New York Soccer: Omar Bravo

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.

Did Backe's subs kill MLS All-Star Game chances?

July, 28, 2011
7/28/11
1:26
PM ET
Even with the odds stacked in favor of Manchester United on Wednesday at Red Bull Arena, Red Bulls coach Hans Backe gave the MLS All-Stars a reason to keep their heads held high at halftime.

Despite two moments of individual brilliance by Anderson and All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Park Ji-Sung creating a 2-0 hole for the MLS All-Stars after the first 45 minutes, Backe’s decision to employ a 4-3-3 formation ultimately lent itself well to the star-studded squad. The best of MLS – led by the dynamic designated player duo of Thierry Henry and team captain David Beckham – maintained an edge in possession and created ample scoring chances.

Then a funny thing happened. Backe, who notoriously shies away from making significant substitutions in Red Bulls matches, decided to make his first mass substitution to open the second half. In came Nick LaBrocca, Chris Wondolowski, and Backe’s inclination to let all of the All-Stars get meaningful minutes while out went Henry, Shalrie Joseph, and the touch passing that sparked the MLS attack throughout the first half.

“We could probably have played the same team 15-20 minutes more,” said Backe. “It wouldn’t have made a huge difference in the second half. I could have had a little bit more possession but we picked up two good chances – Omar Bravo had a phenomenal chance to score after a rebound. Normally, you can say that too many subs can kill a game but we decided to do 4 or 5 including the goalie at halftime, two subs after 60 and then after 80. We didn’t kill the game with that.”

But they did. Manchester United, who kept their starting XI intact for the first 15 minutes of the second half, took advantage of the change in MLS personnel and the lack of cohesion that came with it. The Red Devils completed twice as many passes as the MLS All-Stars in the period prior to Dimitar Berbatov’s dagger in the 52nd minute while the MLS All-Stars struggled to establish its offensive momentum and basically resorted to lobbing long balls into the attacking third to no avail.

Backe had already stated at Monday’s press conference that he intended to give all of the All-Stars meaningful minutes at some point in the match, acquiescing to the American spirit of letting all of the fans see their stars play on one of MLS’s biggest stages – competitive match be damned.

Still, the best of MLS showed an organic cohesion in the first 45 minutes that few expected, considering the truncated practice schedule afforded to Backe to establish a form worthy of the lofty expectations of kicking off against Manchester United.

“The last time I played in the MLS All-Star Game, the team came together,” said Beckham. “We played well. You clicked. I think, especially in the first half, showed that if you’re a good enough player, you can just come together and you just play. We didn’t have enough time together, but that’s the way it is. That’s part of being the All-Star team.”

Does it have to be that way? Couldn’t Backe have eased in his substitutes to let each player acclimate to the run of play rather than throwing back-ups to the wolves every 20 minutes?

Ultimately, Backe was right in that keeping the starters on an extra 15-20 minutes would not have changed the final score. A comeback win against the defending English Premier League champions seemed unlikely from the outset and doubly so after Park’s goal before halftime, but the opportunity for the MLS All-Stars to tally a goal and save face against one of the best clubs in the world felt just as inevitable.

Soccer fans around the world woke up this morning to the box score that Manchester United defeated Beckham’s and Henry’s merry band of MLS All-Stars handily, which is what everyone expected and surprised no one. MLS gains a bit of notoriety from the match, which is negated by seeing the league’s best receive a drubbing from the Red Devils. The match only makes waves in the global soccer scene if MLS wins, but it's probably wise to not try to dig for any deeper meanings from what is ultimately an exhibition match.

The final result was predictable, but it didn’t have to end the way it did.

Backe could have substituted a better finish.

RBNY Recap: Lack of scoring can't separate Red Bulls from Goats

July, 17, 2011
7/17/11
1:08
PM ET
Unfortunately, the only thing the Red Bulls managed to score this weekend was the wrong opponent.

While La Liga legends Real Madrid manhandled the Los Angeles Galaxy across town at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, New York's scoreless streak extended to 181 minutes (or 271 minutes, if you count their poor showing in the US Open Cup quarterfinal) as they completed a scoreless draw against Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center on Saturday. New netminder Frank Rost did not accrue a save in his debut as the Goats failed to register a shot on target.

Chivas 'keeper Dan Kennedy did not exactly endure a barrage of shots, either. Joel Lindpere took the only shot on target for the Red Bulls in the first half, though New York created a bit more offensive pressure in the second half to no avail.

Saturday's draw temporarily gives New York (6-4-11, 29 pts) a one-point boost into first place in the Eastern Conference, though the Philadelphia Union (7-4-7, 28 pts) face the New England Revolution on Sunday evening.

Righteous Ref. There's an old saying that the best referees are invisible, which means you only notice them when they screw up a call.

That rule of thumb isn't fair to referee Mark Kadlecik and his crew, who showed great poise in the waning moments of the match. Carlos Mendes deflected a Chivas corner kick from a scrum in the Red Bulls' penalty area, only to have Kadlecik call him for a handball -- which would result in a penalty kick for the Goats in the 90th minute.

Kadlecik did not have the best view of the play and instead of going with his gut, he conferred with his assistant referee who had a better view and later overturned the call. (The replay showed the ball deflected off Mendes's shoulder.) So if you're devious enough to criticize the refs for every misstep, you should also be gracious enough to tip your cap when they get one right.

Play of the Game: Tainio's Exit. The Red Bulls largely crumbled under the Chivas pressure for the first two-thirds of Saturday's match.

When Teemu Tainio and Jan Gunnar Solli finally completed a pair of lateral passes across the length of the pitch, it broke the Chivas pressure and opened up the Red Bulls attack. Thierry Henry, Juan Agudelo, and even Roy Miller logged shots on target shortly thereafter while a Tainio miss in the 82nd minute started to show why the Goats relinquished goals after the 80th minute in three of their past five matches.

Moments later, Red Bulls coach Hans Backe substituted out Tainio for Mehdi Ballouchy, who added little to the Red Bulls attack. Agudelo logged one more shot in stoppage time, but the change in tempo was notable. Backe's curious decision to send his first substitute in the 84th minute had stifled the attack he intended to support.

It's Miller Time. After battling through a few games where he turned over the ball as much as he passed it, Roy Miller played as effective a game as you'll see all season. He completed 67 passes from the left flank while losing possession 14 times, which bettered all but Mendes with that ratio on Saturday. The Red Bulls possession game was thrust upon him, and he didn't wilt under the pressure.

Eight. That's how many of New York's 11 draws have come on the road this season. The have logged seven of those eight ties since their only road win in 2011 against D.C. United on April 21.

In and Out. Before the Red Bulls kicked off against the Rojiblancos on Saturday, they passed along two pieces of player info regarding Agudelo and Canadian 'keeper Greg Sutton.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced his two picks for the 2011 AT&T MLS All-Star Game on Saturday afternoon, with Agudelo receiving the honor along with Sporting forward Omar Bravo.

Later in the afternoon, the Red Bulls finally resolved their extraneous goalkeeper situation by loaning Sutton to the NASL's Montreal Impact for the remainder of this season.

New York has another large hill to climb as they prepare for the return match against the Colorado Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Wednesday. First kick is scheduled for 9:30 p.m.

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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