The Red Bulls return home on Sunday evening with a four-game unbeaten streak in tow as they welcome visiting Chivas USA to Red Bull Arena.
New York continues to sit atop the Eastern Conference with a 4-1-3 record and a one-point lead over a second-place Philadelphia Union club that lost to FC Dallas last night and held the Los Angeles Galaxy to a 1-1 draw last Wednesday. Thierry Henry will look to continue leading the offensive charge for the Red Bulls after earning the only goal in last week's 1-1 draw against the Galaxy. The French striker ranks fifth this season in goals scored and has accumulated a goal or assist on all but two of the nine goals scored by New York during their unbeaten streak.
Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe indicated earlier this week that he expects all hands on deck for Sunday's match, with holding midfielder Teemu Tainio (groin) and striker Luke Rodgers ("dead leg") expected to play. However, defensive midfielder Carl Robinson may not be available on Sunday after enduring a knee injury in the 41st minute of Wednesday's friendly against the NASL's Montreal Impact.
Chivas USA will look to bounce back from a deflating 1-0 loss last Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium against Real Salt Lake. The loss ended a five-game unbeaten streak for the Goats that saw them net positive results in league play for the entire month of April. Despite that successful run, Chivas USA continues to reside near the bottom of the Western Conference at seventh place with a 2-3-3 record.
No Mondaini? No Problem. On Wednesday, the MLS Disciplinary Committee handed down a four-game suspension to Chivas forward Marcos Mondaini for a red card he received due to a rough tackle from behind on star RSL midfielder Javier Morales. The Goats will call upon Justin Braun to fill Mondaini's shoes and penetrate the Red Bulls' vaunted defense alongside Chivas's leading scorer, Alejandro Moreno.
Key Matchup: Henry/Rodgers vs. Chivas's Back Line. Chivas head coach Robin Fraser played defense for ten seasons in MLS, which fuels a heavy emphasis for his club on a strong back line. The Rojiblancos will play without center back Andrew Boyens, who will serve a one-game suspension after receiving two yellow cards in last week's match against RSL. Without Boyens's effective center back pairing with Heath Pearce, the gap in coverage may create an opening for Henry and Rodgers to exploit unless rookie Zarek Valentin or another Goats defender can plug the hole. Valentin may get help from the returning Michael Lahoud, who should step in at right back.
Don't Run with the Bulls. The Red Bulls presently lead MLS with a +8 goal differential, which reflects the team's early offensive success and defensive stability. Meanwhile, the Rojiblancos rank near the middle of the pack with a +1 goal differential. If the Red Bulls can turn Sunday's match into a shootout, the Goats likely lack the scoring firepower up top to match New York.
Celebrating the Middle Class. While Mehdi Ballouchy adequately covered the holding midfield position in last week's match against the Galaxy, the return of Tainio should significantly raise the Red Bulls's level of play. The midfield of Tainio, Joel Lindpere, Dane Richards, and Dwayne De Rosario ranks among the best in MLS and factor greatly into the Red Bulls averaging a league-leading 15 interceptions per game. The foursome should consistently stretch Chivas's diamond 4-4-2 into shapes Fraser didn't draw up, which should further create pressure and scoring opportunities for New York.
Time's on Your Side. Last week, the Red Bulls played with the burden of having to travel three time zones for their match against the Galaxy. On Sunday, it's now to their benefit as Chivas USA will travel three time zones from Los Angeles to visit Red Bull Arena. With losses by Columbus and Vancouver in their transcontinental matches yesterday, teams traveling three time zones remain winless with a feeble 0-14-12 record while being outscored 38-14.