New York Soccer: Juninho

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.

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.

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