish without needing to muster some fancy footwork to get behind the opposing back line.

Marquez to Henry -- It's the combination that sporting director Erik Solér had Red Bulls supporters dreaming about when New York acquired the two designated players last season, and the one they could use most as it prepares for the final playoff push.

German Efficency. After an ignominious debut that left supporters struggling with the decision to use a designated player spot on a goalkeeper, German shot stopper Frank Rost has removed all doubt about his capabilities following his third clean sheet in five matches. That Rost has done it at all is impressive, but that he's now kept playoff-caliber opponents scoreless twice in nine days indicates the Red Bulls' third designated player is rolling at the right time.

Plus 11. That's the interception differential from Tuesday and in the Red Bulls's favor. New York picked off more balls than the Galaxy and -- as the Opta Chalkboards point out -- did so across the width of the pitch and along the wings where Donovan usually plies his trade, whereas L.A. only managed to intercept passes down the middle of the field.

Tim Ream led the way with seven intercepted balls, with fellow center back Stephen Keel and left back Roy Miller chipping in five apiece for a New York side in which every starter not named Henry, Rodgers, or Rost picked off at least one ball.

"I felt pretty comfortable the last couple of starts," said Ream. "It’s a better feeling for the guy next to you and communication has been good, I think it’s just been the heart and the fight that everybody has shown has definitely rubbed off on everybody. I think (I should) be able to feel more comfortable playing that style and playing with more effort and more passion."

Ready to Rumble. For a New York side that's struggled to string two wins together in the same month, it's a night-and-day difference to suddenly start winning three of their last five matches. Their midseason form raised the eyebrows of league pundits everywhere about the club's potential to become the biggest albatross in MLS history, but Backe remains optimistic that the kinds of troubles that have plagued the Red Bulls this season will work themselves out in the end.

"These kinds of games take care of themselves," said Backe. "Every time you play the big guns, you don’t need any right way to motivate the players in any different or special style. It takes care of itself. We will see when we go on the road to Kansas City, if we can stay on the same level. Normally, I would analyze after our 34 games or after the playoffs. I am quite sure on what has gone wrong after the first seven games. But it seems that we are back now."

New York now gets an 11-day break to respect international competition before making their inaugural visit to Livestrong Sporting Park for a date with Eastern Conference rival Sporting Kansas City on Saturday, October 15. First kick is scheduled for 4:00 p.m.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls vs. LA Galaxy

October, 4, 2011
10/04/11
9:44
AM ET

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.

RBNY Notes: Red Bulls control own playoff destiny despite D.C.'s game in hand

October, 3, 2011
10/03/11
12:46
PM ET
Thanks to an imbalance in the number of matches played to this point and a needlessly complicated playoff structure that MLS commissioner Don Garber may tweak again soon, the Red Bulls' playoff picture looks muddied.

It looks like the Red Bulls have a tenuous grasp on the final wild card berth and need clubs like the Portland Timbers and Chicago Fire to cool off. It looks like D.C. United can knock them out of the postseason with winning ways and their game in hand. It looks like the Red Bulls are in trouble.

As the math bears out, looks can be deceiving -- and that's to the Red Bulls' benefit.

That's not to say the Red Bulls can skate into the MLS playoffs. They still have work to do, and the time for conceding draws at the expense of wins needs to be behind them over their final three matches. Their current standing doesn't absolve them of their responsibility to deal with Rafael Marquez's place on the club, nor how Red Bulls coach Hans Backe can keep his roster healthy for the final stretch.

But they do control their own destiny. And here's why:
Club Points GL Max Magic # Tragic # TB?
FCD 46 3 55 15 -4 Y
SKC 45 2 51 11 -5 Y
Rapids 45 2 51 12 -4 N
Union 44 3 53 14 -5 N
Crew 44 2 50 10 -6 Y
Dynamo 43 2 49 9 -7 Y
RBNY 40 3 49 - - -
Timbers 40 3 49 9 -10 Y
D.C. 38 4 50 10 -12 Y
Fire 37 3 46 6 -13 Y
Chivas 36 2 42 3 -13 N
Quakes 32 3 41 1 -18 Y

This table represents every eligible playoff club not presently in possession of a Western Conference automatic berth (i.e. the only three spots New York can't use to get in the playoffs). "Points" is how many points the clubs have in the regular season standings. "GL" represents the number of games that club has left. "MAX" is the maximum number of points a club can attain by season's end if that club wins out the remainder of its matches.

Then there's a few new numbers for you to crunch. "Magic #" is the magic number pundits use to describe the combination of events necessary to clinch a better finish in the standings than the club in question.

Basically, we're talking about any result which would favorably benefit the Red Bulls in the standings. That magic number represents the number of points the Red Bulls need to get or the opponent needs to concede for New York to overtake them.

For example, the Red Bulls will mathematically eliminate the Chicago Fire from overtaking them in the postseason standings if both clubs somehow create a six-point gap that benefits New York. If the Red Bulls collect at least six points (+6 points) over their final three matches, the Fire can't catch them. If New York collects three (+3) and the Fire lose once (+3, since they conceded an opportunity to collect three points and keep up), Chicago's out.

In the next column, the "Tragic #" lists the antithesis -- the number of points the Red Bulls need to concede or the opponent needs to get for New York to be unable to overtake them. This refers to any result which would unfavorably harm the Red Bulls in the standings.

Thus, a Sporting Kansas City win (-3) plus a New Red Bulls draw (-2, since the draw would concede two of a possible three points they'd receive from a win) would prevent New York from overtaking the tenants of Livestrong Sporting Park since the combination of events (-5 points) would add up to the tragic number.

(A note: "TB?" asks whether the Red Bulls control the playoff tiebreaker over the club in question according to the league's rules and regulations. If New York doesn't control the tiebreaker, the other club receives one extra point in their favor in the "Magic #" and "Tragic #" columns since New York can't finish tied in the standings without the tiebreaker to their benefit.)

So where does that leave the Red Bulls? Presently, they sit in the final wild card berth according to the MLS Playoff Standings and three points behind the Houston Dynamo.

That latter point is important because, as the MAX column shows, the Dynamo, Red Bulls, and Portland Timbers cannot finish with more than 49 points over their remaining matches.

The Red Bulls hold the tiebreaker over the Dynamo (goal differential) and Timbers (win-loss) as well, which means a three-way tie would give the edge to New York -- and the playoff spot with it. That's backed up by the current "Tragic #" column, which shows that neither the Dynamo nor Timbers can reach it on their own.

Moreover, Houston and Portland kick off against one another on Saturday, October 14 and force the losing side between the Timbers or Dynamo into a 46-point cap or both sides into a 47-point cap in the standings with a draw. If New York wins out, they're guaranteed to jump at least one of those sides.

And what about D.C. United and their recent surge of success and their game in hand on the Red Bulls?

D.C. can still overtake their longtime Eastern Conference rival if they win out, but remember that the Red Bulls are guaranteed to overtake either the Timbers or Dynamo with a three-game win streak of their own. That would mathematically clinch at least 10th place in the standings as well as the final wild card berth -- and that's before any mention of D.C.'s rescheduled match against the Timbers on Wednesday, October 19 and that encounter's ramifications on the Red Bulls pursuit.

So what's the takeaway? New York still has a long way to go before they can print their playoff itinerary, but their postseason plans are still within their control despite their inconsistency and controversies. A little help can go a long way to secure their chances, but there's only one plan Backe needs to implement to ensure a playoff berth before time runs out on the 2011 season.

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. Portland Timbers

September, 24, 2011
9/24/11
1:28
PM ET
They've certainly talked the talk. Now it's time to walk the walk.

Three days after enduring a demoralizing 3-0 loss at home to Real Salt Lake as well as inflammatory post-game comments by Rafael Marquez, New York seeks to stabilize its form on Saturday Night at Red Bull Arena against a Portland Timbers side seeking to end the Red Bulls' postseason push. That's not to say Fabian Espindola's double against a dysfunctional Red Bulls defense will keep the Timbers out of focus this weekend, as the two sides faced off in a fast and furious 3-3 draw at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland on June 19.

Portland arrives at Red Bull Arena in sole possession of the final wild card berth after collecting one point at home in a 1-1 draw against the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday. Kenny Cooper chipped home a Darlington Nagbe cross to give the Timbers a lead in the 9th minute, only to see Khari Stephenson net the equalizer for the Quakes with 20 minutes to play.

Following Wednesday's draw, the Timbers (10-12-7, 37 pts) claimed a one-point lead among all MLS sides jockeying for the final wild card berth including the Red Bulls (7-7-15, 36 pts). D.C. United (8-8-11, 35 pts) surrendered a 2-2 draw to fringe postseason prospect Chivas USA (7-12-11, 32 pts) on Wednesday, but still possess two games in hand on both the Timbers and Red Bulls. Meanwhile, the Houston Dynamo (9-9-12, 39 pts) still stand in between the Red Bulls and the final Eastern Conference automatic berth following a 1-1 draw for the third-place Philadelphia Union (9-7-13, 40 pts) at Sporting Kansas City on Friday.

Rafa Remanded. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe suspended his Mexican center back for Saturday's match due to Marquez's comments criticizing his teammates including Tim Ream. Backe declared the issue an "internal" manner, but will need to externalize his resolution to Marquez's self-inflicted absence soon.

Marquez's suspension likely opens to the door to Stephen Keel pairing with Ream at center back, with Carlos Mendes stepping in at fullback in place of the injured Roy Miller and Chris Albright.

Key Matchup: NY's Back Line vs. Bruised Egos. Unfortunately for the Red Bulls back four, Marquez's comments touched a nerve exposed by the club's poor defensive form in recent weeks. Whether or not Marquez himself played above or below the level of his teammates is debatable, but the net result has been far below what one would expect of a club that entered the season with MLS Cup aspirations.

If Marquez's teammates want to prove him wrong, they'll need to start by making their own wrongs right on defense. With five games left in the season and a match against another side looking to benefit with a playoff berth at the Red Bulls expense, the back line simply has no time to brood over the disparaging comments made by Marquez. Backe will once again pick a makeshift back four against the Timbers, but it was a Marquez-less makeshift four that helped 'keeper Frank Rost collect his first MLS win and clean sheet just one week ago at FC Dallas.

Saturday's makeshift four will have their hands full keeping Cooper and Nagbe at bay while taking great care to not allow any free kicks in favorable positions for Timbers captain Jack Jewsbury. Ream, Keel, Mendes, and Jan Gunnar Solli know what they need to do -- but can they do it?

Fresh Start. New York's visit to Jeld-Wen Field earlier this season resulted in a wild finish and all the controversy that one can squeeze out of 90 minutes, but the players who led to that result are now out of the picture. Adam Moffat, who engaged Henry in a verbal exchange that resulted in a straight red card for the French striker, is now patrolling the midfield for the Dynamo after a July trade. Meanwhile, the man who scored the equalizer via penalty kick for the Red Bulls, Dwayne De Rosario, is now plying his trade for conference rival D.C. United.

That only leaves Henry with any kind of axe to grind for their recent history, with his teammates and the Portland Starting XI unlikely to feel compelled to seek revenge.

Edge of Glory. If the MLS regular season ended right now and the Red Bulls and Timbers were level in the standings, the Red Bulls would get the edge for the final wild card berth due to the league's tiebreaker scenarios. New York presently has a +3 goal differential as compared to Portland's -2, which isn't an insurmountable gap but should hold up over the final five matches.

However, a club's record in head-to-head matches trumps goal differential in playoff tiebreaker scenarios. Since the Red Bulls and Timbers battled to a draw in June, that means a win to either side would immediately give that victorious club the edge in tiebreakers while a draw would keep the edge at goal differential.

Down and Away. Portland has seen a fair amount of success in recent weeks, which includes three wins fueling a five-game unbeaten streak that has the Timbers right in the mix for a wild card berth. However, all three wins came in the cozy confines of Jeld-Wen Field.

The Timbers have not seen that kind of success on the road in their inaugural season, with a 1-4-8 record away for Jeld-Wen to show for their efforts. In fact, Portland has yet to score more than one goal in any MLS regular season game on the road. If there were ever a club whom the Red Bulls needed to run up the score against, it is this Timbers club.

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

September, 18, 2011
9/18/11
11:05
AM ET
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
AM ET
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 Recap: Agudelo scores as ref leaves 10-man Red Bulls fit to be tied vs. 'Caps

September, 11, 2011
9/11/11
1:00
PM ET
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.

W2W4: Red Bulls v. Vancouver Whitecaps

September, 10, 2011
9/10/11
9:51
AM ET
After 28 days, six international caps, and one hurricane-induced cancellation, the Red Bulls finally get to reestablish their home-field advantage in MLS play.

New York begins its playoff push on Saturday evening as they welcome the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps to Red Bull Arena. The Red Bulls hope eight games is enough to clinch a playoff berth as New York needs a better result than the 1-1 draw they settled for against the 'Caps at Empire Field on May 28.

Hurricane Irene washed out New York's highly-anticipated clash against the Los Angeles Galaxy on August 27, leaving the Red Bulls with three weeks to think about their 3-3 draw against the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. A double by Dane Richards dug the Red Bulls out of a two-goal deficit against the rebuilding Revs but left New York settling for its fourteenth draw of the season rather than the club's first win in a month.

Vancouver arrives on a rare high note after defeating the Houston Dynamo 1-0 at home on August 27, but that win did little to lift the worst club in MLS by points at 21. Shea Salinas slotted home a right-footed strike in the waning moments of the match to steal a win for the 'Caps, who have a winning record at home (4-3-5) but have yet to collect their first MLS regular season win on the road (0-10-4).

Inactivity helped New York (6-6-14, 32 pts) maintain control of a playoff berth while residing in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, just three points behind the third-place Philadelphia Union (8-7-11, 35 pts) and the final automatic conference playoff berth. The Dynamo (8-8-11, 35 pts) sits in fourth place and between the Red Bulls and the Union's berth.

Must Win. Of New York's eight remaining matches, only Saturday's against the 'Caps will transpire against a club without playoff aspirations. But you don't need to remind Red Bulls coach Hans Backe.

“It is a must win," said the typically stoic Backe to the New York Post. "It is definitely a must win at home. (We have) eight games to go, and the home games just need to be won. Everyone has to know that kind of pressure. It is a must win at home. You just need to be able to handle that kind of pressure.’’

Key Matchup: NY’s Right Side vs. Hassli. Only Toronto FC has fewer goals than the 27 netted by the ‘Caps in 2011, but that does not mean Vancouver lacks a scoring threat. French sriker Eric Hassli ranks fourth in scoring this season with 10 goals, trailing fellow countryman and Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry by a meager two goals. After Hassli and Camilo’s eight goals, no other ‘Caps player has more than two.

Meanwhile, New York entered their extended midseason break with questions about the capabilities of their back line, especially on the right side with recent, ineffective play by Rafael Marquez and an injury to Jan Gunnar Solli. Solli is expected to play on Saturday, but where is uncertain at the Norwegian winger may need to move into the midfield to replace the suspended Teemu Tainio or to left back to replace the injured Roy Miller. Chris Albright will assume whatever fullback vacancy is left by the Solli decision.

Hassli is dangerous anywhere in the penalty area, as evidenced by his breathtaking volley at Seattle earlier this season that continues to draw Goal of the Year proclamations. He sets up a shade left of center and does most of his damage in the heart of the penalty box near the spot. Solli, Albright, and, most importantly, Marquez will need to cut off any service to the ‘Caps designated player or risk seeing another highlight-worthy goal scored in their defensive territory.

Coming and Going. Even with three weeks’ rest, New York will not be at full strength against the ‘Caps. Roy Miller, who has played all but one minute of every game this season for the Red Bulls, will be out of action for the next two to three weeks after suffering an injury in his native Costa Rica’s friendly against Ecuador earlier this week. Frank Rost will join Miller on the sidelines as he recovers from a quadriceps injury that emerged on the flight home from the Emirates Cup in July and previously reared its head last October while the German ‘keeper played for Hamburg in the Bundesliga.

One glimmer of hope comes in the form of Luke Rodgers. Backe indicated earlier this week that Rodgers may return next week against F.C. Dallas but could see a few minutes this weekend against the ‘Caps.

Shallow End. Vancouver released defensive midfielder Wes Knight on August 31, which in and of itself isn’t a huge move as Knight was not a starter. However, that move took a chunk out of what little depth ‘Caps coach Tom Soehn had left at fullback. If Henry, Rodgers, or Juan Agudelo can show some forward momentum in the attacking third, it’s fairly certain that Soehn lacks the depth to stop it.

Two. That’s how many minutes a proposed tribute to honor the tenth anniversary of 9/11 will last during Saturday’s match. Fans will receive American flags upon entry into Red Bull Arena and are asked to raise them skyward between the 9th and 11th minutes of Saturday’s match to honor the lives affected by the terrorist attacks endured in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania on a September Tuesday ten years ago.

MLSsoccer.com’s John Bolster recently recounted the first soccer match to take place in the greater New York City area following the September 11 attacks between the New York/New Jersey MetroStars and Los Angeles Galaxy – the spirit of which will once again be on display this weekend.

RBNY Notes: Home field holds the key to Red Bulls' playoff hopes

August, 24, 2011
8/24/11
4:04
PM ET
Over at his insightful blog Soccer by the Numbers, Chris Anderson followed a post that summarized the effects of home-field advantage in the English Premier League by observing that Manchester United maximized its ability to collect draws on the road in addition to winning at home en route to winning the 2010-11 EPL division title.

Inspired by Chris's efforts, here's a look at the effects of a home-field advantage in MLS during the Red Bulls era (2007-present):
  • Since 2007, home sides in MLS have won 47% and lost 23.8% of their matches while settling for draws in the remaining 29.2% of their regular-season fixtures. That trend means all MLS sides since 2007 finished with slightly more draws than defeats, collected twice as many wins than losses, and ultimately accrued almost as many wins as non-wins at home.
  • However, draws are way, way up in 2011. 38.2% of all MLS matches in 2011 thus far have ended in ties, which is considerably higher than the five-year average. Moreover, the next-highest percentage of draws in a regular season occurred in 2009 when 30.7% of all matches concluded in a draw. So if it feels like the Red Bulls' 14 draws this season is hefty, it's not unusual in the context of what the rest of the league is doing.
  • What is unusual is where those draws are taking place for New York. The Red Bulls collected ties in 64.3% of all regular season matches away from their namesake arena in 2011, which is not only significantly higher than the 2011 average but, more surprisingly, the second-highest ratio in MLS after the Houston Dynamo at 66.7% have finished level in two-thirds of their road matches. After the Red Bulls and Dynamo, no other potential playoff contender except Chivas USA (46.2%) presently possesses an away draw ratio above the average.
  • Those away draws come at the expense of wins and losses -- a reality to which New York is not exempt. New York's only win on the road makes up 7.1% of the road results while the losses contribute 28.6%. While the losses fall well below the average, only one MLS playoff side in the Red Bulls era clinched a playoff spot with a worse away win ratio: the 2008 New York Red Bulls with 6.7%. And that 2007 side at least had the decency to win 60% of its home games before making a playoff run that resulted in New York's first and only MLS Cup appearance.

So how does this affect the Red Bulls over their final eight games? For starters, five of their final matches will take place at Red Bull Arena. As previously demonstrated, MLS sides win twice as many matches as they lose at home. For a New York side praying for another 12 points in the standings to feel better about its postseason hopes, that's a phenomenon that could provide an edge as long as the back line can make a few leads stand up.

More importantly, two of New York's remaining three away games will occur in the two matches preceding their final regular season game at home against the Philadelphia Union on October 20. The ratios suggest that New York may have accumulated too many draws at the expense of road wins and likely can't sustain that during a postseason push.

Those two away matches -- October 1 at Toronto FC, October 15 at Sporting Kansas City -- will come at a pivotal time in the stretch run. If New York fails to accrue victories in September, that road trip represents what could be the last chance to undo that damage. Draws don't fix things; only wins will do that.

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