Sixteen draws and what do you get?
Another week older and deeper in trouble if the New York Red Bulls can't successfully mess with Texas this weekend.
The Red Bulls will take their umpteenth chance at collecting the club's first win since July as they head west to face FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas on Saturday. New York kicks off in search of the much-needed victory that eluded them in the first leg of their regular season encounters against FCD. Thierry Henry scored a brilliant equalizer in the waning moments of that match to answer a second-half brace by FCD midfielder Martin Chavez and sent a shorthanded Red Bulls side off to the All-Star break with a 2-2 draw for their efforts.
New York also salvaged a 1-1 draw last Saturday at Red Bull Arena against an expansion Vancouver Whitecaps side that still lacks its first-ever MLS regular season win on the road. Juan Agudelo came on as a substitute to finish a Rafael Marquez cross and answer a one-man highlight reel goal by Davide Chiumiento, sending the Red Bulls running from home with the club's fifteenth draw of the season.
FC Dallas should be so lucky to collect that kind of result considering their recent form. Despite having the third-best record by points in all of MLS with 46, FCD has lost three of their last five matches including a 2-0 loss against a rebuilding New England Revolution side at Gillette Stadium last Saturday. They're also in the midst of a short work week after failing to make a very early Daniel Cruz goal stand up in a 1-1 draw of a CONCACAF Champions League group stage match on Wednesday at home against Panamanian side Tauro FC.
According to MLSsoccer.com, a decisive Portland Timbers (10-12-6, 36 pts) win on Friday evening over the lowly Revs temporarily pushes the Red Bulls (6-6-15, 33 pts) into the ten spot of the overall league standings. With two games in hand, D.C. United (8-7-10, 34 pts) also sits in between the Red Bulls and the final playoff spot. The Union (8-7-12, 36 pts) maintain a three-point edge over New York to keep hold of the final automatic Eastern Conference playoff berth, though both D.C. and the Houston Dynamo (8-9-12, 36 pts) stand between the Red Bulls and Philadelphia.
Exiguous XI. Though Red Bulls coach Hans Backe notoriously keeps a short bench at his disposal for most matches, it's not entirely his choice to travel to Dallas shorthanded this weekend. Backe's back line will miss the likes of Marquez and Jan Gunnar Solli due to suspension as well as Roy Miller and possibly Tim Ream due to injury, while his offense could lack the forward pairing of Henry and Luke Rodgers as that duo nurse injuries that arose in training earlier this week.
Those absences should create playing time for young playmaker Juan Agudelo up top and Red Bulls rookie defender Stephen Keel, who is expected to make his first appearance since coming on as a sub on August 6 at Real Salt Lake.
Key Matchup: NY's Wide Midfielders vs. FCD's Press. In the first leg of their regular season matches, FCD coach Schellas Hyndman saw his side apply a press that paralyzed the Red Bulls attack while inadvertently muting their own offensive efforts. A late substitute opened up the FCD offense, culminating in Chavez netting two goals in short order.
Meanwhile, New York succumbed to a lesser-caliber press applied by the 'Caps last weekend with a back line not known for its depth. Service was sparse for Henry and Dane Richards up top until Agudelo reinforced the attack with his late arrival as a sub. Save a late shot on goal against a 'Caps defense in prevent mode, Joel Lindpere was present in name only for the majority of the match.
With Henry and Rodgers bearing injuries and possibly missing Saturday's match, someone besides Agudelo will need to step up and step into a Red Bulls attack that hasn't scored an insurance goal in months. Richards could start up top if Henry and/or Rodgers can't go, but Lindpere and possibly Mehdi Ballouchy could be looked upon to join the attacking corps and create traffic in the box.
Price to Pay. One injury New York does not need to accommodate any further is the one to German goalkeeper Frank Rost. Backe cleared Rost to play this weekend in Dallas after reviewing his form in training this week, which could once again bump Bouna Coundoul back to the bench despite a recent run of solid play.
The MLS Players Union recently released its updated payroll earlier this month, which reflects that Rost's designated player status helps him make three times what MLS and the Red Bulls pay their Senegalese shot stopper. New York paid a premium to bring in Rost as a difference maker, but would Backe have made the same decision considering Coundoul's recent successes -- including two consecutive draws in MLS play and a shutout for his native Senegal -- if his German 'keeper and Coundoul collected similar sums?
Zero. While New York's hoping to capture their first win in over two months at Pizza Hut Park, that goose egg represents another streak the Red Bulls hope to put to bed this weekend.
The Red Bulls remain winless this season in away matches outside of their own time zone, with nothing but an 0-3-8 record to show for it. In fact, it has been almost a year since New York has won a regular season match west of Ohio. The Red Bulls last won an away match in a time zone other than Eastern last September 24 in a 2-0 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Home Depot Center. They also claimed a 1-0 result at Buck Shaw Stadium against the San Jose Earthquakes in the first leg of the MLS playoff quarterfinals last October, only to concede that lead in the second leg before losing 3-2 on aggregate to the Quakes.
Heavy Hearts. If FC Dallas kicks off in a melancholy mood, it's not necessarily due to their recent form in league play.
Saturday's match represents the club's first home match since the loss of Dallas stalwart Bobby Rhine, who passed away on September 5 at the age of 35. Rhine joined the then-Dallas Burn as a player in 1999 and later served in the club's front office and as the team's color commentator on televisions broadcasts, leaving an indelible mark on the soccer legacy of an original MLS side.
FC Dallas will honor Rhine with a pregame ceremony that will include Rhine's family and MLS commissioner Don Garber and a video montage at halftime, while the FCD players will wear black armbands to honor their former forward. FCD fullback Zach Loyd also changed his jersey number from 19 to 12 for the remainder of the season, as the former number belonged to Rhine during his playing days with the club.
FC Dallas endured another loss in recent days as U18 Academy player Jose Perez was killed in a car accident on September 13.