New York Soccer: Josh Saunders

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.”

Rapid Reax: Galaxy 2, Red Bulls 1

November, 4, 2011
11/04/11
1:01
AM ET
Heading into Thursday's semifinal finale against the Galaxy, a draw was as good as a loss to the Red Bulls' playoff chances. An actual loss just removed all doubt.

Los Angeles answered an early go-ahead goal by Luke Rodgers with two of their own to eliminate the Red Bulls from the MLS Playoffs with a 2-1 win at the Home Depot Center on Thursday evening. Mike Magee and Landon Donovan provided all of the scoring for the Galaxy as the former headed home an equalizer before halftime while the latter converted a penalty kick in the 75th minute to seal the win for the Supporters Shield winners, who now prepare to kick off at home against Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference Final match on Sunday.

Luke Rodgers set the attacking tone for the Red Bulls in the 4th minute by finding himself on the receiving end of a Thierry Henry through ball and catching Galaxy center back Omar Gonzalez out of position. Rodgers trotted into the penalty area and casually pushed a right-footed shot past a diving Josh Saunders to give the Red Bulls an early 1-0 lead.

That lead didn't make it to halftime as L.A.'s hero at Red Bull Arena last Sunday, Mike Magee, connected a header in the 42nd minute from a David Beckham corner kick. That makes for two consecutive games in which Magee and Beckham provided all of the Galaxy's scoring, with both goals culminating from plays initiated by free kicks. A second-half foul by Red Bulls fullback Roy Miller sent the home side to the penalty spot, enabling Donovan to collect the game winner with a right-footed shot past Red Bulls shot stopper Frank Rost.

The loss officially ends the 2011 season for the New York Red Bulls. It also leaves them exiting the MLS Playoffs in the same round last season when the San Jose Earthquakes eliminated New York in the second leg of their playoff semifinal home-and-home series.

Play of the Game: Beckham's Bad Bounce. A David Beckham header in the 31st minute of a ball cleared by the Galaxy back line looked innocent enough. Beckham tracked the ball down and connected with it before the shorter Dane Richards could sneak in. The play moved into the Galaxy's attacking third -- but Beckham didn't.

The English midfielder struggled to get to his feet and stayed put when he did, just bending over with his hands on his head before crumpling to the ground. A Galaxy trainer escorted him off the field and provided Beckham with smelling salts before the midfielder would return to the game. It took him a while to get his bearings, but when he did, it finished with Magee putting the ball in the back of the net for an L.A. equalizer.

Whatever sent Beckham to the ground, it wasn't enough to mitigate his impact on the game. The Galaxy's chances hung in the balance, and the club's designated player did not disappoint by helping to ensure L.A. supporters would see their club play once more at home this season.

Four. That's how many shots Galaxy striker Robbie Keane attempted before halftime, which, along with his two shots on target, led all players at the break. Keane had ample opportunities to draw his side level before Magee's equalizer, but found himself frustrated in the penalty area by effective defense by Tim Ream, the goal post, and Red Bulls 'keeper Frank Rost making up for his own mistakes. His efforts ended up not hurting his club's chances, but he gets paid designated player monies to finish the chances he failed to convert on Thursday.

Feeling Foul. New York learned before the match that the MLS Disciplinary Committee extended Rafael Marquez's suspension from one match to three, which would have theoretically eliminated him from the remainder of the Red Bulls' postseason run regardless of Thursday's result.

Rather than practice restraint against a Galaxy side that's disciplined in drawing fouls, the Red Bulls went for broke. Rodgers created early tension by picking up a yellow card mere moments after scoring the match's opening goal, while a second-half yellow for Henry earned the Red Bulls team captain an automatic one-game suspension for accrued cards. Those penalties now carry over to the start of the 2012 MLS Season after Thursday's loss.

Déjà Vu. Unfortunately for the Red Bulls, the scoring script wound up one goal and one minute shy of perfectly following their initial encounter against the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center in May. Like Rodgers, Henry opened the scoring in that match in the 4th minute. Unlike Magee, Donovan answered the early Red Bulls lead with an game-tying strike in the 41st minute -- just one minute shy of Magee's 42nd-minute equalizer. That result was enough to finish off the Red Bulls, with Donovan's penalty kick merely providing the exclamation point.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at LA Galaxy

November, 3, 2011
11/03/11
10:49
AM ET


Both the Red Bulls and Galaxy have not hesitated to put down their opponents ahead of their playoff clash on Thursday, but neither side can win on words alone.

The war of a million words will end with a single match on Thursday evening as the New York Red Bulls pay a visit to the Home Depot Center to face the Los Angeles Galaxy (11 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes) in the second leg of the MLS Playoffs Western Conference Semifinal round.

L.A. claimed a 1-0 victory in the contentious first leg at Red Bull Arena on Sunday afternoon courtesy of a Mike Magee volley that caught the Red Bulls' defense on its heels. However, that early strike did nothing to assuage tempers as the match concluded with a brawl near center circle that left RBNY center back Stephen Keel on the ground while teammate Rafael Marquez and Galaxy midfielder Juninho received red cards for their roles in the melee.

Magee's finish of a David Beckham lob pass means the Red Bulls will need to score no less than two goals to advance to the Western Conference Final round. The MLS Playoffs semifinal round's two-legged, home-and-home format is decided by goals scored on aggregate, meaning the winner is the team with the most goals combined after both legs. L.A's current 1-0 lead on aggregate means a 1-0 Red Bulls lead at the end of regulation on Thursday would send the match into extra time and a possible penalty shootout, while a draw at the end of regulation would let the Galaxy advance.

Both sides know which club awaits them with a win on Thursday night, as Real Salt Lake held on to a 3-2 win on aggregate over the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday night. RSL would host the Red Bulls next Sunday with a win, while the Claret-and-Cobalt would head to Los Angeles following a Galaxy victory by nature of L.A.'s home-field advantage resulting from their Supporters' Shield win.

Halfway House. To punch their ticket to Salt Lake City, New York needs to do what no MLS club has done this season -- defeat the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center. L.A. boasts an unbeaten 12-0-5 record at home that includes an eight-game winning streak in MLS regular season play dating back to July 4.

L.A.'s home-field advantage may feel diminished due to the building's location, though. The HDC's presence on Cal State Dominguez Hill's campus involves an agreement that caps attendance at 15,000 for Galaxy weeknight games to allow parking for CSUDH students and faculty. CSUDH and the Galaxy reached an agreement to bump up that cap to 20,000 for Thursday's semifinal, but that still guarantees approximately 7,000 seats empty at first kick.

Key Matchup: Marquez's Replacement vs. Gonzalez. NY coach Hans Backe has a decision to make in replacing Rafa Marquez in the midfield, as the much-maligned midfielder's red card triggered an automatic one-game suspension for tonight's match. Red Bulls supporters may waiver in their support of Marquez following his inconsistent play on the field and provocative statements off it, but Rafa's form has trended upward since being moved into a defensive midfielder role from his earlier positioning at Tim Ream's center back partner.

Backe's decision to go with Dax McCarty, Stephane Auvray, Mehdi Ballouchy, or another plan entirely gets added emphasis when recalling why New York struggled to build pressure in the attacking third: Galaxy center back and MLS Defender of the Year candidate Omar Gonzalez. Gonzalez seemingly broke down every attack on the middle, leading all players with nine intercepted balls and 14 cleared ones on Sunday according to the Opta Chalkboards.

New York will get some help on the wings with Jan Gunnar Solli returning from suspension, but that doesn't help establish any pressure in the middle on Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza. There may be a crack in the Galaxy defense with Juninho's absence, but that crack's only as wide as the distribution lanes created by Marquez's replacement.

Temper, Temper. The war of words between New York and Los Angeles dates back to Landon Donovan's comments about Luke Rodgers following the two sides' 1-1 draw in May. Rodgers citied Donovan's constant chirping with the referees, which provoked Donovan to respond "Who is Luke Rogers?" (sic) via Twitter.

It seemingly has heated up in recent days with Todd Dunivant saying to ESPNLosAngeles that he "(doesn't) think anyone fears the Red Bulls" and Donovan describing the Red Bulls as a "disgraceful" team of "cheap shot" artists.

New York returned in kind, with Backe describing his side as "on another level" and Rodgers citing Sunday's in-game taunts of "You're in my country now" from Galaxy 'keeper Josh Saunders during a Wednesday conference call as evidence that "that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones."

The final word will come with the referee's final whistle, but it remains to be seen if either side's tough talk will tilt Thursday's result in anyone's favor -- or distract them from a favorable result.

Foul Play. Donovan made waves by describing the Red Bulls as cheap, but the question unasked is: Does he have a point?

Since there's no way to measure intangibles like a little Thierry Henry bump in the run of play or an errant Joel Lindpere elbow in the box, there's no exact way to measure.

That said, there was a differential of three fouls per 90 minutes in the Galaxy's favor at the end of the MLS regular season. L.A. finished with a +1.6 foul differential, which means they suffered an average of 1.6 fouls per game more than they committed. New York, on the other hand, finished with the second-worst foul differential at -1.7 fouls per 90 minutes, which means they commit 1.7 more fouls than they suffer per game on average.

Attacking sides tend to draw more fouls while defensive ones tend to commit them, meaning the Red Bulls will need to remain disciplined to ensure Beckham doesn't wind up with any more free kicks than he needs on Thursday night.

Sustained Stampede. Tonight's first whistle will commence New York's fourth match in 14 days and third in three different cities over the past week. Backe indicated in an earlier conference call that he intends to pick his best 11 to start regardless of rest, but he'll also need to be leery of nagging injuries that have plagued the likes of Henry, Rodgers, and Teemu Tainio among others.

The Red Bulls coach doesn't like to use all of his substitutes, which continues to leave change-of-pace players like Ballouchy and Juan Agudelo on his bench. If endurance becomes an issue for a busy Red Bulls side -- especially in a deciding match that could go to extra time or penalty kicks -- who, if anyone, will Backe call upon to provide for a late-game burst?

RBNY Recap: Red Bulls, Galaxy come to blows as Magee gives L.A. a 1-0 lead

October, 30, 2011
10/30/11
10:03
PM ET
Rafael Marquez likely did not plan to leave himself with only a puncher's chance at playing meaningful soccer again in 2011.

In the waning moments of the Red Bulls' 1-0 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy at Red Bull Arena in the first leg of the MLS Playoffs Western Conference semifinal round, Marquez came as close as any of his teammates at finding the back of the net for an equalizer.

He picked up a Thierry Henry deflection of a Joel Lindpere cross near the arc in the 91st minute and fired a shot through traffic that a diving Galaxy 'keeper Josh Saunders somehow punched back out. Henry put the rebound off the woodwork, but the moment to draw level with the 2011 Supporters Shield winners in stoppage time came and went with Marquez.

Then Marquez himself came and went from the series entirely. Referee Alex Prus blew the whistle four minutes after Marquez's scoring chance and with the ball at the frustrated Mexican defender's feet, which left Marquez venting his frustrating by throwing the ball at Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan.

Galaxy forward Adam Cristman responded with a swing at Marquez, triggering a brawl near center circle that concluded with both sides restraining their players, Red Bulls center back Stephen Keel on the ground, and Marquez as well as with L.A. midfielder Juninho receiving red cards and automatic one-game suspensions to be served in the second leg for their roles in the melee.

For the Red Bulls, they will largely try to downplay the significance of the scuffle. Most of them did not see what happened, while what happened went down so fast that few players were in a position to respond meaningfully. Even Keel tried to downplay his own role by describing his involvement as getting caught up in the heat of the moment.

"I’m not too sure exactly, tensions were high; you can see it’s a playoff game," said Keel. "You got two teams battling it out for 90 minutes, you know both teams want to win, at the end there is a little scuffle, nothing major. I think someone comes in to break it up and everything; I just got knocked in the mouth a little bit – nothing major. It’s not a big deal."

Marquez fell in the melee's closing moments due to a phantom punch from no one in particular, but the damage he feigned will still be felt by his side over the next few days. New York now heads to the Home Depot Center on Thursday (11 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes) down one goal on aggregate and against a Galaxy side that is unbeaten at home. They make the trip just eight days after opening their postseason campaign in Dallas, and now must do so without a key starter and defensive stalwart in Marquez.

As Donovan implied in his post-game comments, the melee awoke a sleeping giant in the Galaxy to the Red Bulls' so-called "cynical soccer" style.

"In all my years in this league, I have not played against a cheaper team than that," Donovan said to Brian Straus of the Sporting News. "We've seen that stuff all year."

They will get to see that "stuff" one more time this Thursday in the second leg of the semifinal round. They just won't see Marquez in the lineup.

And unless the Red Bulls can raise their form to the Galaxy's level at home, no one else will see Marquez in 2011, either.

Get Back. A David Beckham lob ball played a crucial role to enable Mike Magee getting behind the Red Bulls back line and into position for the volley that would become the game's only goal. The role Robbie Keane played remains to be seen.

Replays reflected that either Magee or Keane may have been offside when Beckham pushed the ball up from a free kick, which the Red Bulls' back four picked up in an attempt to trap the Irish striker. However, the action followed a sprinting Magee and left the likes of Keel and Tim Ream on their heels as Keane drew their attention away. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe did not like how the goal came about, but believes his defense needs to be ready for every possible scenario.

"It’s a little tricky on the goal," said Backe. "First, Keane was offside, but I think we have seven guys raise their hand and call for an offside, and of course you can’t do it. And then it was either Magee or (Todd) Dunivant who scored, came as a late runner. You can’t give away a goal like this, you just have to be more sharp. It’s a frustrating goal to concede."

Immovable Object. New York struggled to keep many of their numerous scoring chances on target, but even the balls that found the net couldn't find their way past an effective Josh Saunders, whose fingertip save on a looping Keel header and a derailed Dane Richards run were just a few of his many efforts to loom large over the Red Bulls attack.

The Galaxy netminder collected five saves en route to a clean sheet in the first leg, but his performance wasn't enough to leave Thierry Henry impressed.

"He had one great reflex, other than that he didn’t do much," said Henry. "He saved the ball from Joel Lindpere, after that, I think Dane (Richards) could have done better with his one-against-one. (Saunders) had a good game, but the way they were defending was very good. They were blocking shots, (Landon) Donovan coming back and saving goals sometimes, Becks (David Beckham) and some other players."

One. Henry may not have been impressed with Saunders's efforts on Sunday, but it wasn't as if his side tested the Galaxy 'keeper for prolonged periods. Both New York and Los Angeles took tenuous holds on the run of play all afternoon, but the Red Bulls struggled to create prolonged pressure on the opposing net. Only one of the New York's shots on target occurred before halftime while the Red Bulls' attacking players crashed the net with impunity for only a few fleeting moments after halftime.

Unlike regular season matches, that momentum carries over to Thursday's rematch at the Home Depot Center whether the Red Bulls want it to or not. Stephen Keel takes solace in knowing that it's only a one-goal deficit with no away-goal tiebreaker, meaning they can still push their postseason progress forward with a strong finish against the Galaxy.

"We look at it like it’s a 180 minute match and we are at half-time, right down we are down one-nill," said Keel. "Obviously being at home we wanted to get a better result, but it’s one of those things we got to go to L.A., once again with our backs against the wall. We got the second-half – 90 minutes and we got to get a win. It’s as simple as that."

Jockeying for Trouble. A tough tackle against FC Dallas left Jan Gunnar Solli out of the starting XI against the Galaxy on Sunday, but the Red Bulls brass didn't let a little thing like an automatic one-game suspension from a red card keep their Norweigan fullback from making sweet music on Sunday.

Solli covered the DJ duties at Red Bull Arena during halftime, playing up his personal interests in music while his teammates drew up their second-half strategy for the visiting Galaxy. That rankled many who didn't appreciate seeing Solli featured prominently after getting himself ejected less than a week ago, including Chivas striker and former Red Bull Juan Pablo Angel.

"Player that was suspended for the most important game of the season,gets to DJ while team mates are breaking their buts off #shocking," Angel said via Twitter.

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.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at San Jose Earthquakes

July, 2, 2011
7/02/11
9:00
AM ET
Their long and winding road trip leads the Red Bulls to the door of the San Jose Earthquakes at Stanford Stadium on Saturday evening (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes).

While New York carries the goodwill of their 2-1 comeback win against FC New York in the US Open Cup match on Tuesday, they still possess only one win since April 30 in MLS play after conceding a 1-1 draw to the Chicago Fire on Sunday. Guatemalan midfielder Marco Pappa answered a first-half goal by Joel Lindpere with a soft shot that badly beat Bouna Coundoul in the NY goalie's first start in seven matches. New York will look to complete the season sweep after a Luke Rodgers brace left the Quakes chasing a 3-0 result on April 16.

San Jose will look to reestablish its scoring touch after completing a scoreless draw at home against the Los Angeles Galaxy last Saturday. The Quakes could not finish off a shorthanded LA side that called upon former Red Bulls midfielder Mike Magee to mind the net for more than a half after Galaxy shot stoppers Donovan Ricketts and Josh Saunders left due to an injury and a red card, respectively.

New York (5-3-9) sits two points behind the Philadelphia Union (7-4-5) in the Eastern Conference standings and find themselves tied with the Columbus Crew (6-4-6) for second place.

Dax's a Fact. The Red Bulls' midfield will have a new look as it debuts midfielder Dax McCarty on Saturday. New York received the veteran midfielder in a trade with D.C. United for Dwayne De Rosario on Monday.

The change in personnel may initiate a transition from the Red Bulls' 4-4-2 diamond formation to a flatter 4-2-3-1, with the defensive-minded McCarty joining Teemu Tainio in a holding midfield tandem that's expected to ease transitions from defense to offense. Whatever new look is drawn up, McCarty's presence should free wingers Dane Richards and Joel Lindpere to reinforce NY's attack.

Key Matchup: Tim Ream v. the San Jose Forwards. While Juan Agudelo's return from the Gold Cup provides much-needed depth up top for New York, Tim Ream returns with a sense of urgency to quarterback a Red Bulls back line that has played to mixed results in recent weeks.

With Rafael Marquez still tending to a hamstring injury, Ream will need to lead the defensive efforts against a dangerous Quakes attack led by 2010 Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski and the pesky presence of Steven Lenhart. Wondo -- who was Ream's roommate at the Gold Cup -- likes to play the scavenger role in the box while Lenhart tends to play a more abrasive style (A headbutt on the ball by Lenhart led to Saunders's ejection last week).

Ream didn't appear during the knockout stages of the Gold Cup, but Red Bulls coach Hans Backe gave his young center back some much-needed playing time alongside Stephen Keel during Tuesday's US Open Cup match. Ream will need to be ready for the full 90 at MLS speed against San Jose's dynamic duo.

Depth Charges. New York wasn't the only club to make a trade with D.C. United on Monday. San Jose dealt longtime center back Brandon McDonald to DC for cash considerations, which is perceived as an endorsement of defender Bobby Burling with Quakes back line stalwart Jason Hernandez.

McDonald has only played 12 minutes in the club's last six matches, meaning his departure should hardly disrupt the Quakes' attempts to keep Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls' attack at bay. That said, his departure should signal to the Red Bulls that San Jose is very comfortable with the status quo on defense -- and disrupting them could prove difficult.

Backe Out. Assistant coach Jan Halvor Halvorsen will oversee the sideline responsibilities for the Red Bulls on Saturday as Backe stayed behind in New York to recover from surgery for an undisclosed condition. While all indications are that Halvorsen will implement whatever game plan Backe drew up for San Jose, it remains to be seen what that will look like with the Red Bulls debut of McCarty and reinsertion of Ream and Agudelo.

A Sort of Homecoming. During halftime of Saturday's match, the Earthquakes will welcome back the 1994 U.S. Men's National Team to the site of the US's last stand against Brazil during the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Following a five-minute montage recalling the US run on home soil, the likes of Cobi Jones, Paul Caligiuri, and Tab Ramos will be recognized for one of the more memorable runs in the nation's history.

No word on whether former Red Bulls captain Claudio Reyna will be in attendance, but it's no secret that the 1994 World Cup served as a catalyst for the rebirth of professional soccer in the United States under the banner of MLS -- which made this and every other great American soccer blog necessary.

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