New York Soccer: Philadelphia Union

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at FC Dallas

October, 26, 2011
10/26/11
11:36
AM ET

The 2011 MLS Playoffs kick off in earnest on Wednesday evening as FC Dallas play host to the Red Bulls at Pizza Hut Park in a wild card clash that will end one club's postseason path courtesy of the round's one-and-done format.

For a Red Bulls side picked by many in the preseason to win MLS Cup outright, that's a welcome problem to have after needing all 34 regular season contests to earn the right to play tonight. They still can't sing their redemption song until FC Dallas has its say as the home side looks to better a 2010 MLS Cup runners-up finish.

However, one Red Bulls player who will have no say in Wednesday's result is English striker Luke Rodgers. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe confirmed on Tuesday that Rodgers would miss Wednesday's match due to treatment of a knee injury incurred during the club's regular season finale win against the Philadelphia Union last Thursday.

New York came out on top of their regular season confrontations against FCD in 2011. A late Thierry Henry equalizer answered a second-half brace by Martin Chavez and salvaged a 2-2 draw against FCD at Red Bull Arena on July 25, while Rodgers provided all of the offense in a 1-0 win at Pizza Hut Park on Sept. 17 that reignited the Red Bulls' late playoff push.

Luke Out. The Red Bulls will undoubtedly miss their freshman forward, especially considering the club is 1-9-4 in matches without the pesky Rodgers in the starting XI -- with the sole win coming against the Seattle Sounders during MLS First Kick festivities back on March 19. They also posted a 4-2-1 record down the stretch following Rodgers' return from a bout with plantar fasciitis that kept their English striker on the shelf for most of the summer.

Rodgers undoubtedly unlocked the Red Bulls' inconsistent attack with his presence up top and his pressure against opposing back lines, just as he did in scoring the game's only goal against FC Dallas in September. But he did the dirty work in that match despite the club missing Henry and Roy Miller due to injury as well as Jan Gunnar Solli and Rafael Marquez due to suspensions. New York may lack the guy who finished off FCD, but they will have four capable contributors this time to pick up the slack.

Key Matchup: Shea vs. McCarty. Another key player to miss that September match was FCD winger and team-leading scorer Brek Shea, who also served a one-game suspension on that date due to yellow card accumulation. The young Shea, who netted 11 goals in 31 appearances in 2011, experienced a breakout season drawing league MVP considerations in addition to rave reviews regarding his contributions to the U.S. Men's National Team.

Shea will appear in FCD coach Schellas Hyndman's starting lineup, and Backe will likely counter with Shea's former teammate in defensive midfielder Dax McCarty. McCarty will likely be charged with shutting down any activity by Shea on the right flank, as Solli tends to push up in an offensive-minded role from his right fullback position while regular right midfielder Dane Richards likely starts up top in place of the injured Rodgers.

That leaves McCarty, a player suspended by the club in the Red Bulls' penultimate match at Sporting Kansas City for an "internal team matter" as well as one who has seen his playing time diminish in concert with Marquez's return to a defensive midfielder role. Add in the burden of being the player New York received from D.C. United in exchange for 2011 Golden Boot winner Dwayne De Rosario and the expectations thrust on McCarty could not be higher.

But hey, no pressure.

Make It Stop. New York captured a 1-0 victory against FC Dallas in September, but it wasn't for lack of trying on the former's part. FCD created more than double New York's chances on net in that match, with seven of their 18 attempts registering as a shot on target as compared to only two of New York's seven attempts.

That onslaught came about without Shea, Chavez (also suspended for yellow card accumulation) and injured midfielder David Ferreira. It also came in a busy stretch for FCD that came about due to CONCACAF Champions League commitments as well as with a melancholy mood following the death of club dignitary Bobby Rhine. New York escaped that match with a win, but will need stronger defensive contributions from Tim Ream, Stephen Keel, and others to prevent FCD from implementing a similar style.

Press On. With an FCD back line including effective contributions from George John, Zach Loyd, and others, Hyndman will likely call upon the defensive press he used to paralyze the Red Bulls attack in both regular season matches. If Marquez and Teemu Tainio can't link up to the forwards or Joel Lindpere struggles to join the attack on the left side, FCD could once again impose its defensive will on the Red Bulls and bide its time until a scoring chance presents itself.

Get Your Kicks. Tonight's match is a winner-take-all affair, which means New York can't sneak out with one of its patented draws this time around. In the event that the score is tied at the end of regulation, two 15-minute periods of extra time would ensue to determine a winner. And if that fails to yield a result, the game would then advance to a penalty shootout.

New York hasn't converted a penalty kick since Sept. 24 against the Portland Timbers -- and Rodgers netted that one. Backe reportedly did not practice penalty kicks before his players boarded the plane for Dallas on Tuesday, while the club's uncertainty on their primary free kick taker never really resolved itself. Anything could happen in a penalty shootout, including the order which Backe picks for his side's participation.

RBNY Recap: Playoff-bound Red Bulls

October, 21, 2011
10/21/11
9:49
AM ET


New York's regular season wasn't supposed to end this way.

Picked by prognosticators as "the best in MLS on paper" and burdened with self-imposed expectations of winning the Supporters' Shield, no one expected the Red Bulls to need all 34 weeks -- including a 1-0 win over Eastern Conference rival Philadelphia Union on Thursday evening -- to clinch the last-remaining wild card berth.

And to realize that lesser feat, it took a league-leading 16 draws (including a league-high 10 on the road), only one win outside the Eastern Time Zone, a suspension to team captain Thierry Henry in the club's penultimate match, and a surging D.C. United running out of gas down the stretch.

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe still kept the hearts and minds of his club in line despite its midseason missteps. Backe admitted he didn't think it would take this long for the Red Bulls to punch their postseason ticket, but he's comfortable with his side's form in recent weeks.

"We looked very, very solid," Backe said. "Then we had the break for the Gold Cup and lost six players and after that we've been more or less striving to find our rhythm. But the last five or six games have looked much, much better."

Their recent form should help the Red Bulls get ready to make the most of their second consecutive postseason appearance and 11th overall. The loss to Sporting Kansas City notwithstanding, New York has seen its midfield reestablish its focus on possession while the return of Luke Rodgers from injury has unlocked the club's attack in recent weeks. They may not be peaking, but they're as dangerous as they can be heading into the wild-card round.

"If you look at the last month, we have been on a nice run with three wins, one tied game before the Kansas game," Backe said. "Of course going one man down after 29 minutes is difficult, so I don’t really count that game. It looks like we hopefully, hopefully are closer to a peak when you go into the playoffs."

Setting the bar for playoff success is another matter. The newly imposed wild-card berths leave New York further from the Home Depot Center main stage in mid-November, and further from the quarterfinals round which the Red Bulls have only cleared twice in club history. And supporters know all too well that this New York side has fallen flat for weeks at a time, often at a moment's notice and always without warning.

It's not the path the Red Bulls intended to follow back in March, but it's still a narrow path that has not concluded prematurely. The conclusion to this 2011 MLS campaign has yet to be written, which allows Backe to believe his club can continue to follow to make a viable run for the MLS Cup.

"It is such a small margin to win these games, is like if you are going to a World Cup or something when you play that many games," Backe said. "We need to find the right performance, the right play, the right form just that day, then we can go through. I think it is even, I still think (Los Angeles) has been outstanding this year, but you know better than me that the team that has qualified eighth has won the cup. Everything is possible."

+11. According to the Opta Chalkboards, that's the interception differential which helped the Red Bulls defense keep a typically-potent Union attack in check. Jan Gunnar Solli led the way with five intercepted balls (four of which came in the first half), though Roy Miller (four) and Tim Ream (three) were no slouches, either. Their combined performace helped reinforce what Ream believes was one of the best defensive efforts by the Red Bulls this season.

"I think it was definitely the most complete," said Ream. "Their only real chances were from 20-25 yards out and those were handled pretty easily. Overall I definitely think it’s – (outsides) of the first five or six games - where we wanted to be all year."

Take Your Chances. An Faryd Mondragon own goal resulting from a rebound following a Dane Richards header boosted the Red Bulls into an early lead, but they didn't follow that up with additional offensive pressure until well into the second half. New York created two other shots on target and one miss, but it's the chances they didn't create that leaves Backe a little frustrated with his side's efforts in the attacking third.

"I believe we should have killed this game in the first half," said Backe. "Definitely could have put the score up two or three nil after 60 minutes, but they stayed in the game of course when we didn’t convert our chances. I’m happy to see that we could handle this pressure and create a number of chances."

One Night Only. According to Peter Hirdt of the Elias Sports Bureau, exactly one match per season for the last eight seasons has ended with a 1-o result in which the only tally came from an own goal. It may only be a coincidence, but it's a happy one that lifted the Red Bulls into the postseason.

Rapid Reaction: Red Bulls 1, Union 0

October, 20, 2011
10/20/11
10:02
PM ET

Recap | Match stats | Player stats

A little help can go a long way, but a little help from a conference rival helped the Red Bulls finally go all the way.

An own goal by Union 'keeper Faryd Mondragon helped the New York Red Bulls clinch the last remaining MLS playoff berth in a 1-0 win over Philadelphia at Red Bull Arena on Thursday evening. Dane Richards, starting up top in place of the suspended Thierry Henry, headed a Jan Gunnar Solli cross at the near post in the 8th minute, only to have the ensuing rebound bank off Mondragon's arm and into the net for the game's only goal.

New York bucked a Philly defensive trend by creating more attempts on goal and shots on target against the visiting Union, who typically allowed only three shots per game heading into tonight's match. Richards led the Red Bulls with three attempts on goal and two on target, which almost single-handedly topped Philly's meager four attempts and only shot on target by Union midfielder Zach Pfeffer.

The win puts the Red Bulls in temporary control of the 9th overall playoff spot, though a Houston Dynamo win on Saturday could bump New York into the lowest available wild card berth heading into the MLS Playoffs.

Play of the Game: The Own Goal. It likely won't curry favor from the MLS Goal of the Week nomination committee, but how New York's only tally on Thursday's score sheet came about could hint at a postseason recipe for the box.

New York's attackers crashed the penalty box early with a balance that's typically lacking when the offensive strategy revolves around providing service to Henry. Solli had no fewer than four teammates scattered across the box and a Union back line stretched thin in coverage. The lanes were open, the directions clear, and the cross to the diminutive Richards found its mark without much resistance.

If not for the deflection off Mondragon, both Richards and Joel Lindpere stood in prime position to finish the rebound. But that course of events helped New York set the offensive tone for the rest of the night while simultaneously discouraging their guests and the rowdy Sons of Ben who trekked up the New Jersey Turnpike to cheer the visiting side. It was never pretty, but nothing about this Red Bulls side has been this season.

'Keeping It Clean. German shot-stopper Frank Rost picked up a fourth clean sheet in seven matches, which gives the Red Bulls designated player his fourth win of the season -- which now boosts him above fellow 'keepers Bouna Coundoul and Greg Sutton for most team wins. For a club that has started five different 'keepers across the 2011 season, Rost has clearly emerged as the best of the bunch.

Ten. That's how many attempts on target by the Union resulted in shots off target. Philly kept pace with New York in the chances created department, but an effective Red Bulls defense led by team captain Rafael Marquez and supported by maligned back line stalwarts Tim Ream and Roy Miller created enough traffic in the defensive end to let the likes of Sebastian Le Toux and second-half substitute Freddy Adu from developing a Union attack. New York's defense kept it practical in the back, implying that they bought into Red Bulls coach Hans Backe's call for "cynical soccer" in their most important match of the season.

The Kid Stays In the Picture. Backe elected to start Richards up top alongside Luke Rodgers at the expense of teenage phenom Juan Agudelo, who didn't enter the match until the 92nd minute as a late substitute. It worked, as Philly struggled to break up one Red Bulls rush after another. But it also cleared up where Agudelo resides on Backe's depth chart.

New York can now plan their playoff itinerary, but not their opponent. A Houston win this season will cue up a match at FC Dallas or Real Salt Lake, while a Dynamo loss could leave the Red Bulls kicking off at the Colorado Rapids or the Dynamo.

For now, New York can relax. The Red Bulls are finally in the MLS playoffs.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls vs. Philadelphia Union

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RBNY Recap: Henry's ejection leaves Red Bulls close to worst-case playoff scenario

October, 16, 2011
10/16/11
10:19
AM ET

While computing the various postseason berth scenarios created by the current MLS Playoffs format, one might forget to include the worst-case scenario among the hypothetical happy endings. It's easy to ask what's the best your MLS club can do, but less so while pondering what's the worst that could happen.

Fail to clinch a wild card berth? Check.

Render your team captain and league-leading goal scorer ineligible for the regular season finale? Check.

Reintroduce concerns about the club's complete inability to defend against set pieces? Check.

Put up so messy a performance that there's no goodwill to build from going forward? Check.

For the players who had to finish the final hour of Saturday's contest without their captain, they'll probably settle for whatever good news they can get after the Red Bulls' 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City at the home side's house of horrors.

"We knew coming in here, it was going to be tough because they play good at home," said midfielder Dane Richards. "And then, losing (Thierry) Henry in the 28th minute, that was even tougher. We managed to hold it out and then gave up two goals in set pieces, I’m disappointed about that. But you just have to look forward from here on."

In fact, only one thing the New York Red Bulls needed to happen on Saturday actually did: D.C. United fell 2-1 to the Chicago Fire later that day, thus ceding control of their playoff fate back to the Red Bulls. During a halftime interview on MSG, Red Bulls assistant coach Mike Petke described the ejection of Henry as the "icing on the cake" of a demoralizing performance. With D.C. losing, that's now accurate since the actual worst thing that could have happen -- losing control of their own playoff destiny -- ultimately did not.

But New York now has no chance to win the Eastern Conference nor clinch one of the conference's automatic playoff berths. They guaranteed themselves a finish no better than a lower-seeded wild card berth, which means the Red Bulls would take any postseason show on the road for the duration of the MLS playoffs -- and likely kick off out west against FC Dallas or the Colorado Rapids.

Those same Rapids snuck into the 2010 MLS Playoffs and snuck off with the MLS Cup, so anything's possible. That's one of the two messages Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe is ready relay to his players in preparation of yet another must-win match in next Thursday's regular season finale at Red Bull Arena against the Philadelphia Union (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes).

"I would say any team that goes into the playoffs can win," said Backe.

The other message? A familiar refrain: Win, and you're somehow still in.

Set Up to Fail. Losing Henry so early in Saturday's matches may have cut the wind out of New York's sails, but the remaining players on the pitch still had an hour's worth of game to play. They may have played with spirits low, but center back Stephen Keel recognizes how his side eventually let Sporting KC beat them.

"Both goals came off set pieces," said Keel. "Even a man down, we should have had everyone marked up. When you’re a man down, you get your chances. I thought we did a decent job – especially in the first half – to keep everything compact with the back four and organized with Rafa and Teemu in there to force them wide and deal with the crosses. It’s tough, but not something we shouldn’t be able to handle."

Precautionary Measure. Backe admitted after the match that his 70th-minute substitution of Luke Rodgers in favor of Juan Agudelo was not for defensive purposes, but because the English striker was one yellow card shy of being suspended for Thursday's finale as well due to yellow card accumulation.

No one can blame Backe for looking ahead to next Thursday's Philly finale after falling a man down and two goals behind, but the Red Bulls coach raised the de-facto white flag to give respect to a dominating Sporting KC performance as well.

"They had been on a phenomenal run," said Backe. "I remember when they played those 10 away games they didn’t have many points but after that, they had a phenomenal run. They’re a hardworking, physical team. They have three front guys – all three of them can score or set up goals."

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).

RBNY Notes: Updating the Red Bulls' playoff picture

October, 13, 2011
10/13/11
2:33
PM ET
Without lifting a finger for over a week, the Red Bulls just received a much brighter forecast for their MLS playoff chances.

New York's position in the standings became more stable courtesy of Wednesday losses for the Chicago Fire and D.C. United. The Fire are mathematically eliminated courtesy of a 2-1 loss to an FC Dallas side that clinched their own playoff berth in the process, while D.C. United mitigated the effects of their games in hand on the Red Bulls by dropping one of them to the lowly Vancouver Whitecaps in a 2-1 loss at BC Place.

So where does that leave the Red Bulls? Take a seat at their playoff table:
Club Points GL Max Magic # Tragic # TB?
FC Dallas 49 2 55 12 1 Y
Union 47 2 53 11 2 N
SKC 45 2 51 8 5 Y
Rapids 45 2 51 9 4 N
Crew 44 2 50 7 6 Y
RBNY 43 2 49 N/A N/A N/A
Dynamo 43 2 49 6 7 Y
Timbers 40 3 49 6 10 Y
D.C. United 38 3 47 4 12 Y

(For an explanation of how this table works, please review last week's introductory post about it.)

At the moment, New York sits in ninth place of the overall MLS standings with a firm grasp on a wild card berth and their own playoff destiny. However, the picture before you could change dramatically before Thierry Henry and his merry men lay a toe on a soccer ball in Kansas City this weekend. All of that is noise for the Red Bulls at the moment, but they'll need to monitor the out-of-town scoreboard to see what work has to be done at Livestrong Sporting Park this Saturday.

So how could this weekend's action affect the Red Bulls? There's still quite a few permutations available to help New York's chances, but here are the highlights heading into Saturday:

If New York wins and D.C. United doesn't, the Red Bulls are in regardless of what Houston and Portland do to each other on Friday night as long as someone wins. New York has the tiebreaker over all three clubs and either the Timbers or Dynamo are about to take a step back pending Friday's results. As any four points benefiting the Red Bulls would clinch a better finish in the regular season standings over D.C., a Saturday win coupled with a winner in the Portland-Houston clash and a DCU draw in any of their longtime rival's final three matches would officially lift New York into the postseason.

New York's still in contention for the Eastern Conference crown. There's one path available to the Red Bulls that could leave them atop the Eastern Conference standings at season's end, but it will take a little help from the bottom of that table to get it done.

If the Red Bulls beat Sporting Kansas City on Saturday while the Philadelphia Union and Columbus Crew fail to win their matches this weekend against Toronto FC and the New England Revolution respectively, New York could clinch the East's overall top spot with a win over Philly in the season finale.

It would take a lot of help from unlikely sources for the Red Bulls to get to that point, but an Eastern Conference automatic berth is theirs for the taking if they win out or the Crew falter over their two matches.

Portland is no friend of the Red Bulls. Before the referee blows his whistle to start the SKC clash this weekend, the Portland Timbers and Houston Dynamo will face off for their playoff survival on Friday.

A Portland win would leave the final wild card race open for the final week of the MLS season, but a Dynamo victory would all but kill any hopes the expansion side had at crashing the MLS playoffs in their inaugural season. It would then take only a Rapids draw -- Colorado plays Friday evening as well against a Real Salt Lake side without Kyle Beckerman -- to leave Portland's fate in the Red Bulls' hands.

What if Houston and Portland battle to a draw? If New York wins and D.C. loses or draws, it doesn't matter. If D.C. wins, New York only needs a DCU draw or loss in one of their remaining two games next week to clinch a playoff spot.

And if New York loses? It would take a while to sort out the wreckage.

There's still work to be done and Red Bulls coach Hans Backe must know he can't rest on the laurels of a strong win over the Supporters' Shield-winning Los Angeles Galaxy that will have occurred 10 days prior to the Red Bulls kicking off at SKC. But if Backe feels compelled to clarify his club's standings in the MLS Playoff race, he only needs to reiterate four sweet words.

Win, and you're in.

RBNY Recap: Henry saves another draw for Red Bulls in 1-1 result at Toronto FC

October, 2, 2011
10/02/11
11:55
AM ET

New York almost made it a month without collecting a draw, but that's a point the Red Bulls will accept as the playoff race gets tight.

Thierry Henry's equalizer bailed out a lifeless New York Red Bulls defense to salvage his side's 16th draw of the season in a 1-1 result against Toronto FC at BMO Field on Saturday. Henry received a Dax McCarty corner kick near the penalty spot and connected a whirlwind kick to bounce home the Red Bulls' only goal in the 88th minute.

The French striker's 13th goal of the season answered a goal by TFC forward Danny Koevermans, who completed a counterattack against a sleepy Red Bulls defense to slot home a TFC goal in the 50th minute.

"I think they allowed us to do it cause they just dropped," said Henry on how the equalizer came about. "Instead of passing the ball through the lines and hurting us, they were just kicking it and giving us the ball back. That allowed us to put pressure on them and have some more opportunities and thankfully, we came back into the game."

The draw gives New York (8-7-16, 40 pts) a temporary one-point boost to their grip on the final wild card berth, but now leaves them scoreboard watching as both D.C. United (9-9-11, 38 pts) and the Portland Timbers (10-13-7, 37 pts) kick off on Sunday afternoon. The Red Bulls will also keep an eye on the Philadelphia Union (10-7-13, 43 pts), who sit two points in front of the Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference's final automatic playoff berth and will play on Sunday evening as well. The slumping Columbus Crew (11-12-8, 41 pts) sit in between the Red Bulls and Union and will take the pitch on Sunday at Crew Stadium against D.C., who still have one game in hand on the Red Bulls.

Prestige Over Performance. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe elected to pick controversial defender Rafael Marquez over McCarty for Saturday's Starting XI, which gave the Red Bulls a notably more defensive-minded focus than it's seen in recent weeks against a Toronto FC side that has allowed a league-leading 56 goals this season. It also removed an effective cog in the Red Bulls' combined efforts of late, as McCarty has made himself present in his side's attack while leading the charge on recovering balls on defense.

McCarty eventually came on as a substitute for Marquez in the 79th minute. Henry scored nine minutes later, though the arrival of substitute Juan Agudelo also played a role in that result.

Play of the Game: Koeverman's Goal. The Dutch forward's opening strike may not elicit MLS Goal of the Week chatter, largely because it came about from a catastrophic failure of the Red Bulls' defense.

Toronto FC only gained possession in the moments prior to Koeverman's goal from a bad pass by Rafael Marquez being intercepted. As the Reds fired up their counterattack, both Marquez and Teemu Tainio jogged after Reds midfielder Ryan Johnson instead of engaging in full pursuit. Johnson dished the ball to Koeverman's on the left side past a Red Bulls back line that briefly halted its pressure after presuming the Dutchman was offside. He wasn't -- and he made the RBNY defense pay by tapping a ball off Frank Rost and inside the net for the match's first goal.

The goal seemed to snap the Red Bulls out of a malaise that hung over them for the first 50 minutes of the match, but the club's defense once again left New York chasing a lesser opponent's lead instead of burying them with one of their own.

Wake Up Time. New York's attack remained dormant until Koeverman's goal, with only two shots on target from six attempts on TFC backup 'keeper Milos Kocic to show for their efforts. That picked up in the second half, with the Red Bulls creating four shots on target from nine chances, culminating in Henry's goal in the waning moments of the match and a satisfying performance for the club's head coach.

"The work ethic was phenomenal in the second half," said Backe. "The way we controlled the game, the passing game, the number of chances, a lot of crosses (left us) very close to scoring. To respond after being one down like that, I'm quite pleased with the performance."

Fit to be Tied. The Red Bulls have reached half time all tied up with their opponent on 13 occasions this season. Of those 13 matches, New York has only won once -- the season opener against the Seattle Sounders on March 19. Since then, the Red Bulls are 0-3-9 in matches level at halftime. The trend itself may be an anomaly, which leaves Jan Gunnar Solli with a sense of optimism following another draw than another loss.

"A little bit unlucky tonight that we didn't score more goals," said Solli. "In the end, to get one point away -- that's good for us, especially when there was seven, eight minutes left in the game and then we scored. I was really happy with the boys."

14. Henry's late heroics netted the Red Bulls team captain his first goal in six matches (if you count the FC Dallas win, which Henry missed due to injury). That scoring drought left Henry chasing the league leader in goals scored and a familiar face to both New York and Toronto FC.

So who is the current Golden Boot favorite? D.C. United attacking midfielder Dwayne De Rosario.

New York gets no time to lick their wounds following their draw at Toronto as they head home to face the Los Angeles Galaxy on Tuesday (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes) at Red Bull Arena in a make-up match of the one postponed due to Hurricane Irene.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at Toronto FC

October, 1, 2011
10/01/11
11:40
AM ET
Two out of three wins ain't bad. Three out of four would be better.

That's the mindset of a New York Red Bulls side looking to keep their recent momentum going as they head north of the border to kick off against Toronto FC on Saturday evening. New York heads to BMO Field with heads held high following a solid 2-0 win over the Portland Timbers at Red Bull Arena last Saturday as well as a decisive 5-0 romp over the Reds in the first leg of their regular season encounters on July 6.

Toronto FC returns home this weekend with their attention divided as they play out the string in the MLS regular season while focusing their efforts on staying alive in the CONCACAF Champions League. Danny Koevermans has netted four goals in as many games for TFC in combined MLS and Champions League play, lifting the Reds to a 1-1 draw against Mexican side Pumas last Tuesday while failing to appear on the score sheet against Chivas USA last Saturday.

A Thurdsay win for the Philadelphia Union (10-7-13, 43 pts) kept D.C. United (9-9-11, 38 pts) out of the playoff picture for the time being, though DCU still owns a game in hand on the Red Bulls (8-7-15, 39 pts) and their tenuous grip on the final wild card berth. New York now sits two points behind a fourth-place Columbus Crew (11-12-8, 41 pts) club mired in a three-game winless streak and three points behind the Houston Dynamo (10-9-12, 42 pts) for the Eastern Conference's final automatic playoff berth.

The New Guys. New York will kick off against a very different Toronto FC side then the one they faced at Red Bull Arena this summer, though they've expected the new look since that match in July.

The Reds acquired Koevermans and German midfielder Torsten Frings as designated players during the summer transfer window, but neither international was eligible for selection by TFC coach Aron Winter due to transfer rules. The designated duo has given a much-needed boost to a Canadian side in full-on rebuild mode. Koevermans has six goals across that eight-game stretch, while Frings has boosted a struggling TFC defense as a midfielder and a static sweeper in Winter's 4-3-3 system. New York didn't have many to worry about in round one against the Reds; the same won't be said for the rematch.

Key Matchup: Marquez vs. The Guy He's Replacing. Saturday's match will mark the first appearance for Rafael Marquez since unloading on his teammates about their level of play as compared to the caliber of the Mexican defender. The comments themselves may have faded in the background, but the stellar play of center back combination Tim Ream and Stephen Keel has not.

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe has two options for Marquez. Start him over Keel or Carlos Mendes in the back and let him reestablish the chemistry with Ream which powered the Red Bulls defense earlier this season, or bump him up into a defensive midfield role at the expense of the recently-effective and offensive-minded Dax McCarty. In one instance, Backe picks Marquez over the hot hand. On the other, Backe removes a weapon from his offensive arsenal by benching McCarty in a possible 4-5-1 formation that might also see Luke Rodgers ride pine.

Most coaches would kill for that kind of problem, but most coaches don't have to deal with the cloud of controversy following Marquez. If Backe gets this one wrong, it could undo the positive momentum built by the Red Bulls in recent weeks.

The Missing Link? It oversimplifies the Red Bulls' recent success to say that the return of Luke Rodgers made it possible, but the correlation between New York's winning ways and the English striker's contributions is likely more than chance. Rodgers has a goal in each recent Red Bulls win and two in the three matches he's played since returning from a bout of plantar fasciitis, including a penalty kick that gave New York it's first two-goal lead in over three months.

And the last match Rodgers played in before his feet failed him? Against Toronto FC on July 6, in a match where Rodgers scored the second of the Red Bulls' five goals.

Stacking the Deck. If the Red Bulls attack intends to impose its will on the TFC back line, it will need to focus on providing service to Henry and Rodgers through a formation built on five in the back for the Reds. Winter beefs up his back line when his opponent calls for it -- and an opponent that has scored in all but one of its non-Real Salt Lake matches since last kicking off against TFC would qualify as such a special opponent.

Frings will likely resume his role as a de-facto sweeper between Andy Iro and Ty Harden, with Ashtone Morgan and Matt Stinson as TFC's fullbacks. Separate, they have their troubles. Together, they should create sufficient traffic between the Red Bulls and the goal area minded by TFC 'keeper Stefan Frei.

Road Warriors. Much has been made of the Red Bulls' troubles away from their namesake arena, with their league-leading nine road draws supporting that argument. However, New York hits the road following a gutsy road win against a beleaguered FC Dallas club that restored New York's confidence as much as its place in the standings.

Even with two wins in the away column, the FCD win demonstrated that the Red Bulls can win away from home. A win at Toronto FC would further cement it for a club whose present playoff state dictates more road games to come following the conclusion of the MLS regular season.

RBNY Notes: Henry concentrating on good momentum for MLS Playoffs push

September, 30, 2011
9/30/11
12:18
PM ET
The MLS Playoff picture is often murky, with both conferences vying for the same playoff spots while clubs kick off with different totals of games played. In one week, the Red Bulls' postseason chances look long. The next, they're back in the driver's seat

Watching the scoreboard is a natural temptation at this time of year, but doing so does not bring the Red Bulls any closer to a postseason berth. The players can see the comings-and-goings in the playoff standings -- which recently changed again following a Philadelphia Union win on Thursday -- but team captain Thierry Henry recognizes that the focus for his side needs to remain singular over the final four matches.

"We just have to do what we can do and not concentrate on others," said Henry. "Maybe that’s what we were doing sometimes during the season and looking at it and saying, ‘Oh, we're still just two points ahead of them or three.’ You just have to go and take care of yourself and see what you can do. At the end, we don’t have to count anymore. We will see who will go through or not."

The Red Bulls see themselves with a tenuous grasp on the final wild card berth, clinging to a one-point lead over a D.C. United side with a game in hand following their loss to Philly on Thursday. That's of no concern to Henry, who feels his Red Bulls are finally rolling at the right time.

"We are in a good momentum," said Henry. "Before the three games we had in Dallas, Salt Lake, and Portland, if someone said we were going to win two out of three – the end was to win three out of three – we would have been happy about that."

"(It's) kind of weird because we had a hard one in the middle of that against Salt Lake, but we are in a good momentum and we have to try to carry on."

Getting the Call. The Red Bulls learned on Thursday that six of their squad would once again receive the call of duty for their national sides next week. New York Red Bulls forward Juan Agudelo and defender Tim Ream will once again suit up for the United States Men's National Team, while defenders Rafael Marquez (Mexico) and Roy Miller (Costa Rica), midfielder Dane Richards (Jamaica), and goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul (Senegal) will also see international action.

Depending on where you stand regarding Marquez's level of ability these days, the biggest depth decision facing Red Bulls coach Hans Backe these days may lie between the posts. German 'keeper Frank Rost has collected two clean sheets in the club's last three matches, but now faces two matches in four days against Toronto FC and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

If Rost is showing any rust from his long layoff following his recent quad injury, Backe may need to call upon his Senegalese shot stopper for his starting XI against TFC. Coundoul will not be available to play against the Galaxy at Red Bull Arena next Tuesday, leaving Backe to either start Rost twice on short rest or go with a reserve goalkeeper in Alex Horwath or Mike Konopka against the best of the Western Conference.

Back Problems. Backe announcer earlier this week that Miller should be available to play this weekend at Toronto, but the same cannot be said for Chris Albright. The MLS veteran fullback endured a strained calf in the early moments of the match against Real Salt Lake, leaving Backe uncertain about his availability for the stretch run.

“[The medical staff] said it looks better than they thought,” Backe said to MLSsoccer.com. “[But] it could be the whole season, we just don’t know.”

RBNY Recap: Red Bulls take playoff hopes to next level in win vs. Timbers

September, 25, 2011
9/25/11
12:29
PM ET
Apparently, a bout of "foot-in-mouth" disease can extend to your opponent's goalmouth.

As a suspended Rafael Marquez watched from the owner's box on Saturday due to a one-game suspension for his disparaging comments regarding his teammates' form, the Red Bulls struck twice in a 2-0 win over the Portland Timbers at Red Bull Arena. Dane Richards outran Timbers midfielder Diego Chara and tapped a ball across the goalmouth and inside the far post in the 21st minute for the game's first goal, while Luke Rodgers converted a penalty kick in the 66th minute to add some breathing room on the score sheet. Frank Rost collected three saves en route to his second clean sheet and MLS regular season win of the season.

By collecting a valuable three points in the standings over the Timbers (10-13-7, 37 pts), New York (8-7-15, 39 pts) maintains their tenuous hold on the final wild card berth while picking up the valuable win-loss tiebreaker over Portland. D.C. United (9-8-11, 38 pts) remains one point back with two games in hand on the Red Bulls following their decisive 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake on Saturday.

However, the Eastern Conference's automatic berths experienced a shakeup as the Houston Dynamo (10-9-12, 42 pts) leapfrogged into first place courtesy of a losing Columbus Crew (11-11-8, 41 pts) side and a draw between Sporting Kansas City (10-9-11, 41 pts) and the Philadelphia Union (9-7-13, 40 pts). According to MLSsoccer.com's Playoff Standings, the Red Bulls now sit two points behind Sporting KC for the conference's final spot in what Red Bulls coach Hans Backe believes is now a wide-open playoff chase for his club.

“I think it is up to us now," said Backe. "We will need to win two or three games to have a chance. We have the chance now, it’s up to us and we have three games at home. But of course, the key game that counts in Philly will probably show if we are in the playoffs or not.”

Plus-11. That's the recovery differential on balls in the middle and attacking thirds for the Red Bulls over Portland on Saturday. The Timbers created a comparable number of attempts (15) on goal as compared to New York (12), but it was an effective and organized defensive press by the Red Bulls that stifled the Portland attack all evening. Dax McCarty led that charge with five recoveries in the middle and final third in what was an all-around solid effort for all defensive parties involved.

"We kind of got back to defending first and foremost; kind of how we had it in Dallas," said Stephen Keel, who started in place of the suspended Marquez. "Cynical defending is what they want to call it. Just keeping everything in front of us, nice and organized, keep everything tight and keep a clean sheet.”

Play of the Game: Rodgers' Penalty Kick. It wasn't as sexy as Richards's opener, as the Jamaican midfielder sprinted past Chara and effectively crossed the ball across the goalmouth for a dramatic finish. And the circumstances making the penalty kick possible -- Timbers midfielder Kalif Alhassan received a straight red card in the 64th minute for a handball at the goal line on a Thierry Henry shot -- merely delayed the inevitable.

When Rodgers struck his right-footed shot from the spot past a diving Troy Perkins and inside the left post, it was fundamental but nonetheless significant. Rodgers's goal gave the Red Bulls their first two-goal lead over any opponent since going up 2-0 on the New England Revolution on June 10. Insurance goals have not been a strong suit for the Red Bulls all season, which made the penalty kick all the more important and the cathartic effect of a Red Bulls club coping with a teammate's criticisms all the more satisfying.

"We came in at halftime down a goal, but still felt we were definitely in it," said Timbers team captain Jack Jewsbury. "In the second half I thought we were banging on the door to get that tying goal. Next thing you know, the penalty is called and all of a sudden we’re down a man. Down two goals and a man is tough anyway, especially away from home.”

They were up by a wide margin over an expansion side that has yet two score two goals in a match away from home in MLS. That's a recipe for success every time.

Six in the Mix. The Red Bulls drew comparisons after Saturday's match to their gutty shutout at FC Dallas last weekend, citing the specific absence of Marquez and the solid defensive efforts by a patchwork back four producing a clean sheet for Rost.

However, one critical difference comes on the offensive ends. New York created six attempts on goal against FCD, while they produced 15 against the Timbers at home. That offensive output resulted in six Red Bulls -- Richards, Rodgers, Henry, Joel Lindpere, Jan Gunnar Solli, and Carlos Mendes -- combining to take the club's eight shots on target. It looks doubly impressive against a Timbers side that collected two shots on target before halftime and one afterwards. New York balanced their intensity across all facets of their game on Saturday, which defender Tim Ream acknowledges was long overdue.

"“Actually we needed to do that starting six, seven, even 10 games ago," said Ream. "That’s something that we really made a conscious effort on coming into this game. it definitely paid off for us, getting a solid 2-0 win and three points and putting us right back into the playoff picture.”

Miss Marquez Much? Speaking of Ream, he came under fire in recent days after being singled out by Marquez in the Mexican defender's post-game comments on Saturday. According to Empire of Soccer, Marquez described his back line partner as "a young player with a lot to learn" and criticized the sophomore center back for committing "errors that are very infantile and cost us goals." So, did it get to Ream?

"“Honestly, I think it would have happened even if the comments weren’t made," Ream said to MLSsoccer.com. "After you take a solid 3-1 beating, you have something to prove. We wanted to prove it was a fluke and that wasn’t who we are. We put our heads down more because of the way we played [on Wednesday], not because of the comments.”

25,008 Strong. The Red Bulls have had their share of sellouts this season, but some of those attendance numbers felt a bit padded with marketing techniques such as announcing the seats sold as compared to seats filled. That wasn't the case on Saturday, as a racuous crowd of 25,008 fans arrived to create an electric atmosphere just three days after a match that saw Red Bulls supporters booing Rafa Marquez's every touch.

New York now gets a week to prepare to travel north of the border for a match against a revamped Toronto FC at BMO Field on Saturday. First kick is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls vs. Portland Timbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September, 18, 2011
9/18/11
11:05
AM ET
New York finally rekindled its winning ways courtesy of a little R&R.

R&R, in this case, refers to contributions of Luke Rodgers and Frank Rost which boosted the Red Bulls to the club's first victory since July 6 in a 1-0 win over FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas on Saturday. The international duo made their first starts since recovering from their respective injuries -- Rodgers with plantar fascitis, Rost with a right quadriceps tear -- and played key roles in the result, with the English striker finishing a Juan Agudelo cross in the 36th minute for the game's only goal and the German shot stopper collecting a clean sheet for his first win in MLS.

In addition to a morale boost, the three points from their long-awaited win over FCD also gives the Red Bulls (7-6-15, 36 pts) an immediate boost back into the playoff picture. According to MLSsoccer.com's playoff standings, New York reclaimed control of the final wild card berth as their +5 goal differential gives them the playoff tiebreaker over the Portland Timbers (10-12-6, 36 pts). D.C. United (8-8-10, 34 pts), who previously held the final berth prior to the start of action in Week 27 and has two games in hand on the Red Bulls, conceded a 3-0 defeat to the Seattle Sounders on Saturday.

The Red Bulls also kept pace in their pursuit for an Eastern Conference automatic playoff berth, as both the third-place Philadelphia Union (9-7-12, 39 pts) and fourth-place Houston Dynamo (9-9-12, 39 pts) collected wins on Saturday as well.

Give It a Go. New York knew of their shorthanded status before they boarded their Dallas charter plane on Friday. Rafael Marquez and Jan Gunnar Solli would not join them as they served one-game suspensions. Thierry Henry and Roy Miller also stayed home as they nursed injuries.

However, four questionable players who made the trip produced answers for the Red Bulls on Saturday night. The return of Rodgers and Rost directly factored into the result, while Tim Ream's recovery from his injury and Teemu Tainio's return from a one-game suspension helped stablize a patchwork defense charged with keeping a beleaguered FC Dallas side -- FCD winger Brek Shea was suspended, David Ferreira and Martin Chavez were hurt -- at bay.

Play of the Game: Rost's Saves on Santos. It's not hard for the Red Bulls to knock their opponents down, as they've taken early leads against MLS sides all season. When Rodgers collected Agudelo's cross and hit a grounder inside the far post past a diving George John and a helpless Kevin Hartman in net, it wasn't pretty but it was never beyond the realm of possibility.

Instead, it's getting opposing teams to stay down that's the trick. Rost, who made his first start since August 6 over a recently-effective Bouna Coundoul, made that happen with his best performance as a Red Bull, as he kept a clean sheet against an FC Dallas side that controlled the run of play for huge swaths of Saturday's match. FC Dallas accrued 19 attempts on goal as compared to New York's six, but only generated three shots on target for their efforts. FCD forward Maicon Santos created a team-leading eight attempts against a Red Bulls back line that appeared porous at times, but Rost saved Santos's only shot on target while his positioning helped cut down angles and force the Brazilian's shots wide of the net.

A solid defensive effort kept FCD off the scoreboard, but Rost eliminated any chance for a soft goal from stealing Rodgers's thunder.

Moroccan Meddling. Unlike last Saturday when Red Bulls coach Hans Backe sent his shorthanded side's attack into overdrive with a late Agudelo substitution, he did the exact opposite with a swap of Rodgers for Mehdi Ballouchy at halftime. The Moroccan midfielder's arrival effectively sent the Red Bulls into defensive mode, as evidenced by FCD's early attacking surge tapering off in the second half.

As previously mentioned, New York only created six attempts on Saturday night. Five of those came before halftime, with only a Joel Lindpere miss at point-blank range in the 64th minute to show for their efforts. Meanwhile, Ballouchy added nothing to the Red Bulls attack while his role up top muted any passing distribution he can typically bring to any match. It was a risky call by Backe to protect his recovering English forward at the expense of any chance at creating an insurance goal, but ultimately paid off through the efforts of New York's back line and Rost.

205. According to the Opta Chalkboards, that's how many passes New York completed on Saturday at Pizza Hut Park. That's far and away the lowest number of completed passes this season for a Red Bulls side that typically accrues 350-400 completed passes with ease. It's also over 100 fewer than the previous low of 308 completed passes accrued in a 2-2 draw against the San Jose Earthquakes on July 2. So if you're curious as to why FC Dallas claimed a 59.5%-to-40.5% advantage in possession on Saturday night, start here.

Slump Buster. New York's win over FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park gives the Red Bulls their first win outside the Eastern time zone in regular season play in almost a year. New York is now 1-2-8 in games west of Ohio, and have one more match -- October 15 at Sporting Kansas City -- of their final six that will require them to wind their watches upon arrival.

New York now heads home to Red Bull Arena looking to exact revenge on Wednesday against a Real Salt Lake side that delivered a decisive 3-0 win to the Red Bulls in the first leg of their regular season encounters on August 6 at Rio Tinto Stadium. First kick is scheduled for 8:00 p.m.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at FC Dallas

September, 17, 2011
9/17/11
8:49
AM ET
Sixteen draws and what do you get?

Another week older and deeper in trouble if the New York Red Bulls can't successfully mess with Texas this weekend.

The Red Bulls will take their umpteenth chance at collecting the club's first win since July as they head west to face FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas on Saturday. New York kicks off in search of the much-needed victory that eluded them in the first leg of their regular season encounters against FCD. Thierry Henry scored a brilliant equalizer in the waning moments of that match to answer a second-half brace by FCD midfielder Martin Chavez and sent a shorthanded Red Bulls side off to the All-Star break with a 2-2 draw for their efforts.

New York also salvaged a 1-1 draw last Saturday at Red Bull Arena against an expansion Vancouver Whitecaps side that still lacks its first-ever MLS regular season win on the road. Juan Agudelo came on as a substitute to finish a Rafael Marquez cross and answer a one-man highlight reel goal by Davide Chiumiento, sending the Red Bulls running from home with the club's fifteenth draw of the season.

FC Dallas should be so lucky to collect that kind of result considering their recent form. Despite having the third-best record by points in all of MLS with 46, FCD has lost three of their last five matches including a 2-0 loss against a rebuilding New England Revolution side at Gillette Stadium last Saturday. They're also in the midst of a short work week after failing to make a very early Daniel Cruz goal stand up in a 1-1 draw of a CONCACAF Champions League group stage match on Wednesday at home against Panamanian side Tauro FC.

According to MLSsoccer.com, a decisive Portland Timbers (10-12-6, 36 pts) win on Friday evening over the lowly Revs temporarily pushes the Red Bulls (6-6-15, 33 pts) into the ten spot of the overall league standings. With two games in hand, D.C. United (8-7-10, 34 pts) also sits in between the Red Bulls and the final playoff spot. The Union (8-7-12, 36 pts) maintain a three-point edge over New York to keep hold of the final automatic Eastern Conference playoff berth, though both D.C. and the Houston Dynamo (8-9-12, 36 pts) stand between the Red Bulls and Philadelphia.

Exiguous XI. Though Red Bulls coach Hans Backe notoriously keeps a short bench at his disposal for most matches, it's not entirely his choice to travel to Dallas shorthanded this weekend. Backe's back line will miss the likes of Marquez and Jan Gunnar Solli due to suspension as well as Roy Miller and possibly Tim Ream due to injury, while his offense could lack the forward pairing of Henry and Luke Rodgers as that duo nurse injuries that arose in training earlier this week.

Those absences should create playing time for young playmaker Juan Agudelo up top and Red Bulls rookie defender Stephen Keel, who is expected to make his first appearance since coming on as a sub on August 6 at Real Salt Lake.

Key Matchup: NY's Wide Midfielders vs. FCD's Press. In the first leg of their regular season matches, FCD coach Schellas Hyndman saw his side apply a press that paralyzed the Red Bulls attack while inadvertently muting their own offensive efforts. A late substitute opened up the FCD offense, culminating in Chavez netting two goals in short order.

Meanwhile, New York succumbed to a lesser-caliber press applied by the 'Caps last weekend with a back line not known for its depth. Service was sparse for Henry and Dane Richards up top until Agudelo reinforced the attack with his late arrival as a sub. Save a late shot on goal against a 'Caps defense in prevent mode, Joel Lindpere was present in name only for the majority of the match.

With Henry and Rodgers bearing injuries and possibly missing Saturday's match, someone besides Agudelo will need to step up and step into a Red Bulls attack that hasn't scored an insurance goal in months. Richards could start up top if Henry and/or Rodgers can't go, but Lindpere and possibly Mehdi Ballouchy could be looked upon to join the attacking corps and create traffic in the box.

Price to Pay. One injury New York does not need to accommodate any further is the one to German goalkeeper Frank Rost. Backe cleared Rost to play this weekend in Dallas after reviewing his form in training this week, which could once again bump Bouna Coundoul back to the bench despite a recent run of solid play.

The MLS Players Union recently released its updated payroll earlier this month, which reflects that Rost's designated player status helps him make three times what MLS and the Red Bulls pay their Senegalese shot stopper. New York paid a premium to bring in Rost as a difference maker, but would Backe have made the same decision considering Coundoul's recent successes -- including two consecutive draws in MLS play and a shutout for his native Senegal -- if his German 'keeper and Coundoul collected similar sums?

Zero. While New York's hoping to capture their first win in over two months at Pizza Hut Park, that goose egg represents another streak the Red Bulls hope to put to bed this weekend.

The Red Bulls remain winless this season in away matches outside of their own time zone, with nothing but an 0-3-8 record to show for it. In fact, it has been almost a year since New York has won a regular season match west of Ohio. The Red Bulls last won an away match in a time zone other than Eastern last September 24 in a 2-0 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Home Depot Center. They also claimed a 1-0 result at Buck Shaw Stadium against the San Jose Earthquakes in the first leg of the MLS playoff quarterfinals last October, only to concede that lead in the second leg before losing 3-2 on aggregate to the Quakes.

Heavy Hearts. If FC Dallas kicks off in a melancholy mood, it's not necessarily due to their recent form in league play.

Saturday's match represents the club's first home match since the loss of Dallas stalwart Bobby Rhine, who passed away on September 5 at the age of 35. Rhine joined the then-Dallas Burn as a player in 1999 and later served in the club's front office and as the team's color commentator on televisions broadcasts, leaving an indelible mark on the soccer legacy of an original MLS side.

FC Dallas will honor Rhine with a pregame ceremony that will include Rhine's family and MLS commissioner Don Garber and a video montage at halftime, while the FCD players will wear black armbands to honor their former forward. FCD fullback Zach Loyd also changed his jersey number from 19 to 12 for the remainder of the season, as the former number belonged to Rhine during his playing days with the club.

FC Dallas endured another loss in recent days as U18 Academy player Jose Perez was killed in a car accident on September 13.

RBNY Recap: Agudelo scores as ref leaves 10-man Red Bulls fit to be tied vs. 'Caps

September, 11, 2011
9/11/11
1:00
PM ET
For a club with playoff aspirations and a meager eight games left to realize them, New York likely did not aspire to keep level with the worst of MLS.

And yet, that's where a shorthanded Red Bulls side found themselves as they collected their 15th draw of the season in a 1-1 stalemate against the Vancouver Whitecaps at Red Bull Arena on Saturday. Juan Agudelo tapped in a long Rafael Marquez cross in the 68th minute to answer a brilliant first-half strike by Vancouver's Davide Chiumiento and salvage the draw for the home side.

According to MLSsoccer.com's Playoff Standings, the draw pushes New York (6-6-15, 33 pts) out of the playoff picture as D.C. United (8-7-10, 34 pts) snuck past them into fifth place in the Eastern Conference following a win over Chivas USA. The Philadelphia Union (8-7-12, 36 pts) widened their lead for the East's final automatic playoff berth by one point following a scoreless draw against the Portland Timbers, while the Houston Dynamo (8-9-11, 35 pts) idled in fourth place following a loss to Sporting Kansas City (10-8-10, 40 pts).

While no Eastern Conference teams created significant distance between themselves and the Red Bulls during the club's extended break, New York is continuing to struggle with establishing a home-field advantage. D.C. United, the newest team in the Red Bulls' postseason path, now sits above them in the standings and with two games in hand.

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe previously stated that it would take 45 points to clinch a playoff spot, meaning New York must now win four or collect three wins and three draws in their remaining seven games to reach that target. They now have to get those wins with only four remaining home games over their final seven, and with D.C. comfortably in their way.

Crying Foul. It wasn't the aggregate or differential in fouls called by referee Terry Vaughn that left New York up in arms about the officiating on Saturday. New York accrued 13 fouls as compared to 8 by the 'Caps.

Rather, it was the validity of the important calls that hurt the Red Bulls' manpower both on Saturday and preceding next week's match at F.C. Dallas. Vaughn issued Marquez a yellow card in the 31st minute for bumping Chiumiento from behind, but didn't issue a second yellow in the 44th minute for the Mexican defender's tough tackle on Eric Hassli.

The first yellow card had the same effect as a red card on Marquez's availability for next week as he triggered a suspension for his accumulated yellow cards. But the missed call had ramifications for Jan Gunnar Solli, who received a straight red card moments later for tripping up Camilo on a run. Replays showed that Camilo still had Carlos Mendes to beat before securing a shot on goal, hinting that Vaughn may have booted Solli as a make-up call for the non-call on Marquez.

That chain of events left New York with a shorthanded side for the second-half, doubly so when recalling that Teemu Tainio was already unavailable for Saturday's match due to suspension. Now, New York will be without Marquez and Solli due to suspensions as well as Roy Miller and possibly Frank Rost due to injuries next week.

Play of the Game: Agudelo's Substitution. It's easy to point the finger at Solli's ejection to explain the less-than-desirable result for the Red Bulls, but they had appeared flat to that point and failed to create much pressure against a patchwork 'Caps back line. A glance at the Opta Chalkboards reflects that as a 20-to-9 advantage in recoveries on balls in the middle and attacking thirds shows that the 'Caps forwards applied appropriate pressure while the Red Bulls attackers didn't push up nearly enough.

That did not improve until Backe swapped out the defensive-minded Stephane Auvray for Agudelo. In addition to providing a jolt of energy into the 10-man Red Bulls side, Backe's substitution reflected a positive substitution strategy for a coach who usually shies away from them. He substituted a defender for an attacker. And seven minutes after Backe's call, Agudelo drew his side level.

Backe did it again in the final ten minutes, giving Luke Rodgers his first playing time since July 5 against Toronto FC at the expense of another defensive-minded midfielder in Dax McCarty. That move proved too little too late, but Backe deserves credit for not ordering his team to go into a shell after being down a man. Backe tried to go for the kill -- marking the first time anyone's been able to write those words about these Red Bulls in months.

Clipped Wings. Backe picked a heavy-defensive starting XI, highlighted by McCarty and Auvray starting in the midfield, Marquez playing a hybrid center back/holding midfielder role alongside Tim Ream, and Chris Albright and Carlos Mendes as full backs. That left Solli and Joel Lindpere available to join the attack, but that duo didn't do much to support Thierry Henry and Dane Richards.

New York attempted only five crosses in the first half, with only one connection executed by Solli. They completed two more in the second half -- one by Lindpere, one by Albright -- but not much came about until Agudelo arrived late in the second match. Some of that came from successful pressure by Vancouver, some from a defensive-minded shape by the Red Bulls. All of it made anyone not named Henry or Richards invisible in the attacking end until the final thirty minutes.

Stop the Presses. For as questionable as the officiating and as flat as the Red Bulls appeared at time, the goalkeeping on both sides sparkled all evening. Senegalese shot stopper Bouna Coundoul registered only three saves on the night, but never fell prey to the Bouna Blunders that have plagued him this season. Vancouver's only goal came about from Marquez's lack of marking on Chiumiento, which enabled the 'Caps midfielder to chip up a ball near the penalty spot and whirlwind kick it off the top crossbar for the goal. Goals like that can't get hung around the neck of the 'keeper.

Meanwhile, 'Caps netminder Jay Nolly kept an early surge by the Red Bulls at bay and held firm towards the end, especially on a diving save of a free kick in the 87th minute by Henry. Both goalkeepers deserve credit for keeping their respective sides in Saturday's match.

Zero. That's how many chances the Red Bulls have left to chase the Supporters' Shield this season, as their draw combined with a Los Angeles Galaxy win on Friday night mathematically eliminated New York from the top spot in the league standings.

New York will now pack its bags and head west as they prepare to face F.C. Dallas at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas next Saturday. First kick is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.

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