New York Soccer: Real Salt Lake

RBNY Recap: Galaxy's free kicks finish off Red Bulls' run in MLS Playoffs

November, 4, 2011
11/04/11
12:58
PM ET

On a night where they committed twice as many fouls as their opponent, an errant kick effectively set the Red Bulls free from any further MLS postseason obligations. Ain't that a kick in the head?

Actually, yes. Landon Donovan still needed to convert the awarded penalty kick moments later to cement the Los Angeles Galaxy's 2-1 win over the Red Bulls on Thursday night and 3-1 win on aggregate in the MLS Western Conference semifinals, but it was a sloppy Roy Miller clearance kick to David Beckham's groggy noggin in the penalty area that made possible the last of a litany of free kicks which haunted New York all season.

It's a frustrating way to end a season, not only because the effective series winner was scored earlier in the match on another free kick -- that one courtesy of a Beckham free kick culminating in a header by newly-minted Red Bulls killer Mike Magee -- but moreso because the majority of goals typically scored in soccer come in the run of play. Free kicks are passing moments in soccer, with formations designed by coaches who understand fully that any greater strategy to defend against them will dissipate in seconds once the run of play is restored from the stoppage.

Of the 96 goals scored or allowed by the Red Bulls during the 2011 MLS regular season, 29 of them -- or approximately 30% -- resulted due to or immediately following a dead ball. New York finished 10 of those free kicks, meaning they allowed twice as many penalty-area headers and goalmouth tap-ins as they scored. Considering the Red Bulls committed two more fouls than they suffered per 90 minutes in 2011, that's enough of an inefficiency for a precision kicker like Beckham to exploit with ease.

It was also enough to make heroes of Colorado Rapids midfielder Jeff Larentowicz last May and Real Salt Lake striker Alvaro Saborio in August and September. Free kicks let Dynamo striker Cam Weaver net an equalizer in the early goings of the season and let Seattle Sounders sub Roger Levesque finish off New York last summer.

Donovan and Beckham didn't just finish off the Red Bulls with their free kick follies. They finished off the Red Bulls again, joining a long list of opponents this season who just seemed to convert timely chances from dead balls while painfully reminding Luke Rodgers and his Red Bulls side that, despite finding their confidence and form late in the season, they remain the same ol' Red Bulls that can't defend against the set piece.

"We’re starting to get all over them," said Rodgers. "And, once again, we’re conceding from set pieces. I don’t care what team you’re on, if you’re conceding set-piece goals, you’re not going to win many games. If you look at the season, there’s been a pattern and we need to eliminate it next season or we will be in the same position."

That same position, watching some other side raise the MLS Cup in triumph, is one the Red Bulls have remained in for 15 seasons now and counting. They also remain in the same position as last season, as the San Jose Earthquakes also cut short the Red Bulls' postseason run in the second leg of the Western Conference semifinal rounds.

Unfortunately, the Red Bulls finished out of position on their set pieces Thursday night as they have done enough times throughout the season to worry supporters everywhere. It was a combination of poor marking and a case of bad luck.

And, it resulted in the same ol' Red Bulls being kicked free and clear of the MLS Playoffs once again.

Tainio Take Out. Rodgers's goal in the 4th minute let the Red Bulls set the tone to open the match, but the injury to defensive midfielder Teemu Tainio 10 minutes later seemed to expose a gap in the Red Bulls midfield already missing a suspended Rafael Marquez. The troubles didn't follow immediately, but Thierry Henry admitted after the match that the absences of Tainio and Marquez made their mark on the final result.

“You kind of don’t think about it when you are playing the game," said Henry. "But we already lost Rafa. I don’t when exactly he came out, but losing a player like Teemu basically you losing two players that play in front of the defense usually. Now that I think about it you don’t want to have them out of the field, but we still gave them a good run.”

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe also admitted that Tainio's premature exit forced Henry to drop deeper into the midfield to provide support to Dax McCarty and Stephane Auvray.

"When Teemu is not on the pitch with his distribution, I feel Thierry likes to get involved deep as a second striker to get involved in the build up,” said Backe.

48. That's the last minute a Red Bulls player registered a shot on target as L.A. netminder Josh Saunders kept Rodgers out of the net in the 48th minute for his second and last save of the match. New York created multiple chances in the second half, but struggled to direct any of them on net against a Galaxy defense led by Omar Gonzalez that firmly established its shape.

“I think that we figured out how to deal with them," said Donovan. "Henry came back into the midfield and made it difficult. He was finding little spots and we were kind of pulled apart. I think once we figured that out and once we were better with the ball we started picking them apart and creating chances."

Two Step. New York were the only MLS club to claim a regular season series win against the Galaxy with a draw in May and win in October. That provides little consolation to Henry, who concedes that the Galaxy ultimately won the matches when they counted the most.

“They won," said Henry. "They beat us at our place. They beat us at their place. So, at the end of the day, there’s nothing to say about it. We gave it a go.”

Rapid Reax: Galaxy 2, Red Bulls 1

November, 4, 2011
11/04/11
1:01
AM ET
Heading into Thursday's semifinal finale against the Galaxy, a draw was as good as a loss to the Red Bulls' playoff chances. An actual loss just removed all doubt.

Los Angeles answered an early go-ahead goal by Luke Rodgers with two of their own to eliminate the Red Bulls from the MLS Playoffs with a 2-1 win at the Home Depot Center on Thursday evening. Mike Magee and Landon Donovan provided all of the scoring for the Galaxy as the former headed home an equalizer before halftime while the latter converted a penalty kick in the 75th minute to seal the win for the Supporters Shield winners, who now prepare to kick off at home against Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference Final match on Sunday.

Luke Rodgers set the attacking tone for the Red Bulls in the 4th minute by finding himself on the receiving end of a Thierry Henry through ball and catching Galaxy center back Omar Gonzalez out of position. Rodgers trotted into the penalty area and casually pushed a right-footed shot past a diving Josh Saunders to give the Red Bulls an early 1-0 lead.

That lead didn't make it to halftime as L.A.'s hero at Red Bull Arena last Sunday, Mike Magee, connected a header in the 42nd minute from a David Beckham corner kick. That makes for two consecutive games in which Magee and Beckham provided all of the Galaxy's scoring, with both goals culminating from plays initiated by free kicks. A second-half foul by Red Bulls fullback Roy Miller sent the home side to the penalty spot, enabling Donovan to collect the game winner with a right-footed shot past Red Bulls shot stopper Frank Rost.

The loss officially ends the 2011 season for the New York Red Bulls. It also leaves them exiting the MLS Playoffs in the same round last season when the San Jose Earthquakes eliminated New York in the second leg of their playoff semifinal home-and-home series.

Play of the Game: Beckham's Bad Bounce. A David Beckham header in the 31st minute of a ball cleared by the Galaxy back line looked innocent enough. Beckham tracked the ball down and connected with it before the shorter Dane Richards could sneak in. The play moved into the Galaxy's attacking third -- but Beckham didn't.

The English midfielder struggled to get to his feet and stayed put when he did, just bending over with his hands on his head before crumpling to the ground. A Galaxy trainer escorted him off the field and provided Beckham with smelling salts before the midfielder would return to the game. It took him a while to get his bearings, but when he did, it finished with Magee putting the ball in the back of the net for an L.A. equalizer.

Whatever sent Beckham to the ground, it wasn't enough to mitigate his impact on the game. The Galaxy's chances hung in the balance, and the club's designated player did not disappoint by helping to ensure L.A. supporters would see their club play once more at home this season.

Four. That's how many shots Galaxy striker Robbie Keane attempted before halftime, which, along with his two shots on target, led all players at the break. Keane had ample opportunities to draw his side level before Magee's equalizer, but found himself frustrated in the penalty area by effective defense by Tim Ream, the goal post, and Red Bulls 'keeper Frank Rost making up for his own mistakes. His efforts ended up not hurting his club's chances, but he gets paid designated player monies to finish the chances he failed to convert on Thursday.

Feeling Foul. New York learned before the match that the MLS Disciplinary Committee extended Rafael Marquez's suspension from one match to three, which would have theoretically eliminated him from the remainder of the Red Bulls' postseason run regardless of Thursday's result.

Rather than practice restraint against a Galaxy side that's disciplined in drawing fouls, the Red Bulls went for broke. Rodgers created early tension by picking up a yellow card mere moments after scoring the match's opening goal, while a second-half yellow for Henry earned the Red Bulls team captain an automatic one-game suspension for accrued cards. Those penalties now carry over to the start of the 2012 MLS Season after Thursday's loss.

Déjà Vu. Unfortunately for the Red Bulls, the scoring script wound up one goal and one minute shy of perfectly following their initial encounter against the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center in May. Like Rodgers, Henry opened the scoring in that match in the 4th minute. Unlike Magee, Donovan answered the early Red Bulls lead with an game-tying strike in the 41st minute -- just one minute shy of Magee's 42nd-minute equalizer. That result was enough to finish off the Red Bulls, with Donovan's penalty kick merely providing the exclamation point.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at LA Galaxy

November, 3, 2011
11/03/11
10:49
AM ET


Both the Red Bulls and Galaxy have not hesitated to put down their opponents ahead of their playoff clash on Thursday, but neither side can win on words alone.

The war of a million words will end with a single match on Thursday evening as the New York Red Bulls pay a visit to the Home Depot Center to face the Los Angeles Galaxy (11 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes) in the second leg of the MLS Playoffs Western Conference Semifinal round.

L.A. claimed a 1-0 victory in the contentious first leg at Red Bull Arena on Sunday afternoon courtesy of a Mike Magee volley that caught the Red Bulls' defense on its heels. However, that early strike did nothing to assuage tempers as the match concluded with a brawl near center circle that left RBNY center back Stephen Keel on the ground while teammate Rafael Marquez and Galaxy midfielder Juninho received red cards for their roles in the melee.

Magee's finish of a David Beckham lob pass means the Red Bulls will need to score no less than two goals to advance to the Western Conference Final round. The MLS Playoffs semifinal round's two-legged, home-and-home format is decided by goals scored on aggregate, meaning the winner is the team with the most goals combined after both legs. L.A's current 1-0 lead on aggregate means a 1-0 Red Bulls lead at the end of regulation on Thursday would send the match into extra time and a possible penalty shootout, while a draw at the end of regulation would let the Galaxy advance.

Both sides know which club awaits them with a win on Thursday night, as Real Salt Lake held on to a 3-2 win on aggregate over the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday night. RSL would host the Red Bulls next Sunday with a win, while the Claret-and-Cobalt would head to Los Angeles following a Galaxy victory by nature of L.A.'s home-field advantage resulting from their Supporters' Shield win.

Halfway House. To punch their ticket to Salt Lake City, New York needs to do what no MLS club has done this season -- defeat the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center. L.A. boasts an unbeaten 12-0-5 record at home that includes an eight-game winning streak in MLS regular season play dating back to July 4.

L.A.'s home-field advantage may feel diminished due to the building's location, though. The HDC's presence on Cal State Dominguez Hill's campus involves an agreement that caps attendance at 15,000 for Galaxy weeknight games to allow parking for CSUDH students and faculty. CSUDH and the Galaxy reached an agreement to bump up that cap to 20,000 for Thursday's semifinal, but that still guarantees approximately 7,000 seats empty at first kick.

Key Matchup: Marquez's Replacement vs. Gonzalez. NY coach Hans Backe has a decision to make in replacing Rafa Marquez in the midfield, as the much-maligned midfielder's red card triggered an automatic one-game suspension for tonight's match. Red Bulls supporters may waiver in their support of Marquez following his inconsistent play on the field and provocative statements off it, but Rafa's form has trended upward since being moved into a defensive midfielder role from his earlier positioning at Tim Ream's center back partner.

Backe's decision to go with Dax McCarty, Stephane Auvray, Mehdi Ballouchy, or another plan entirely gets added emphasis when recalling why New York struggled to build pressure in the attacking third: Galaxy center back and MLS Defender of the Year candidate Omar Gonzalez. Gonzalez seemingly broke down every attack on the middle, leading all players with nine intercepted balls and 14 cleared ones on Sunday according to the Opta Chalkboards.

New York will get some help on the wings with Jan Gunnar Solli returning from suspension, but that doesn't help establish any pressure in the middle on Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza. There may be a crack in the Galaxy defense with Juninho's absence, but that crack's only as wide as the distribution lanes created by Marquez's replacement.

Temper, Temper. The war of words between New York and Los Angeles dates back to Landon Donovan's comments about Luke Rodgers following the two sides' 1-1 draw in May. Rodgers citied Donovan's constant chirping with the referees, which provoked Donovan to respond "Who is Luke Rogers?" (sic) via Twitter.

It seemingly has heated up in recent days with Todd Dunivant saying to ESPNLosAngeles that he "(doesn't) think anyone fears the Red Bulls" and Donovan describing the Red Bulls as a "disgraceful" team of "cheap shot" artists.

New York returned in kind, with Backe describing his side as "on another level" and Rodgers citing Sunday's in-game taunts of "You're in my country now" from Galaxy 'keeper Josh Saunders during a Wednesday conference call as evidence that "that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones."

The final word will come with the referee's final whistle, but it remains to be seen if either side's tough talk will tilt Thursday's result in anyone's favor -- or distract them from a favorable result.

Foul Play. Donovan made waves by describing the Red Bulls as cheap, but the question unasked is: Does he have a point?

Since there's no way to measure intangibles like a little Thierry Henry bump in the run of play or an errant Joel Lindpere elbow in the box, there's no exact way to measure.

That said, there was a differential of three fouls per 90 minutes in the Galaxy's favor at the end of the MLS regular season. L.A. finished with a +1.6 foul differential, which means they suffered an average of 1.6 fouls per game more than they committed. New York, on the other hand, finished with the second-worst foul differential at -1.7 fouls per 90 minutes, which means they commit 1.7 more fouls than they suffer per game on average.

Attacking sides tend to draw more fouls while defensive ones tend to commit them, meaning the Red Bulls will need to remain disciplined to ensure Beckham doesn't wind up with any more free kicks than he needs on Thursday night.

Sustained Stampede. Tonight's first whistle will commence New York's fourth match in 14 days and third in three different cities over the past week. Backe indicated in an earlier conference call that he intends to pick his best 11 to start regardless of rest, but he'll also need to be leery of nagging injuries that have plagued the likes of Henry, Rodgers, and Teemu Tainio among others.

The Red Bulls coach doesn't like to use all of his substitutes, which continues to leave change-of-pace players like Ballouchy and Juan Agudelo on his bench. If endurance becomes an issue for a busy Red Bulls side -- especially in a deciding match that could go to extra time or penalty kicks -- who, if anyone, will Backe call upon to provide for a late-game burst?

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 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.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls vs. LA Galaxy

October, 4, 2011
10/04/11
9:44
AM ET

The stars tonight will be big and bright deep in the heart of... Jersey?

A New York Red Bulls club in the driver's seat for a playoff berth will share the marquee at its namesake arena with the star-studded Los Angeles Galaxy side on Tuesday evening (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes). Red Bulls team captain Thierry Henry will provide a heavy dose of attacking momentum for the home side, as the French striker netted a late equalizer to salvage last Saturday's 1-1 draw at Toronto FC as well as an early goal in what concluded as a 1-1 draw on May 7 in the first leg of the regular season encounters against the Galaxy.

The Galaxy arrive at Red Bull Arena to complete the third match of a busy seven-day stretch for the best of MLS this season by points. Los Angeles brings the momentum of a three-game winning streak across all competitions to Red Bull Arena that includes a 2-1 comeback win against Real Salt Lake last Saturday in MLS regular season action as well as last Wednesday's 2-1 win over Monarcas Morelia in CONCACAF Champions League play which came about courtesy of a stoppage-time strike by Brazilian midfielder Juninho.

New York (8-7-16, 40 pts) controls its own playoff destiny and can continue to do so with a win over the Galaxy, as both the Portland Timbers (11-13-7, 40 pts) and Houston Dynamo (10-9-13, 43 pts) will remain dormant until after the international break concludes next week. The Columbus Crew (12-12-8, 44 pts) created breathing room from the Red Bulls with a Sunday win over D.C. United (9-10-11, 38 pts), though the latter team still holds a game in hand on New York that will give D.C. a leg up as the playoff races wind down.

Shielded Stars. Los Angeles only needs two points to clinch the club's second consecutive Supporters' Shield win and fourth in team history, but Galaxy coach Bruce Arena also knows he has three matches to seal the deal. Rather than pull out all the stops at the end of a short work week and prior to the international break, Arena will instead keep team-leading goal scorer Landon Donovan, Irish striker Robbie Keane, and English midfielder Chris Birchall out of the visitor's Starting XI.

Donovan will recuperate from a quad injury incurred during the past week's action, while Keane and Birchall departed early to join the Irish and Trinidadian national teams, respectively. Their absences should ease the burden on a much-maligned Red Bulls back line charged with keeping pressure on the vaunted Galaxy attack.

Key Matchup: Rafa vs. Becks. Henry's pursuit of the MLS scoring title will earn the French striker his share of the limelight on Tuesday, but it will take a superb performance to turn the gaze of soccer supporters from the midfield.

David Beckham is expected to patrol the Los Angeles midfield for what could be one of his final matches in MLS. His contract with MLS and the Galaxy is up at season's end, with only idle speculation providing any indication of the English midfielder's intentions for next season and beyond. With Donovan and Keane unavailable, Los Angeles will look to their prized designated player -- who leads the league with 15 assists -- to lob balls behind the Red Bulls back line while managing the run of play for the visitors.

New York would like to ask the same of Rafael Marquez, but the maligned Mexican defender is suddenly a player without a position for a Red Bulls side not known for its depth. His move to defensive midfielder by Red Bulls coach Hans Backe backfired last weekend, as Marquez's poor pass and poorer attempt to get back on defense contributed to a Toronto FC lead last weekend. And his days on the back line are likely over, as Backe has confirmed that Marquez will once again man the midfield against L.A. rather than line up next to his former center back partner, Tim Ream.

One hopes to justify his existence in MLS with a Cup at season's end. The other hopes to justify his existence in New York with an effective performance. Only one of them will take a big step forward with a solid performance tonight and likely at the expense of the other. So who's up for the challenge?

Doughnut Delivery. Marquez's presence in the midfield will need to support a Red Bulls attack led by Henry and Luke Rodgers against a Galaxy defense that's one clean sheet away from tying the 2000 Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting Kansas City) for the MLS single-season shutout record of 17.

Galaxy 'keeper Josh Saunders has accrued seven shutouts and 10 wins in the 16 matches since seamlessly replacing an injured Donovan Ricketts, though his job gets easier with an MVP-caliber defender in Omar Gonzalez applying the press against opposing offenses. Dane Richards and Joel Lindpere will need to step in and create chaos in the box to prevent the Galaxy from tying the record on the Red Bulls' turf.

One. That's how many goals Henry needs to tie former Red Bull and D.C. United midfielder Dwayne De Rosario atop the leaderboard in the Golden Boot pursuit.

Henry ended a 436-minute personal scoring drought with his late strike at Toronto FC last weekend, but will need to find his finishing form if he wants to be a player for the Golden Boot. The Red Bulls hope he can as well, as only Rodgers (eight) and Lindpere (seven) have more than half as many goals as the former Gunner.

Elimination Chamber. While New York can't clinch a playoff berth with a positive result against the Galaxy, they can end the playoff pursuit of two Western Conference clubs still in contention. A draw for the Red Bulls would mathematically eliminate the San Jose Earthquakes from contention, while a win would snuff out the fleeting postseason aspirations of the other L.A. side that calls the Home Depot Center home -- Chivas USA.

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.

Rafael Marquez criticizes Red Bulls back line not being on "equal level" with him

September, 22, 2011
9/22/11
10:54
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If Red Bulls supporters needed some excuses to keep Rafael Marquez in the doghouse, the Mexican center back just supplied them in spades.

Marquez drew the ire of the home fans for his recently poor form during a 3-1 shellacking by Real Salt Lake at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday, culminating in a chorus of boos with his every touch on the ball. The Red Bulls designated player might find the poor reception to be unfair, but his teammates will not like his rationale as to why.

“I think this is a team game and unfortunately there isn't an equal level between my teammates and I,’’ Marquez said to the New York Post following the match. “I’m not paying attention to that. I’m actually focusing on my game… I’m focusing on performing at my highest performance, at the highest level. That doesn’t mean the whole back line can perform at the same level, that’s the problem.’’

Although Marquez speaks English, he frequently speaks to the media in his native Spanish through an interpreter. So the chance exists that a poor translation created his poor choice of words.

That said, it was a collaborative effort by all defensive parties that put the Red Bulls down 3-0 early against RSL. Tim Ream made a monumental error to set up Fabian Espindola's first goal, but it was Marquez and Jan Gunnar Solli who failed to tighten up a pourous back line in the moments before the Argentine forward started the run that finished with RSL's third goal. Solli showed no trouble in accepting his responsibility in the club's defensive failures against the Claret-and-Cobalt.

"We know instead of blaming each other, we know in the back four we could have done differently," said Solli. "We could have cleared the ball a couple of times. Those three mistakes ruined the game for us, because in the second half we really tried to get the early goal."

Unfortunately, Marquez did not share the same sentiment following the match. And that feeling -- which started upon Marquez's return from the CONCACAF Gold Cup and grew as the Red Bulls allowed opponents to score in all but one match since April -- will only make the calls for his outster grow louder over the Red Bulls' final few matches of the 2011 season.

RBNY Recap: Dreadful defense does Red Bulls in against rolling RSL

September, 22, 2011
9/22/11
12:32
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It was over before New York ever got started.

Defensive miscues put the Red Bulls in a three-goal hole by the 21st minute to a rolling Real Salt Lake side that went on to collect a 3-1 win at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday evening. Though Alvaro Saborio opened the scoring for RSL in the 7th minute by heading home an Andy Williams corner kick, it was a Fabian Espindola brace built on bad coverage by the Red Bulls back line that left the home side far behind the second-best club by points in MLS.

A Joel Lindpere bicycle kick of a Rafael Marquez corner in the 69th minute spoiled the clean sheet for RSL 'keeper Nick Rimando on what was the Red Bulls' second of four shots on target during the match, but New York couldn't follow it up to prevent the Claret-and-Cobalt's fifth consecutive win in regular season play.

According to the MLS Playoff Standings, the Red Bulls (7-7-15, 36 pts) now sit one point behind the Portland Timbers (10-12-7, 37 pts) for the final postseason wild card berth following Portland's 1-1 draw against the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday. Despite the loss to RSL, New York's playoff hopes received some help from an old friend as a second-half brace by Chivas USA striker and former Red Bulls forward Juan Pablo Angel forced D.C. United (8-8-11, 35 pts) to settle for a 2-2 draw and a one-point gap for the final playoff spot.

The Boo Bird Migration. No Red Bulls defender is above scrutiny after Wednesday's sorry display. Even Chris Albright found himself on the pitch for two of three RSL strikes before leaving the match in the 15th minute due to a calf injury.

But the Red Bulls supporters focused their disdain on Marquez, who heard a chorus of boos with his every touch on the ball. Though Marquez picked up his play following Espindola's second goal, nothing -- not even his assist on Lindpere's goal -- had any effect on the fans' appraisals of him.

According to the MLS Players Union, Marquez is due to receive $4.6 million this year in compensation. RSL's starting back line of Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Robbie Russell, and Chris Schuler are to make just over $510,000 in combined compensation. When the face of your back line is making nine times what the best defense in MLS will take home in pay and can't back it up with his play, it will make that player the lightning rod for any troubles perceived by fans. It's unclear if Marquez could ever climb out of those lofty expectations -- or, as ESPN's Jeff Carlisle wonders, if New York should even let him try anymore.

Play of the Game: Ream's Inadvertent Assist. When a Saborio header put the Red Bulls behind on the score sheet early, it didn't hint at the troubles to follow. On the one hand, Teemu Tainio's adequate marking of the RSL forward just came up one step short as Saborio beat him by a step to connect with Williams's free kick. On the other hand, 15 draws this season can attest to New York's penchant for leveling any score in short order.

Then Tim Ream's youth reared its ugly head. Jan Gunnar Solli snuck out of RSL pressure by crossing a ball to Ream near New York's own penalty spot. However, Ream failed to cleanly receive Solli's pass as he felt pressure from a rushing Espindola. Rather than clear the ball, Ream effectively lined up Espindola's shot in the 11th minute as he tapped the ball forward to no one in particular. Espindola recovered the loose ball and beat a helpless Frank Rost to collect RSL's second goal of the night.

It wasn't so much the 2-0 deficit itself that made the game suddenly appear insurmountable as it was the back line's role in the collapse. In addition to Ream's gaffe, Espindola timed his run perfectly just ten minutes later to catch Solli and Marquez on their heels and flick a Collen Warner through ball past Rost for goal number three. And although the Red Bulls defense limited RSL to a meager six attempts on goal, it's of no comfort as half of those attempts found the back of the net.

"Unfortunately, two terrible individual mistakes changed the game," said Red Bulls coach Hans Backe. "I don’t think we played poor or anything, but it’s frustrating with that kind of individual mistake. It kills the first half definitely, and the game."

Dulled Edge. RSL's surgical precision with their strikes helped them control the run of play for the majority of Wednesday's match, but it wasn't for lack of effort on New York's part. The Red Bulls accrued double the attempts on goal, triple the number of corner kicks, and took as many shots on target as RSL took all night. They merely failed to finish any of those chances until Lindpere's volley put a crooked number in the home side's score column.

67 Minutes. That's how long it took the Red Bulls to register a shot on target. You can point to the four shots taken by Luke Rodgers and Thierry Henry that missed the mark, but it's unfair to fault them for a midfield that, except for Dane Richards, was invisible for large portions of the match. Lindpere followed up the first shot moments later with the Red Bulls first goal and Juan Agudelo almost finished a nice header in stoppage time before being stopped by Rimando, but it was all too little too late for German shot stopper Frank Rost.

"It’s difficult to answer right now after the match," said Rost. "We woke up too late. Only one half is not enough for the MLS. You have to play 90 minutes, not 45."

Two. That's the minimum number of wins New York will need to collect over their final five matches to reach Backe's declaration of needing 45 points to reach the playoffs. Backe's club can still reach that total with three wins or by collecting two wins and three ties, though neither possibility feels likely considering the club's recent form.

"We need to pick up wins, that’s for sure," said Backe. "Probably three or four wins out of five to make the playoffs."

New York will need to shake off this loss and prepare for a match ripe with playoff implications this Saturday against a Portland Timbers side hoping to reclaim a tiebreaker over the Red Bulls this weekend. First kick is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls vs. Real Salt Lake

September, 21, 2011
9/21/11
9:21
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Things are about to get Real for a Red Bulls side bearing renewed postseason aspirations.

New York returns home on Wednesday to kick off at Red Bull Arena against red-hot Real Salt Lake. A go-ahead goal by Luke Rodgers and Frank Rost's clean sheet helped the Red Bulls restore a modicum of respect with a 1-0 win over FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park on Saturday, but New York is still smarting from a comprehensive 3-0 loss to Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium on August 6 that reversed the goodwill of an Emirates Cup win in late July.

Real Salt Lake is rolling in recent weeks as a four-game winning streak has the Claret-and-Cobalt on the periphery of the Supporters' Shield race. Nat Borchers headed home a Kyle Beckerman free kick to convert the goal needed by RSL in a 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City at Livestrong Sporting Park last Saturday. RSL has scored six goals in that four-game regular season stretch, with Beckerman and Alvaro Saborio playing prominent roles in establishing the club's winning ways.

A win would help boost the Red Bulls (7-6-15, 36 pts) further into the playoff picture as they prepare for their final six matches of the regular season. D.C. United (8-8-10, 34 pts) and the Portland Timbers (10-12-6, 36 pts) are two MLS clubs in action Wednesday that hope to lay claim on the final wild card berth in New York's possession. Meanwhile, the third-place Philadelphia Union (9-7-12, 39 pts) and fourth-place Houston Dynamo (9-9-12, 39 pts) remain idle in the chase for the Eastern Conference's final automatic playoff berth.

Can't Find a Beckerman. If RSL coach Jason Kreis hopes for a repeat performance of his club's thrashing of the Red Bulls in August, he'll need to do so without the services of his team captain. Kyle Beckerman will watch Wednesday's match from the sidelines as he serves a one-game suspension for his accumulated yellow card total.

Kreis could turn to the newly-acquired Yordany Álvarez or Jean Alexandre as well as pull Will Johnson or Ned Grabavoy back into Beckerman's holding midfield role, but none of them can be expected to replicate the contributions of RSL's dynamic playmaker.

Beckerman may need the rest after appearing in all of the club's 26 regualr season matches this season in addition to CONCACAF Champions League and U.S. Men's National Team commitments, but he also has one goal and two assist in the club's recent winning streak and also assisted on two of RSL's three goals scored against the Red Bulls in August. You don't just replace that production with anyone.

Key Matchup: Tainio vs. the Diamond. Kreis will undoubtedly call upon his vaunted diamond 4-4-2 formation at the outset of Wednesday's match to establish RSL's possession prowess and dictate a pace that passed the Red Bulls into submission in August. Once Kreis decides on how to replace Beckerman, he'll work quick to implement the game plan of providing service to Saborio, Fabian Espindola, or Luis Gil up top.

As Steve Davis points out over at MLSsoccer.com, Red Bulls holding midfielder Teemu Tainio dropped back a bit more than usual to support a patchwork back line that appeared porous in recent weeks. It worked well as New York withstood an FC Dallas side that generated three times as many attempts on goal as the Red Bulls but only completed three shots on target. Even if Tainio refrained from his usual linking role to provide support to the young center back tandem of Tim Ream and Stephen Keel, it helped subdue FCD's constant control of the run of play.

Why wouldn't Red Bulls coach Hans Backe try it again? RSL proved its passing prowess and finishing touch in the first leg of the regular season encounters, but Tainio missed that match due to flu-like symptoms. He can't help the Red Bulls forwards get behind one of the best back lines in MLS, but his presence can keep the Red Bulls on the defensive in the best sense of the word.

Comeback Kids. Except for an injury to Roy Miller that will keep the Costa Rican fullback on the sidelines, Backe will have a as close to a full roster as he's had in some time for Wednesday's match.

Rafael Marquez and Jan Gunnar Solli will return to action after serving one-game suspensions, while Thierry Henry is expected to be available after tending to an Achilles tendon injury that kept the French striker off the pitch against FC Dallas. Toss in successful encores for Rodgers as well as Rost and Backe has more answers than questions on his depth chart for a change.

New York won't be the only club getting good news from the medical staff, though. Argentine playmaker Javier Morales, who hasn't appeared in a regular season match for RSL since breaking his ankle in May, and RSL left back and Babylon, NY native Chris Wingert will travel with the Claret-and-Cobalt and may be available to Kreis in at least a substitute capacity.

Rost Redux? Rost earned due praise for his strong outing against FC Dallas, but lost in the hysteria is that last Saturday's match was his first since a poor showing against Real Salt Lake in August that ultimately came about due to the German shot stopper's right quadriceps tear.

He should be in better form for Wednesday's rematch, but the Red Bulls have four matches scheduled in the next 15 days. Backe may not let his third designated player mind the net for every minute of that stretch if he has any lingering concerns about Rost's recovery, which could open the door to a Bouna Coundoul spot start or substitution at a moment's notice. That likely won't come on Wednesday, but it could come more sooner than later.

Seven Up. While their ugly 1-0 win over FC Dallas is a win nonetheless, it remains to be seen what New York can do for an encore. Since April 30, the Red Bulls have averaged only one win in every seven regular season matches. Considering that New York only has six matches left on their 2011 schedule, they can't let that trend or anything close to it continue.

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

September, 18, 2011
9/18/11
11:05
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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 vs. Chicago Fire

August, 13, 2011
8/13/11
11:30
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Is home where the heart is for the New York Red Bulls?

21 days, three matches, one MLS All-Star Game, and one trade with a conference rival later, the Red Bulls finally return home to Red Bull Arena on Saturday for a conference clash with the Chicago Fire. A second-half goal by Guatemalan midfielder Marco Pappa helped Chicago save a draw in the first leg of their regular season encounters on June 25, while the Fire took offense to New York's decision to effectively punt their US Open Cup quarterfinal match at Toyota Park away by decimating the shorthanded side of baby Bulls with a 4-0 win on July 12.

New York looks to claim their first victory in over a month after a discouraging 3-0 loss at Real Salt Lake last weekend deflated the club's spirits following their Emirates Cup win. RSL captain Kyle Beckerman fueled the Claret-and-Cobalt attack against a Red Bulls side that failed to recover from its own mistakes and lost not just the game but also starting goalkeeper Frank Rost and Norwegian winger Jan Gunnar Solli to injury.

Chicago continues to reestablish a club identity that once haunted all Eastern Conference clubs by fostering its speedy attack led by Pappa, Dominic Oduro, and Diego Chaves. The Fire arrive at Red Bull Arena still plagued by its season-long inconsistency, most recently following a 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union with a 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps last week.

Sporting Kansas City (7-7-9, 30 pts) remains tied with Red Bulls (6-6-12, 30 pts) for third place, while four points separate the two clubs from the conference-leading Columbus Crew (9-7-7, 34 pts). The second-place Union (8-5-9, 33 pts), who announced the signing of the American phenom Freddy Adu on Friday, also stand between the Red Bulls and first place.

The New Guy. New York announced on Friday that it acquired Guadeloupean defensive midfielder Stéphane Auvray in a trade with conference rival Sporting Kansas City. Sporting KC received New York’s natural 2013 second round MLS SuperDraft pick as compensation.

Auvray held down the defensive midfield role for Sporting KC (then the Kansas City Wizards) in 2010 until a nagging knee injury appeared to weaken his form down the stretch. Still in the club's plans for 2011, he failed to regain that 2010 form and saw his playing time dwindle until he departed to captain the Guadaloupe side in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in June. His playing time did not return after the Gold Cup, leaving the discontent midfielder sitting out from practices until Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes found him a new home.

Now, Auvray arrives at Red Bull Arena to a club still grasping at playoff straws and with an opening in the midfield necessitated by the nagging injuries and illness plaguing Teemu Tainio and the ineffectiveness of Dax McCarty. What will he contribute to the playoff chase?

Key Matchup: Dane Richards vs. Chicago's Back Line. The trio of Thierry Henry, Joel Lindpere, and Juan Agudelo remain the only active Red Bulls to net a goal in regular season play since June. Agudelo mustered New York's only shot on goal against Real Salt Lake last weekend, creating further questions about where to look for a much-needed offensive outburst.

That's where Dane Richards comes in. The Jamaican midfielder missed last Saturday's match while serving a one-game suspension for a red card and left New York lacking pace on the right flank that Richards consistently delivers -- especially after Solli left the game due to injury.

Richards now returns to a Red Bulls attack that will look to exploit the absence of Chicago defender Cory Gibbs, who will miss Saturday's match with a groin injury. New York knows what to expect from Henry, Lindpere, and Agudelo, but what it gets from the return of Richards may be the catalyst for the Red Bulls' stagnant offense.

Bouna Time is the Right Time. With Rost missing action on a week-to-week basis due to a right quadriceps tear, Bouna Coundoul is expected to get his first MLS start since collecting consecutive draws against the Fire on June 26 and San Jose Earthquakes on July 2. Coundoul also started for the baby Bulls squad in the US Open Cup quarterfinal match against the Fire.

Coundoul's familiarity with facing the Fire this season may ease the loss of Rost to a Red Bulls squad that went all-in on their third designated player. Coundoul just needs to show his resiliency from jet lag after making a round trip to Dakar this week for international duty as well as shaking off any disappointment from his role in his native Senegal's 2-0 upset loss to Morocco on Wednesday.

Second to None. Chicago has scored the second-fewest number of goals of any MLS club with 24, just one more than the league-worst 23 goals by New England. That comes despite taking the third-most shots (315) and fifth-most shots on goal (106), indicating a trouble for the Fire of being able to hit 'em where they ain't -- but at the goalmouth.

For a Fire side built on speed, it remains susceptible to having their attack broken up by traffic -- giving newcomer Auvray and McCarty along with the Red Bulls back line an added incentive to pick up their own pace and take a few balls away from the visitors.

Three to Tango. While much has been made of the Red Bulls troubles of late, they can still boast a healthy 5-2-4 record at home. New York's last three wins all came at home, though one must go all the way back to an April 30 win over Sporting Kansas City to complete that trifecta.

RBNY Notes: Reeling Red Bulls seek "right mentality" to regain form

August, 10, 2011
8/10/11
12:52
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Can a change in scenery change the Red Bulls' recent mindset?

Following a demoralizing 3-0 loss at Real Salt Lake last weekend, the Red Bulls likely needed to hear the cheers of the hundreds of loyal supporters in attendance during Tuesday's open practice at Chelsea Waterside Park in Manhattan. The club has not had much to cheer about after losing three of their last five matches in league play while lacking a victory over a playoff-caliber opponent since an April 30 win over Sporting Kansas City.

The perfect storm of injuries, roster shuffling, and a non-existent killer instinct plaguing New York in recent weeks might not go away with a training drill or tactical change, but Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty believes the impending sense of doom following the club might be all in their heads.

"It’s all mental," said McCarty. "The one thing you have to bring in every single game is the right mentality, the right heart, and the will to fight for your teammates. Sometimes, we kind of assume that we’re so talented that we’ll just win games based on talent alone -- and that’s not the case. It’s a very hard league. It’s a very demanding league. If we don’t bring the right mentality to start games, we’re going to get punished."

McCarty's recent form is merely a symptom of a punished club with great expectations and troubling results to date. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe pulled an ineffective McCarty for a substitute in the club's last two losses against RSL and the Colorado Rapids, but those changes were well after the end result was no longer in doubt.

Fellow Red Bulls midfielder Dane Richards, who missed last Saturday's match at Rio Tinto Stadium while serving a one-game suspension for a red card, hopes that a boost in morale will come from the Red Bulls regaining their form in a familiar atmosphere.

"(We're) pretty down because we’ve been terrible for the last couple of games," said Richards. "We know we can do better, so it’s just a matter to go out and do better. Mentally, I think we’re OK but we just need to get back our legs from the long West Coast traveling and just try to get three points at home."

Whereas New York has collected only one win in 13 games away from Red Bull Arena, they have found better results with a home-field advantage. They boast a 5-2-4 record at home this season including wins in two of their past three home games, even if those wins came at the expense of the lowly sides of Toronto FC and the New England Revolution.

With a home-cooked rematch against the Eastern Conference cellar-dwelling Chicago Fire on tap this weekend, the time would appear ripe for the Red Bulls to get back where they fell off the track. They just need to reset their expectations and be realistic about the club's capabilities for the stretch run.

"We have 10 games left," said McCarty. "We’re still in a decent position to make the playoffs. Obviously, the Supporters’ Shield is out of reach, so the focus for us is to make the playoffs because we know we’re a good team. We know we’re a dangerous team. When you’re in the playoffs, it’s a new season and we know we can win MLS Cup."

Feeling the Hurt. As Backe prepares to face the Fire this weekend, he does so while once again training with a depleted roster.

Red Bulls 'keeper Frank Rost will miss Saturday's match after sustaining a right quadriceps tear against Real Salt Lake last weekend, with the German shot stopper's status to be further evaluated on a week-to-week basis. Rost's replacement, Bouna Coundoul, is away from the club on international duty along with Juan Agudelo, Tim Ream, and Rafael Marquez. Jan Gunnar Solli also remains questionable for Saturday's match with a right quadriceps strain.

"It feels this season that something happens almost every day," said Backe. "Before the game, Roy Miller got his knee. Game day, Teemu Tainio got sick. And now, I’ve got Frank Rost injured in the first half. We even picked up Solli’s injury against Salt Lake and he’s probably out. But hopefully, from the beginning of next week after the Chicago game, we have everybody back in training."

41. According to MLSsoccer.com's Extra Time Radio podcast from last Monday, that's how many scoring chances Joel Lindpere has created for the Red Bulls offense this season. That total is good enough for fourth-best in the league, behind Houston's Brad Davis (73 scoring chances created), L.A.'s David Beckham (49), and Seattle's Mauro Rosales (42).

RBNY Recap: Beckerman helps RSL regain form in 3-0 win over Red Bulls

August, 7, 2011
8/07/11
12:30
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Either winning the Emirates Cup is easy or winning against an MLS opponent is really hard.

Kyle Beckerman helped his struggling club regain their finishing touch as Real Salt Lake collected a 2-0 victor over the New York Red Bulls at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday. After sneaking past the Red Bulls defense, Nat Borchers connected with a Beckermann corner kick and bounced a header inside the net in the 13th minute to give Real Salt Lake an early lead.

The RSL captain then set up 17-year-old Luis Gil's first career goal in MLS in the 44th minute by intercepting a Rafael Marquez clearance on the left flank and sending a quick through ball to Gil, who calmy directed a bouncing shot inside the far post to put the home side up by two before halftime.

A Roy Miller handball in the penalty area resulted in RSL's backbreaker goal as Alvaro Saborio fired the resulting penalty shot towards the bottom right corner of the net in the 77th minute.

New York (6-6-12, 30 pts) failed to create distance against a surging Sporting Kansas City (7-7-9, 30 pts) side that lost on Saturday and gain ground following a Friday loss by the first-place Columbus Crew (9-7-7, 34 pts)and a Saturday draw by the Philadelphia Union (8-5-9, 33 pts).

Triple Threat. No player besides Thierry Henry, Juan Agudelo, and Joel Lindpere has scored a goal for the Red Bulls since Luke Rodgers found the back of the net against Toronto FC on July 6.

With Dane Richards missing Saturday's match due to suspension and Dwayne De Rosario and Austin da Luz now plying their trade for D.C. United, no player besides the Henry-Lindpere-Agudelo trio that was eligible to play on Saturday has scored a goal in MLS regular season play since Mehdi Ballouchy struck early against the Columbus Crew on June 9.

John Rooney, who entered Saturday's match in the 69th minute to replace an injured Jan Gunnar Solli, and Corey Hertzog were on the Red Bulls bench and scored against FC New York in the US Open Cup match on June 28.

Play of the Game: Gil's Goal. Real Salt Lake ultimately claimed their victory by controlling the run of play and disrupting any attempts by the Red Bulls to come to life.

And that describes how Gil's goal came to be, as Marquez looked to clear a Miller throw-in only to have Beckerman meet the ball on its downward trajectory and run unobstructed towards the net before pushing the ball up to Gil. It was a quick counterattack that caught the Red Bulls on their heels, but the lethargy shown by the Red Bulls plagued them all night and left the supporters wondering whether the club was suffering from jet lag from its recent London trip.

Rusty Rost. After conceding two goals in the first half, Red Bulls 'keeper Frank Rost saw his night end at halftime as Hans Backe handed the shot stopper duties to Bouna Coundoul. Backe admitted in comments on the MSG Postgame show that it's too early to determine a pronosis for the injuries sustained by Rost and Solli, but only the German 'keeper started the match with questions about his health after enduring an injury on the flight back from London. Teemu Tainio was also unavailable to play despite making the trip to Sandy, Utah with what the club described as "flu-like symptoms."

Keep Away. Much is made about Real Salt Lake's prolific possession game on offense, but it was ultimately their ability to recover loose balls from the poor form of the Red Bulls that fueled the offensive onslaught.

RSL recovered 55 balls from the Red Bulls on Saturday according to the Opta Chalkboards, which is more than double than the 27 balls recoved by New York. No RSL defender or midfielder recovered less than three balls from the Red Bulls, while no Red Bulls defender or midfielder other than Ballouchy recovered more than three from the home side.

If you want the ball, you have to go get it. Real Salt Lake most definitely did, while the Red Bulls failed to keep up on Saturday.

Don't Come Around Here No More. Real Salt Lake's Rio Tinto Stadium has served as a house of horrors for soccer clubs great and small, culminating in a 37-match unbeaten streak that was ended by Mexican side Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League finale in April.

However, New York's recent futility at Rio Tinto remains intact as Real Salt Lake maintains a 2-0-1 record in regular season play against the Red Bulls since the two sides battled to a 1-1 draw in the first match of the building's history on October 9, 2008. The Red Bulls did collect a 1-0 win over the Claret-and-Cobalt in the 2008 MLS Western Conference finals to clinch a spot in that year's MLS Cup match.

After failing for the 11th time this season to collect a win outside the Eastern time zone against an MLS opponent, the Red Bulls will look to extract revenge at Red Bull Arena next Saturday against a Chicago Fire club that collected a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their MLS regular season matches on June 26 and a 4-0 victory in the US Open Cup quarterfinals on July 12. First kick is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at Real Salt Lake

August, 6, 2011
8/06/11
12:16
PM ET
New York has not played a match that's meaningful to their postseason chances in two weeks.

But try saying that in front of the newest addition to their trophy case.

The New York Red Bulls carry the goodwill of their recent Emirates Cup win to Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah on Saturday as they kick off against a struggling Real Salt Lake side. New York overcame the goosebumps generated by Thierry Henry's homecoming match at the home of his former English Premier League side Arsenal F.C. to establish a fine defensive form against the Gunners a mere 24 hours after Joel Lindpere scored the game-winning goal for an unlikely 1-0 win over Ligue 1 side Paris Saint-Germain.

Real Salt Lake returns home with spirits low from conceding two shutout losses in the past week. The CONCACAF Champions League runners-up dropped identical 2-0 results against the Columbus Crew at home last Saturday and at Sporting Kansas City this past Wednesday, with absences of Álvaro Saborío and Jamison Olave providing only a small part of RSL's recently poor form.

Thanks to the futility of the Claret-and-Cobalt and New York's inactivity over the past two weeks, the Red Bulls (6-5-12, 30 pts) now find themselves tied for third place of the Eastern Conference with a surging Sporting Kansas City (7-6-9, 30 pts) side and four points behind the newly-minuted first-place Columbus Crew (9-7-7, 34 pts). The Philadelphia Union (8-5-8, 32 pts) sit two points in front of New York in second place and with two games in hand on both the Crew and Red Bulls.

187. That how many minutes it has been since a typically-potent Real Salt Lake side has found the back of the net. RSL striker Fabian Espindola leads the club with six goals this season but has not scored July 9, while Saborio collected a double against the San Jose Earthquakes before the All-Star Break but was suspended one match for diving against the Quakes.

Key Matchup: Thierry Henry vs. Olave's Replacement. Surely, Red Bulls coach Hans Backe did nothing malicious in his MLS All-Star coaching duties when he oversaw a knee injury to the RSL center back in the star-studded showcase.

The reigning MLS Defender of the Year will miss his third match since the MLS All-Star Game with the same MCL strain, leaving a gap in the RSL back line for the Red Bulls attack to exploit. Olave's replacement, Chris Schuler, has looked lost at times against the Crew and Sporting KC, fueling speculation that RSL coach Jason Kreis may call upon Rauwshan McKenzie to take a shot at filling Olave's shoes alongside defensive stalwart Nat Borchers.

Olave's absence leaves a gap in a back line that Henry and company will try to get behind when they can wrestle possession from a typically-disciplined RSL side led by team captain Kyle Beckerman. The Red Bulls may find their most effective offensive output coming from pressing right up the middle against the home team on their own turf.

Missing in Action. Backe revealed earlier this week that Luke Rodgers is expected to miss up to three weeks of games before a final determination is made on whether an ankle injury will shut the English forward down for the rest of the season. That may raise the expectations for Juan Agudelo, who will benefit most from Rodgers's absence from a playing-time standpoint.

New York will also miss midfielder Dane Richards as he served a one-game suspension for a red card he received against FC Dallas, but expect that a quadricep cramp injury sustained by German 'keeper Frank Rost on the flight back from London on Monday will not keep their shot stopper from missing Saturday's match.

Conquer the World. On Thursday, the Red Bulls learned that they will lose Agudelo along with defenders Tim Ream and Rafael Marquez as well as goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul to international duty following Saturday's match. The foursome are expected back in time for the Red Bulls match at home against the Chicago Fire next weekend, meaning they will only miss out on practice time rather than in-game action.

Travel Travails. New York did collect a win and a draw overseas last weekend, but those results do nothing to better the club's 0-2-8 record in away matches outside their own time zone. Mercifully, the Red Bulls have six home games to four away after Saturday's contest that includes three of their next four matches at home. A win against Real Salt Lake would help the Red Bulls open the second half on the right foot and return home in much better spirits for the stretch run.

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