New York Soccer: Stephane Auvray

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.”

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?

Rapid Reaction: Red Bulls 2, FC Dallas 0

October, 26, 2011
10/26/11
11:11
PM ET
A second-half strike by Joel Lindpere helped a shorthanded Red Bulls side rise to the semifinal round of the 2011 MLS Playoffs following a 2-0 win over FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park on Wednesday evening.

Lindpere threaded the FCD back line near the penalty spot and converted a Mehdi Ballouchy cross in the 61st minute to net the game winner and lift the Red Bulls out of the Wild Card round and into a home-and-home series against the Supporters Shield winner, the Los Angeles Galaxy. Thierry Henry provided an insurance goal in stoppage time by tapping in a rebound from his own shot off FCD 'keeper Kevin Hartman in the 98th minute to seal the win for the visiting side.

Lindpere's goal also came about despite a shaky effort from a Red Bulls attacking corps that only controlled the run of play in fits and starts. New York registered six shots on target from 13 attempts against a relentless home side, with a Henry shot before halftime that sailed over the top crossbar representing the Red Bulls' best scoring chance preceding Lindpere's goal.

However, FC Dallas once again struggled to turn their many chances created into pressure on Red Bulls 'keeper Frank Rost. FCD created seven shots on target from 23 attempts with midfielders Brek Shea and Martin Chavez leading the way with three and five attempts respectively but only one shot on target between them. That duo fell behind FCD defender Jackson, who led the way with four of the club's seven shots on target and firing away from inside and outside the penalty area.

Play of the Game: Solli Sees Red. New York held on for the win, but they needed to do it a man down for the final 10 minutes courtesy of a red card awarded to right fullback Jan Gunnar Solli.

With Colombian defender Jair Benitez obstructing his run, Solli conceded a ball to FCD midfielder Daniel Cruz near the center circle in the 79th minute. In an attempt to make up for his own miscue, the Norwegian fullback immediately sprinted and dived from behind into Daniel Hernandez. Solli's slide brought Hernandez to the ground and brought the red card out of referee Ricardo Salazar's pocket.

It didn't affect the final result, but it left New York in danger of blowing the lead in the game's final moments just as they have so many times in their league-tying 16 draws during the 2011 regular season. It also triggers an automatic one-game suspension for Solli, who will now miss the first leg of the home-and-home series against the Galaxy and leave Red Bulls coach Hans Backe searching for his replacement on short notice.

Zero. That's how many goals Frank Rost allowed in collecting his first MLS postseason clean sheet and his sixth shutout of the season. Rost also earned his first career clean sheet in MLS play in the Red Bulls' 1-0 win at FC Dallas on September 17.

Free Falling. FC Dallas hoped to repeat the run that left them as the MLS Cup runners-up in 2010, but failed to find the form that kept them near the top of the table in the early goings of the 2011 regular season. FCD coach Schellas Hyndman saw his side sink to a 2-8 finish in all competition since losing to the Red Bulls in September.

Five for Fighting. Backe couldn't do much to counter having to play the final minutes of Wednesday's match with 10 men, but he did not leave himself with many options on his own bench. The Red Bulls coach picked five players -- Ballouchy, Juan Agudelo, Stephane Auvray, Carlos Mendes, and reserve 'keeper Bouna Coundoul -- to ride the pine in Dallas and see their teammates advance to victory.

Backe indicated to MLSsoccer.com's Jason Saghini before the match that he may intend to put fresh legs on the field in next weekend's match against the Galaxy. But how many of them would come from the Red Bulls reserves that didn't make the trip to Dallas?

As the lowest living seed in the MLS Playoffs, New York's playoff path will run through Red Bull Arena next Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes) but against a star-studded Los Angeles Galaxy side that will be a lot healthier than the club's prior visit to Harrison earlier this month.

Rapid Reax: Sporting KC 2, Red Bulls 0

October, 15, 2011
10/15/11
5:59
PM ET
A quick temper may make a fool of Thierry Henry if New York fails to make the MLS Playoffs.

Henry's 28th-minute red card for a retaliatory hit on midfielder Roger Espinoza near the center circle left the Red Bulls short-handed for more than an hour in a 2-0 loss against Sporting Kansas City at Livestrong Sporting Park on Saturday afternoon.

The ejection also means the Red Bulls will head into their season finale match with their playoff lives at stake and without their team captain, who now must serve an automatic one-game suspension for his red card.

Despite creating ample scoring chances before and after Henry's exit, Sporting KC did not break through until phenom forward Teal Bunbury finally finished a Julio Cesar pass in the 57th minute to put the home side up for good. Second-half substitute C.J. Sapong added the insurance goal in the 74th minute by connecting a volley at the six-yard box past a helpless Frank Rost to remove any doubt about the match's ultimate result -- and despite entering the match only 40 seconds earlier.

Saturday's draw blows the MLS playoff race wide open as it gives both D.C. United (9-11-11, 38 pts) and the Portland Timbers (11-14-7, 40 points) a clearer postseason path at the expense of the Red Bulls (9-8-16, 43 points). D.C. plays Saturday night against a Chicago Fire side with no meaningful games left to play this season before kicking off against Portland next Wednesday. New York remains in control of its playoff tiebreakers, but now needs D.C. United to concede a loss or draw to re-establish its grip on a suddenly fleeting wild-card berth.

Play of the Game: Henry's Red Card. After quelling an early burst by the Sporting KC attack, the Red Bulls imposed their "cynical soccer" routine into a match that quickly devolved into a war of attrition.

And then the game experienced its first casualty. Referee Kevin Stott showed Henry a straight red card in the 28th minute for what was described as "violent conduct" -- but was actually Henry putting his knee into Espinoza's back mere moments after Espinoza intercepted Henry's run and despite Henry having ample opportunity to avoid it. That left the Red Bulls short-handed for more than an hour on Saturday afternoon in a match where they controlled their own destiny.

Barring a reversal by the MLS Disciplinary Committee, the red card means Henry will miss next Thursday's finale against Philadelphia that New York now needs to win if D.C. gets hot and his pursuit of the Golden Boot likely comes to an end if either D.C. United midfielder Dwayne De Rosario or San Jose Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski net one goal in their remaining games. Any lingering sentiments about awarding Henry with the league MVP award also just went out the window.

Hans Backe has said all season that Henry's backup, Juan Agudelo, isn't ready for the spotlight. Well, the teenage phenom better get ready and quick for the Red Bulls to have any shot at sealing their playoff fate.

Feeling Cornered. Harkening back to an early-season concern about set pieces, both Sporting Kansas City goals started from corner kicks and finished with a KC attacker striking a ball in a penalty-box scrum. New York actually received more corner kicks (six) than Sporting KC (five), but the latter clearly made the most of their chances to capitalize on their one-man advantage.

Chance After Chance. It's tough to win a soccer match if you don't score, but that was the trouble facing the Red Bulls before and after they lost their team captain. Bunbury and fellow KC forward Omar Bravo led the attacking efforts for the home side with 23 chances created and seven shots on goal, while the Red Bulls managed to muster only six attempts total that resulted in one clear Dane Richards shot on target that KC 'keeper Jimmy Nielsen punched skyward and a Joel Lindpere shot in the second half.

Dax Not There. One Red Bull that didn't make the trip to Kansas City was Dax McCarty. According to the MSG broadcast, the Red Bulls suspended their feisty defensive midfielder for one match due to what was only described as an "internal team matter" by a team spokesperson. He will be available for selection in the regular season finale against Philadelphia.

As Red Bulls coach Hans Backe continues to keep Rafael Marquez in the midfield, McCarty's playing time in recent weeks has suffered as a result. That likely would have continued on Saturday, though McCarty has seen playing time as a substitute off the bench and has curried more favor with Backe recently as opposed to Guadeloupan midfielder and former Sporting KCer Stephane Auvray (who did make the trip).

New York now returns home to sit and wait to see if they get help in short-circuiting D.C. United's playoff push before kicking off against the Philadelphia Union at home next Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RBNY Recap: Backe buys Red Bulls' playoff chances after 2-2 draw vs. Fire

August, 14, 2011
8/14/11
11:40
AM ET
The New York Red Bulls settled for their 13th draw this season against the lowly Chicago Fire in a 2-2 result at Red Bull Arena on Saturday. The draw had the benefit of preventing the Red Bulls from claiming the highest number of ties in league play this season as the Fire also claimed their league-leading 14th draw after the final whistle blew.

Thierry Henry and Joel Lindpere bookended Saturday's score sheet with tallies for the Red Bulls. Henry opened scoring in the 9th minute with his league-leading 12th goal of the season by picking up a Dane Richards pass at the arc and sending a low curler inside the right post. Lindpere answered two first-half Fire strikes in the 63rd minute by volleying a Richards cross inside the left post for the equalizer and the Estonian's 6th goal of the season.

Unfortunately, those two Fire goals left New York settling for the equalizer rather than cementing a much-needed win. Patrick Nyarko broke though the Red Bulls back line and directed a low cross to Dominic Oduro, who deflect a shot off NY 'keeper Chris Konopka's left hand in the 16th minute to answer Henry's early goal. Sebastian Grazzini followed just eight minutes later by bouncing a rebound off Konopka's hand inside the net for his first career MLS goal.

Saturday's draw helped the Red Bulls (6-6-13, 31 pts) wrestle sole possession of third place from an idle Sporting Kansas City (7-7-9, 30 pts) and keep pace with a second-place Philadelphia Union (8-5-10, 34 pts) club that also finished with a 2-2 draw. However, the Columbus Crew (10-7-7, 37 pts) boosted their first-place lead in the Eastern Conference with a win over the New England Revolution on Saturday.

Fingers Crossed. The likes of Mark Messier and Joe Namath became deities in New York sports by delivering on their public guarantees. In his postgame comments, Red Bulls coach Hans Backe decided to lay down his own guarantee about his club's chances at postseason success despite leaving without the club's first win in a month.

"As it looked today, definitely yes," said Backe. "Absolutely this is a playoff team. And if we reach the playoffs, I am absolutely sure we will be very dangerous."

Play of the Game: Oduro's Goal. Oduro's goal was fairly simple in its execution, but revealed a greater flaw that ultimately held back the Red Bulls on Saturday.

Oduro's goal does not happen with effective pressure from the Red Bulls back line. Tim Ream and Roy Miller failed to execute an offside trap on the Ghanaian striker, leaving him with nothing but Konopka in his path to the net. When Guatemalan midfielder Marco Pappa chipped a ball behind the Red Bulls back line, Nyarko only had to receive it and cross it to the wide-open Oduro for the goal. Miller and Ream did the same thing by letting Nyarko break through on the rush preceding the second goal, though Grazzini did the dirty work himself.

"It’s a mentality," said Ream. "In the beginning of the year, we came in with a mentality of no goals, and just staying compact defensively. As the year’s progressed we kind of got away from it a little bit. We’re working on it every day and trying to get back to that."

The mentality of the Red Bulls back line has taken a beating with its failed pressures and broken traps in recent weeks, but the faults may reflect a failure in the big picture. The back line is regressing this year, and that deficiency should fall at the feet of the coach in charge of developing the club's defensive efforts.

Shot Stopper Squabble. With Bouna Coundoul arriving too late on Friday from his international duty with Senegal to comfortably start against the Fire, Backe elected to assign the netminder duties to an MLS Pool player in Konopka. He did so despite having a reserve 'keeper on his roster in Alex Horwath, who was available to play and previously kept a clean sheet in a scoreless draw against the Columbus Crew in March -- just one day after he signed with the club.

"Konopka had been outstanding this week," said Backe. "He has looked very, very sharp. That is why we chose him before Alex Horwath."

Konopka did for the most part on Saturday, except for the two balls that bounced off his hands and found their way into the net moments later. However, Konopka's start may have left Backe's other option hinting at how it feels when one feels the NY coach's cold shoulder.

"Keeping that head held high," tweeted Horwath after the match. Two days earlier, the reserve shot stopper hinted at needing a boost of confidence, tweeting "Really really really need to get away."

Swap Shop. Guadeloupean defensive midfielder Stéphane Auvray made his Red Bulls debut in the 60th minute by replacing Mehdi Ballouchy. But before you go thinking Backe made a strategic substitution by bringing in his new player with a defensive mindset at a critical juncture, he also substituted in Juan Agudelo for Dax McCarty in the 60th minute. That straight swap in the 60th minute represents the only changes Backe made on Saturday.

Plus 11. That's the attempts on goal differential in favor of the Red Bulls, who saw 20 good looks as compared to nine by Chicago. Both clubs only directed five shot on net, while the Red Bulls directed 13 balls wide as compared to four by the Fire. Kudos to the Fire defense for overcoming the absence of defender Cory Gibbs and creating enough traffic to keep the Red Bulls attack offline, but the Red Bulls certainly had their chances against the worst team by points in the Eastern Conference.

New York continues their playoff push on the road next weekend as they pay a visit to the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts on Saturday. First kick is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire

August, 13, 2011
8/13/11
11:30
AM ET
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.

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