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 MLSsoccer.com 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.