New York Soccer: Rajko Lekic

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at NE Revolution

August, 20, 2011
Two original MLS sides renew old rivalries this weekend as the New York Red Bulls ship up to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts to face the New England Revolution on Saturday. New York claimed a rare victory in the first leg of their regular season encounters against New England at Red Bull Arena on June 10 after Thierry Henry deflected a shot off Revs defender Ryan Cochrane for an own goal and followed it with the game winner.

Wins have been hard to come by for a Red Bulls side that settled for a 2-2 draw against the rebuilding Chicago Fire last weekend at Red Bull Arena. Henry and Joel Lindpere had the first and last words respectively on the score sheet, but defensive miscues and poor communication allowed Ghanian forward Dominic Oduro and Argentinean midfielder Sebastian Grazzini to tally a first-half lead and leave New York chasing a draw rather than a much-needed win.

New England comes into Saturday's match with tired legs and spirits low after a stoppage-time strike by Bobby Boswell stole a draw for the visiting Houston Dynamo at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday. Despite an early Cochrane goal, the Revs played most of the match on the defensive as the Dynamo controlled the run of play for most of the match and tripled New England's shots on goal before Boswell netted the equalizer.

A D.C. United (7-6-10, 31 pts) draw on Thursday leaves New York (6-6-13, 31 pts) in fifth place in the Eastern Conference and with a tenuous grip on a postseason wild card berth. Houston (7-7-11, 32 pts) stands between the Red Bulls and third-place Sporting Kansas City (8-7-9, 33 pts) for an automatic playoff spot, while the Columbus Crew (10-7-7, 37 pts) and Philadelphia Union (8-5-10, 34 pts) face each other this weekend to establish Eastern Conference supremacy.

'Keep Out. New England will kick off against a potent Red Bulls attack this weekend without longtime 'keeper Matt Reis. Reis received a red card in Wednesday's match against the Dynamo during a stoppage-time scrum for what referee Michael Kennedy described as "use of offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures."

Bobby Shuttleworth will replace the suspended Reis on Saturday, but the 24-year-old shot stopper hasn't started a game since April and isn't heading into the match on the heels of one of the best goalkeeping performances of the season like Reis would have been before getting the heave-ho. If New York can continue the offensive momentum it created against Chicago, it could be a long night for the Revs' backup 'keeper.

Key Matchup: Marquez vs. Feilhaber. While Tim Ream and Roy Miller had the unfortunately distinction of being on camera when the Fire exposed their dysfunctional defensive efforts last Saturday, that did not leave Rafael Marquez above scrutiny.

The Mexican center back was just as out of position as the rest of his back line on those plays and others, inciting murmurs from critics that Marquez isn't rising to the expectations thrust upon a pricey designated player and looks uncomfortable since returning from the hamstring injury he endured during the Gold Cup finale.

If Marquez wants to restore his reputation, he can start by keeping the dynamic Benny Feilhaber at bay. The Revs attacking midfielder did not appear in the first leg of their regular season encounters with the Red Bulls due to international duty with the U.S. Men's National Team, but he'll be there on Saturday looking to create chaos in the box and replace the attacking contributions of injured Revs forward Rajko Lekic.

Keeping Feilhaber in check will involve active marking and frequent communication -- the two things Marquez and his back line were accused of failing to do against the Fire last Saturday.

The Big Hurt. Lekic's availability remains in question as he recovers from a fractured big toe on his right foot, but he's not the only one hurting for the Revs. Cochrane left Wednesday's match with what was described as "concussion symptoms" and will likely miss Saturday's match.

Meanwhile, Bouna Coundoul is expected to get the start in net for the Red Bulls in place of the injured Frank Rost. Jan Gunnar Solli will also miss Saturday's match as he recovers from a right quadriceps strain.

87. That's how many shots on goal taken by the Revs this season, which is the worst total in the league. They also score on a paltry 9.6% of their shots and 29.9% of all shots on goal, which ranks them 11th in MLS in both categories. This is not a recipe for attacking soccer.

Lucky Number Seven. New York's win over the Revs in June ended a seven-game winless streak. The Red Bulls now head into this weekend's matchup in Gillette Stadium with another seven-game winless streak in tow not counting the club's Emirates Cup appearances.

RBNY Recap: Red Bulls 2, Revolution 1

June, 10, 2011
As right back Ryan Cochrane unfortunately proved, the best Red Bulls offense can be the Revs' defense.

New York can finally describe its recent winless streak in the past tense after collecting a 2-1 victory on Friday evening over the struggling New England Revolution. While the Revs opened the scoring in the first half, they did so for the wrong side as Cochrane deflected a Thierry Henry shot into the wrong net for an own goal.

Henry added an insurance goal in the 50' minute by dribbling past Cochrane on the right side and tapping a low shot inside the far post past Revs 'keeper Matt Reis. NE forward Zak Boggs answered Henry's goal moments later by picking up a Chris Tierney cross just to the right of the six-yard-box and shooting it to the left of a diving Greg Sutton for the Revs' only goal.

The win gives New York a 5-2-7 record and a one-point lead over the Philadelphia Union for first place in the Eastern Conference. The Union kick off on Saturday afternoon at home against Real Salt Lake.

It's How You Play the Game. New York managed an 11-point edge over the Revs on possession (55.8%-to-44.2%) and appeared to find the passing touch that gave opposing defenses fits earlier this season.

Despite that progress, the Red Bulls still struggled to provide sufficient service to the forwards up top and endured a great deal of pressure in the second half after New England reverted to a very-productive 4-4-2 formation.

The numbers will demonstrate how New York held on for the win, but Red Bulls coach Hans Backe should further emphasize cohesion on the pitch to convert the failed conversions of Friday's match into strong finishes going forward.

Play of the Game: Sutton's PK Save. Referee Terry Vaughn awarded the Revs with a penalty kick in the 33' minute after Red Bulls rookie defender Stephen Keel received a yellow card for bringing down Revs forward Rajko Lekic in the box. Revs midfielder and longtime RBNY pest Shalrie Joseph stepped up to the spot for the PK and aimed low and to the right -- and right into a diving Sutton.

Though the Revs only mustered four shots on target against NY, Sutton's save precluded his side from conceding yet another early lead and playing catch up. It notably changed the tempo on the pitch and the enthusiasm from the stands, which may have contributed to the flurry which resulted in Cochrane's own goal less than four minutes later.

If Sutton misses Joseph's kick, the headline involves the Red Bulls' troubles with dead balls. Instead, the headline involves Sutton putting his mark on the first Red Bulls win since April with a highlight reel save.

Maintaining the Middle Ground. The midfield duo of Joel Lindpere and Teemu Tainio dictated the pace for the Red Bulls on both ends of the ball. It just did not do enough to counter the inconsistent run of form that held back Mehdi Ballouchy and Austin da Luz.

Ballouchy's questionable touches on the ball culminated with his failure to redirect a pinpoint cross from Henry in the penalty box towards a wide open net in the 76' minute. Da Luz did not have so prominent a miss, but frequently struggled with his passing decisions and often put too much touch on the ball to the detriment of the Red Bulls' attack.

Shiny, Happy People. The announced attendance of 21,201 actually resembled the fans in the stands rather than approximation of tickets sold. The Red Bulls have seen the turnstiles spin a great deal lately, which has started to create a more energetic, soccer-friendly atmosphere at Red Bull Arena. It was a fitting sendoff as New York departs for a four-game road trip.

Change at the Top. Shortly before first kick, the Red Bulls announced that longtime NBA executive Chris Heck will join the organization as the club's President of Business Operations. Heck will replace Erik Stover, who is stepping down from the post after serving in the role since May 2008. Stover has overseen exponential growth in sponsorships and season ticket sales for New York and is often credited with playing a vital role in the Red Bulls' recruitment of Thierry Henry from Europe.

The Red Bulls will get their first glimpse of raucous JELD-WEN Field as they take the pitch against the expansion Portland Timbers on Father's Day. First kick is schedule for 10 p.m. on Sunday, June 19.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls v. NE Revolution

June, 10, 2011
A dysfunctional duo of Eastern Conference rivals will take the pitch on Friday evening as the New York Red Bulls welcome the New England Revolution to Red Bull Arena.

New York begrudgingly carries a six-game winless streak with them after Columbus Crew defender Rich Balchan finished a Justin Meram cross in stoppage time to steal a 1-1 draw against the home side. Mehdi Ballouchy provided early offense for the Red Bulls with a goal in the 9' minute, but later won the Goat of the Game designation after his errant backheel started the course of events which culminated in Balchan's goal.

If one club can empathize with the Red Bulls' plight, it's New England. The Revs bring a four-game losing streak to Red Bull Arena after conceding a 1-0 defeat to FC Dallas last Saturday at Pizza Hut Park. New England finds itself mired in an ongoing 274-minute scoreless streak and has netted only two goals in their last seven contests.

The Red Bulls' fourth consecutive draw and fifth in six games gives them a 4-2-7 record in 2011, which is good enough for 19 points and a one-point advantage over Columbus for second place in the Eastern Conference. They trail the first-place Philadelphia Union by two points.

Finding Their Fitness. While New York will continue to play without the quintet of players missing for Gold Cup duty, they should be able to lighten their burden on the injury report.

Right back Jan Gunnar Solli described the hamstring injury that forced him to leave last Saturday's match against the Crew as a minor one and believes he should be ready to play on Friday evening. Midfielder Teemu Tainio and defender Carlos Mendes also missed training sessions this week, but each are expected to be available against the Revolution.

Key Matchup: RBNY Back Line vs. Revs' Midfield. With Tim Ream and Rafael Marquez missing due to Cup duties, the Red Bulls have struggled to start attacks from the back line and build up counterattacks. The patchwork line should have ample opportunities to find form against a Revs' midfield that has struggled to provide any service to slumping NE forward Rajko Lekic. That should continue with midfielders Benny Feilhaber out due to an ankle injury and Marko Perovic out for the season after knee surgery.

Job one for the Red Bulls' back line is to perpetuate the mess that is the New England attack. Job two is to take advantage of miscues by the Revs to light a spark for a Red Bulls attack lacking cohesion.

Redemption Song. While Ballouchy curried little favor with fans for his late miscue, he was merely a symptom of a midfield that struggled to take control in the run of play against the Crew last week.

Some of that came about due to Solli's early exit, which effectively muted the right flank for the Red Bulls. That still does not excuse the lack of service to the forwards, who managed only three total shots and one Luke Rodgers shot on target.

Thierry Henry credited midfielder Austin da Luz as the best midfielder for the Red Bulls last week. If that pairing can pick up where the vaunted Red Bulls' diamond midfield left off, it could go a long way to fortifying the Red Bulls' attack during the Gold Cup tournament.

“It was his first game, and I wanted to keep it simple and safe, and I was happy to see him do it for 90 minutes,” Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said to about da Luz. “But I told him that when he should, he could go forward. His play earns another start.”

Clean Sheet Conga. New England will look to buck their anemic offensive trends that have kept them off the score sheet in six of their last nine matches. Not only will they need to navigate Red Bulls' defense to do it, but they will need to get it past Greg Sutton. The Canadian 'keeper has steered the Red Bulls through their current streak of four consecutive draws while allowing no more than two goals along the way.

Bouna Coundoul also returns from international duty after receiving Man of the Match honors by collecting a clean sheet for his native Senegal following a 0-0 draw against Cameroon in an African Cup of Nations qualifer last weekend. He will likely continue to serve as a backup 'keeper to Sutton.

Road to Ruin. The Revs have struggled mightily on the road this season, with a 0-4-2 away record in 2011 and a -9 goal differential highlighting those troubles. That should help the Red Bulls, who possess a 3-1-3 record at Red Bull Arena this season with a +6 goal differential. Before a 2-0 win at the end of the 2010 season, the Red Bulls endured a 14-game winless streak (0-8-6) to the Revs that stretched back to 2005.