New York Soccer: Livestrong Sporting Park

Rapid Reax: Sporting KC 2, Red Bulls 0

October, 15, 2011
10/15/11
5:59
PM ET
A quick temper may make a fool of Thierry Henry if New York fails to make the MLS Playoffs.

Henry's 28th-minute red card for a retaliatory hit on midfielder Roger Espinoza near the center circle left the Red Bulls short-handed for more than an hour in a 2-0 loss against Sporting Kansas City at Livestrong Sporting Park on Saturday afternoon.

The ejection also means the Red Bulls will head into their season finale match with their playoff lives at stake and without their team captain, who now must serve an automatic one-game suspension for his red card.

Despite creating ample scoring chances before and after Henry's exit, Sporting KC did not break through until phenom forward Teal Bunbury finally finished a Julio Cesar pass in the 57th minute to put the home side up for good. Second-half substitute C.J. Sapong added the insurance goal in the 74th minute by connecting a volley at the six-yard box past a helpless Frank Rost to remove any doubt about the match's ultimate result -- and despite entering the match only 40 seconds earlier.

Saturday's draw blows the MLS playoff race wide open as it gives both D.C. United (9-11-11, 38 pts) and the Portland Timbers (11-14-7, 40 points) a clearer postseason path at the expense of the Red Bulls (9-8-16, 43 points). D.C. plays Saturday night against a Chicago Fire side with no meaningful games left to play this season before kicking off against Portland next Wednesday. New York remains in control of its playoff tiebreakers, but now needs D.C. United to concede a loss or draw to re-establish its grip on a suddenly fleeting wild-card berth.

Play of the Game: Henry's Red Card. After quelling an early burst by the Sporting KC attack, the Red Bulls imposed their "cynical soccer" routine into a match that quickly devolved into a war of attrition.

And then the game experienced its first casualty. Referee Kevin Stott showed Henry a straight red card in the 28th minute for what was described as "violent conduct" -- but was actually Henry putting his knee into Espinoza's back mere moments after Espinoza intercepted Henry's run and despite Henry having ample opportunity to avoid it. That left the Red Bulls short-handed for more than an hour on Saturday afternoon in a match where they controlled their own destiny.

Barring a reversal by the MLS Disciplinary Committee, the red card means Henry will miss next Thursday's finale against Philadelphia that New York now needs to win if D.C. gets hot and his pursuit of the Golden Boot likely comes to an end if either D.C. United midfielder Dwayne De Rosario or San Jose Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski net one goal in their remaining games. Any lingering sentiments about awarding Henry with the league MVP award also just went out the window.

Hans Backe has said all season that Henry's backup, Juan Agudelo, isn't ready for the spotlight. Well, the teenage phenom better get ready and quick for the Red Bulls to have any shot at sealing their playoff fate.

Feeling Cornered. Harkening back to an early-season concern about set pieces, both Sporting Kansas City goals started from corner kicks and finished with a KC attacker striking a ball in a penalty-box scrum. New York actually received more corner kicks (six) than Sporting KC (five), but the latter clearly made the most of their chances to capitalize on their one-man advantage.

Chance After Chance. It's tough to win a soccer match if you don't score, but that was the trouble facing the Red Bulls before and after they lost their team captain. Bunbury and fellow KC forward Omar Bravo led the attacking efforts for the home side with 23 chances created and seven shots on goal, while the Red Bulls managed to muster only six attempts total that resulted in one clear Dane Richards shot on target that KC 'keeper Jimmy Nielsen punched skyward and a Joel Lindpere shot in the second half.

Dax Not There. One Red Bull that didn't make the trip to Kansas City was Dax McCarty. According to the MSG broadcast, the Red Bulls suspended their feisty defensive midfielder for one match due to what was only described as an "internal team matter" by a team spokesperson. He will be available for selection in the regular season finale against Philadelphia.

As Red Bulls coach Hans Backe continues to keep Rafael Marquez in the midfield, McCarty's playing time in recent weeks has suffered as a result. That likely would have continued on Saturday, though McCarty has seen playing time as a substitute off the bench and has curried more favor with Backe recently as opposed to Guadeloupan midfielder and former Sporting KCer Stephane Auvray (who did make the trip).

New York now returns home to sit and wait to see if they get help in short-circuiting D.C. United's playoff push before kicking off against the Philadelphia Union at home next Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes).

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 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 Chivas USA

July, 16, 2011
7/16/11
11:22
AM ET
The Red Bulls will call upon German goalkeeper Frank Rost to stop the club's struggles as New York heads west to face Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center on Saturday.

New York's newly-acquired Bundesliga veteran is expected to mind the net for a Red Bulls side that fell to longtime rival D.C. United last Saturday with a 1-0 loss in which exiled midfielder Dwayne De Rosario burned the man he was traded for, Dax McCarty, en route to scoring the game's only goal.

Chivas USA will look to put the wind back in their sails after Sporting KC forward Omar Bravo converted a Hail Mary medley of headers in stoppage time to steal a 1-1 draw at Livestrong Sporting Park last Saturday. However, the Goats carry the goodwill of a May 15 win at Red Bull Arena in which Chivas forward Justin Braun netted his first career hat trick.

New York (6-4-10, 28 pts) finds itself entangled in a first-place tie atop the Eastern Conference after the Philadelphia Union (7-4-7, 28 pts) collected a point in a scoreless draw at San Jose last Saturday.

Frost's Fast Fix. Rost's arrival may spell the end of Greg Sutton's or Bouna Coundoul's tenure with the team, but the Red Bulls did not sign their third designated player to practice addition by subtraction.

Despite not practicing with his new club for the first time until midway through Friday's practice as he finalized his visa and international transfer clearance, the former Hamburg 'keeper, whose acquisition Red Bulls GM Erik Solér described to MLSsoccer.com on Friday as "the Big One," will be expected to find his form quickly and erase any lingering memories of Bouna blunders or Sutton stasis. Rost's arrival suspends the club's goalkeeper debate. His performance will determine the length of that suspension.

Key Matchup: NY's Holding Midfield vs. Chivas USA's Front Four. Braun will adorn the headlines heading into Saturday's match for his trio of goals at Red Bull Arena, but Chivas midfielder Nick LaBrocca will attract just as much attention from New York's defensive efforts. LaBrocca has scored a goal in each of the Goats' past three games and has demonstrated a productive form that's earning him All-Star consideration.

A quick glance at the Goats' recent Opta Chalkboards reflects how the Chivas attack applies sufficient pressure to provoke opposing defenses to squeeze passes into traffic -- only to have said passes be intercepted by the Chivas midfield. Chivas recovered more balls then Chicago and San Jose in the middle and final thirds, while Sporting KC withstood the pressure by sufficiently pressing back.

That's where McCarty and Teemu Tainio come in. Any pressing back by New York will require a firm midfield to help with transitions and keep the likes of Braun and LaBrocca without service. When Chivas decides to push up, it's on McCarty and Tainio to hold firm.

Forward Footing. New York should have Thierry Henry, Luke Rodgers, and Juan Agudelo at its disposal against Chivas and will rely heavily on the trio to stretch out the Goats' compact defense. Rodgers and Henry rained eight shots on the DC net last Saturday, but only one by Henry ended up on target.

The Chivas center back duo of Heath Pearce and Michael Umana have a better defensive reputation than DC's back line and can disrupt the Red Bull forwards if there isn't sufficient service -- especially if Henry keeps coming back into the midfield to get the ball as he has in recent weeks.

Two. That's how many of the 18 games Chivas have played this season in which they finished with more than a one-goal differential -- win or lose. A 2-0 win over San Jose on July 6 and 3-0 win over the New England Revolution on April 30 represent the only times in which the Goats experienced distance from their opponents on the scoreboard. Which makes it that much more important for New York to play...

The Full 90. Much has been made of New York's many missed opportunities this season with 10 draws to their record, but Chivas is one club that will not poke fun at that futility. The Goats have conceded points in the standings in three of their last five matches by surrendering goals after the 80th minute of play.

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