New York Soccer: Toronto FC

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.

RBNY Recap: Henry saves another draw for Red Bulls in 1-1 result at Toronto FC

October, 2, 2011
10/02/11
11:55
AM ET

New York almost made it a month without collecting a draw, but that's a point the Red Bulls will accept as the playoff race gets tight.

Thierry Henry's equalizer bailed out a lifeless New York Red Bulls defense to salvage his side's 16th draw of the season in a 1-1 result against Toronto FC at BMO Field on Saturday. Henry received a Dax McCarty corner kick near the penalty spot and connected a whirlwind kick to bounce home the Red Bulls' only goal in the 88th minute.

The French striker's 13th goal of the season answered a goal by TFC forward Danny Koevermans, who completed a counterattack against a sleepy Red Bulls defense to slot home a TFC goal in the 50th minute.

"I think they allowed us to do it cause they just dropped," said Henry on how the equalizer came about. "Instead of passing the ball through the lines and hurting us, they were just kicking it and giving us the ball back. That allowed us to put pressure on them and have some more opportunities and thankfully, we came back into the game."

The draw gives New York (8-7-16, 40 pts) a temporary one-point boost to their grip on the final wild card berth, but now leaves them scoreboard watching as both D.C. United (9-9-11, 38 pts) and the Portland Timbers (10-13-7, 37 pts) kick off on Sunday afternoon. The Red Bulls will also keep an eye on the Philadelphia Union (10-7-13, 43 pts), who sit two points in front of the Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference's final automatic playoff berth and will play on Sunday evening as well. The slumping Columbus Crew (11-12-8, 41 pts) sit in between the Red Bulls and Union and will take the pitch on Sunday at Crew Stadium against D.C., who still have one game in hand on the Red Bulls.

Prestige Over Performance. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe elected to pick controversial defender Rafael Marquez over McCarty for Saturday's Starting XI, which gave the Red Bulls a notably more defensive-minded focus than it's seen in recent weeks against a Toronto FC side that has allowed a league-leading 56 goals this season. It also removed an effective cog in the Red Bulls' combined efforts of late, as McCarty has made himself present in his side's attack while leading the charge on recovering balls on defense.

McCarty eventually came on as a substitute for Marquez in the 79th minute. Henry scored nine minutes later, though the arrival of substitute Juan Agudelo also played a role in that result.

Play of the Game: Koeverman's Goal. The Dutch forward's opening strike may not elicit MLS Goal of the Week chatter, largely because it came about from a catastrophic failure of the Red Bulls' defense.

Toronto FC only gained possession in the moments prior to Koeverman's goal from a bad pass by Rafael Marquez being intercepted. As the Reds fired up their counterattack, both Marquez and Teemu Tainio jogged after Reds midfielder Ryan Johnson instead of engaging in full pursuit. Johnson dished the ball to Koeverman's on the left side past a Red Bulls back line that briefly halted its pressure after presuming the Dutchman was offside. He wasn't -- and he made the RBNY defense pay by tapping a ball off Frank Rost and inside the net for the match's first goal.

The goal seemed to snap the Red Bulls out of a malaise that hung over them for the first 50 minutes of the match, but the club's defense once again left New York chasing a lesser opponent's lead instead of burying them with one of their own.

Wake Up Time. New York's attack remained dormant until Koeverman's goal, with only two shots on target from six attempts on TFC backup 'keeper Milos Kocic to show for their efforts. That picked up in the second half, with the Red Bulls creating four shots on target from nine chances, culminating in Henry's goal in the waning moments of the match and a satisfying performance for the club's head coach.

"The work ethic was phenomenal in the second half," said Backe. "The way we controlled the game, the passing game, the number of chances, a lot of crosses (left us) very close to scoring. To respond after being one down like that, I'm quite pleased with the performance."

Fit to be Tied. The Red Bulls have reached half time all tied up with their opponent on 13 occasions this season. Of those 13 matches, New York has only won once -- the season opener against the Seattle Sounders on March 19. Since then, the Red Bulls are 0-3-9 in matches level at halftime. The trend itself may be an anomaly, which leaves Jan Gunnar Solli with a sense of optimism following another draw than another loss.

"A little bit unlucky tonight that we didn't score more goals," said Solli. "In the end, to get one point away -- that's good for us, especially when there was seven, eight minutes left in the game and then we scored. I was really happy with the boys."

14. Henry's late heroics netted the Red Bulls team captain his first goal in six matches (if you count the FC Dallas win, which Henry missed due to injury). That scoring drought left Henry chasing the league leader in goals scored and a familiar face to both New York and Toronto FC.

So who is the current Golden Boot favorite? D.C. United attacking midfielder Dwayne De Rosario.

New York gets no time to lick their wounds following their draw at Toronto as they head home to face the Los Angeles Galaxy on Tuesday (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes) at Red Bull Arena in a make-up match of the one postponed due to Hurricane Irene.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at Toronto FC

October, 1, 2011
10/01/11
11:40
AM ET
Two out of three wins ain't bad. Three out of four would be better.

That's the mindset of a New York Red Bulls side looking to keep their recent momentum going as they head north of the border to kick off against Toronto FC on Saturday evening. New York heads to BMO Field with heads held high following a solid 2-0 win over the Portland Timbers at Red Bull Arena last Saturday as well as a decisive 5-0 romp over the Reds in the first leg of their regular season encounters on July 6.

Toronto FC returns home this weekend with their attention divided as they play out the string in the MLS regular season while focusing their efforts on staying alive in the CONCACAF Champions League. Danny Koevermans has netted four goals in as many games for TFC in combined MLS and Champions League play, lifting the Reds to a 1-1 draw against Mexican side Pumas last Tuesday while failing to appear on the score sheet against Chivas USA last Saturday.

A Thurdsay win for the Philadelphia Union (10-7-13, 43 pts) kept D.C. United (9-9-11, 38 pts) out of the playoff picture for the time being, though DCU still owns a game in hand on the Red Bulls (8-7-15, 39 pts) and their tenuous grip on the final wild card berth. New York now sits two points behind a fourth-place Columbus Crew (11-12-8, 41 pts) club mired in a three-game winless streak and three points behind the Houston Dynamo (10-9-12, 42 pts) for the Eastern Conference's final automatic playoff berth.

The New Guys. New York will kick off against a very different Toronto FC side then the one they faced at Red Bull Arena this summer, though they've expected the new look since that match in July.

The Reds acquired Koevermans and German midfielder Torsten Frings as designated players during the summer transfer window, but neither international was eligible for selection by TFC coach Aron Winter due to transfer rules. The designated duo has given a much-needed boost to a Canadian side in full-on rebuild mode. Koevermans has six goals across that eight-game stretch, while Frings has boosted a struggling TFC defense as a midfielder and a static sweeper in Winter's 4-3-3 system. New York didn't have many to worry about in round one against the Reds; the same won't be said for the rematch.

Key Matchup: Marquez vs. The Guy He's Replacing. Saturday's match will mark the first appearance for Rafael Marquez since unloading on his teammates about their level of play as compared to the caliber of the Mexican defender. The comments themselves may have faded in the background, but the stellar play of center back combination Tim Ream and Stephen Keel has not.

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe has two options for Marquez. Start him over Keel or Carlos Mendes in the back and let him reestablish the chemistry with Ream which powered the Red Bulls defense earlier this season, or bump him up into a defensive midfield role at the expense of the recently-effective and offensive-minded Dax McCarty. In one instance, Backe picks Marquez over the hot hand. On the other, Backe removes a weapon from his offensive arsenal by benching McCarty in a possible 4-5-1 formation that might also see Luke Rodgers ride pine.

Most coaches would kill for that kind of problem, but most coaches don't have to deal with the cloud of controversy following Marquez. If Backe gets this one wrong, it could undo the positive momentum built by the Red Bulls in recent weeks.

The Missing Link? It oversimplifies the Red Bulls' recent success to say that the return of Luke Rodgers made it possible, but the correlation between New York's winning ways and the English striker's contributions is likely more than chance. Rodgers has a goal in each recent Red Bulls win and two in the three matches he's played since returning from a bout of plantar fasciitis, including a penalty kick that gave New York it's first two-goal lead in over three months.

And the last match Rodgers played in before his feet failed him? Against Toronto FC on July 6, in a match where Rodgers scored the second of the Red Bulls' five goals.

Stacking the Deck. If the Red Bulls attack intends to impose its will on the TFC back line, it will need to focus on providing service to Henry and Rodgers through a formation built on five in the back for the Reds. Winter beefs up his back line when his opponent calls for it -- and an opponent that has scored in all but one of its non-Real Salt Lake matches since last kicking off against TFC would qualify as such a special opponent.

Frings will likely resume his role as a de-facto sweeper between Andy Iro and Ty Harden, with Ashtone Morgan and Matt Stinson as TFC's fullbacks. Separate, they have their troubles. Together, they should create sufficient traffic between the Red Bulls and the goal area minded by TFC 'keeper Stefan Frei.

Road Warriors. Much has been made of the Red Bulls' troubles away from their namesake arena, with their league-leading nine road draws supporting that argument. However, New York hits the road following a gutsy road win against a beleaguered FC Dallas club that restored New York's confidence as much as its place in the standings.

Even with two wins in the away column, the FCD win demonstrated that the Red Bulls can win away from home. A win at Toronto FC would further cement it for a club whose present playoff state dictates more road games to come following the conclusion of the MLS regular season.

RBNY Notes: Henry concentrating on good momentum for MLS Playoffs push

September, 30, 2011
9/30/11
12:18
PM ET
The MLS Playoff picture is often murky, with both conferences vying for the same playoff spots while clubs kick off with different totals of games played. In one week, the Red Bulls' postseason chances look long. The next, they're back in the driver's seat

Watching the scoreboard is a natural temptation at this time of year, but doing so does not bring the Red Bulls any closer to a postseason berth. The players can see the comings-and-goings in the playoff standings -- which recently changed again following a Philadelphia Union win on Thursday -- but team captain Thierry Henry recognizes that the focus for his side needs to remain singular over the final four matches.

"We just have to do what we can do and not concentrate on others," said Henry. "Maybe that’s what we were doing sometimes during the season and looking at it and saying, ‘Oh, we're still just two points ahead of them or three.’ You just have to go and take care of yourself and see what you can do. At the end, we don’t have to count anymore. We will see who will go through or not."

The Red Bulls see themselves with a tenuous grasp on the final wild card berth, clinging to a one-point lead over a D.C. United side with a game in hand following their loss to Philly on Thursday. That's of no concern to Henry, who feels his Red Bulls are finally rolling at the right time.

"We are in a good momentum," said Henry. "Before the three games we had in Dallas, Salt Lake, and Portland, if someone said we were going to win two out of three – the end was to win three out of three – we would have been happy about that."

"(It's) kind of weird because we had a hard one in the middle of that against Salt Lake, but we are in a good momentum and we have to try to carry on."

Getting the Call. The Red Bulls learned on Thursday that six of their squad would once again receive the call of duty for their national sides next week. New York Red Bulls forward Juan Agudelo and defender Tim Ream will once again suit up for the United States Men's National Team, while defenders Rafael Marquez (Mexico) and Roy Miller (Costa Rica), midfielder Dane Richards (Jamaica), and goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul (Senegal) will also see international action.

Depending on where you stand regarding Marquez's level of ability these days, the biggest depth decision facing Red Bulls coach Hans Backe these days may lie between the posts. German 'keeper Frank Rost has collected two clean sheets in the club's last three matches, but now faces two matches in four days against Toronto FC and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

If Rost is showing any rust from his long layoff following his recent quad injury, Backe may need to call upon his Senegalese shot stopper for his starting XI against TFC. Coundoul will not be available to play against the Galaxy at Red Bull Arena next Tuesday, leaving Backe to either start Rost twice on short rest or go with a reserve goalkeeper in Alex Horwath or Mike Konopka against the best of the Western Conference.

Back Problems. Backe announcer earlier this week that Miller should be available to play this weekend at Toronto, but the same cannot be said for Chris Albright. The MLS veteran fullback endured a strained calf in the early moments of the match against Real Salt Lake, leaving Backe uncertain about his availability for the stretch run.

“[The medical staff] said it looks better than they thought,” Backe said to MLSsoccer.com. “[But] it could be the whole season, we just don’t know.”

RBNY Recap: Red Bulls take playoff hopes to next level in win vs. Timbers

September, 25, 2011
9/25/11
12:29
PM ET
Apparently, a bout of "foot-in-mouth" disease can extend to your opponent's goalmouth.

As a suspended Rafael Marquez watched from the owner's box on Saturday due to a one-game suspension for his disparaging comments regarding his teammates' form, the Red Bulls struck twice in a 2-0 win over the Portland Timbers at Red Bull Arena. Dane Richards outran Timbers midfielder Diego Chara and tapped a ball across the goalmouth and inside the far post in the 21st minute for the game's first goal, while Luke Rodgers converted a penalty kick in the 66th minute to add some breathing room on the score sheet. Frank Rost collected three saves en route to his second clean sheet and MLS regular season win of the season.

By collecting a valuable three points in the standings over the Timbers (10-13-7, 37 pts), New York (8-7-15, 39 pts) maintains their tenuous hold on the final wild card berth while picking up the valuable win-loss tiebreaker over Portland. D.C. United (9-8-11, 38 pts) remains one point back with two games in hand on the Red Bulls following their decisive 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake on Saturday.

However, the Eastern Conference's automatic berths experienced a shakeup as the Houston Dynamo (10-9-12, 42 pts) leapfrogged into first place courtesy of a losing Columbus Crew (11-11-8, 41 pts) side and a draw between Sporting Kansas City (10-9-11, 41 pts) and the Philadelphia Union (9-7-13, 40 pts). According to MLSsoccer.com's Playoff Standings, the Red Bulls now sit two points behind Sporting KC for the conference's final spot in what Red Bulls coach Hans Backe believes is now a wide-open playoff chase for his club.

“I think it is up to us now," said Backe. "We will need to win two or three games to have a chance. We have the chance now, it’s up to us and we have three games at home. But of course, the key game that counts in Philly will probably show if we are in the playoffs or not.”

Plus-11. That's the recovery differential on balls in the middle and attacking thirds for the Red Bulls over Portland on Saturday. The Timbers created a comparable number of attempts (15) on goal as compared to New York (12), but it was an effective and organized defensive press by the Red Bulls that stifled the Portland attack all evening. Dax McCarty led that charge with five recoveries in the middle and final third in what was an all-around solid effort for all defensive parties involved.

"We kind of got back to defending first and foremost; kind of how we had it in Dallas," said Stephen Keel, who started in place of the suspended Marquez. "Cynical defending is what they want to call it. Just keeping everything in front of us, nice and organized, keep everything tight and keep a clean sheet.”

Play of the Game: Rodgers' Penalty Kick. It wasn't as sexy as Richards's opener, as the Jamaican midfielder sprinted past Chara and effectively crossed the ball across the goalmouth for a dramatic finish. And the circumstances making the penalty kick possible -- Timbers midfielder Kalif Alhassan received a straight red card in the 64th minute for a handball at the goal line on a Thierry Henry shot -- merely delayed the inevitable.

When Rodgers struck his right-footed shot from the spot past a diving Troy Perkins and inside the left post, it was fundamental but nonetheless significant. Rodgers's goal gave the Red Bulls their first two-goal lead over any opponent since going up 2-0 on the New England Revolution on June 10. Insurance goals have not been a strong suit for the Red Bulls all season, which made the penalty kick all the more important and the cathartic effect of a Red Bulls club coping with a teammate's criticisms all the more satisfying.

"We came in at halftime down a goal, but still felt we were definitely in it," said Timbers team captain Jack Jewsbury. "In the second half I thought we were banging on the door to get that tying goal. Next thing you know, the penalty is called and all of a sudden we’re down a man. Down two goals and a man is tough anyway, especially away from home.”

They were up by a wide margin over an expansion side that has yet two score two goals in a match away from home in MLS. That's a recipe for success every time.

Six in the Mix. The Red Bulls drew comparisons after Saturday's match to their gutty shutout at FC Dallas last weekend, citing the specific absence of Marquez and the solid defensive efforts by a patchwork back four producing a clean sheet for Rost.

However, one critical difference comes on the offensive ends. New York created six attempts on goal against FCD, while they produced 15 against the Timbers at home. That offensive output resulted in six Red Bulls -- Richards, Rodgers, Henry, Joel Lindpere, Jan Gunnar Solli, and Carlos Mendes -- combining to take the club's eight shots on target. It looks doubly impressive against a Timbers side that collected two shots on target before halftime and one afterwards. New York balanced their intensity across all facets of their game on Saturday, which defender Tim Ream acknowledges was long overdue.

"“Actually we needed to do that starting six, seven, even 10 games ago," said Ream. "That’s something that we really made a conscious effort on coming into this game. it definitely paid off for us, getting a solid 2-0 win and three points and putting us right back into the playoff picture.”

Miss Marquez Much? Speaking of Ream, he came under fire in recent days after being singled out by Marquez in the Mexican defender's post-game comments on Saturday. According to Empire of Soccer, Marquez described his back line partner as "a young player with a lot to learn" and criticized the sophomore center back for committing "errors that are very infantile and cost us goals." So, did it get to Ream?

"“Honestly, I think it would have happened even if the comments weren’t made," Ream said to MLSsoccer.com. "After you take a solid 3-1 beating, you have something to prove. We wanted to prove it was a fluke and that wasn’t who we are. We put our heads down more because of the way we played [on Wednesday], not because of the comments.”

25,008 Strong. The Red Bulls have had their share of sellouts this season, but some of those attendance numbers felt a bit padded with marketing techniques such as announcing the seats sold as compared to seats filled. That wasn't the case on Saturday, as a racuous crowd of 25,008 fans arrived to create an electric atmosphere just three days after a match that saw Red Bulls supporters booing Rafa Marquez's every touch.

New York now gets a week to prepare to travel north of the border for a match against a revamped Toronto FC at BMO Field on Saturday. First kick is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

RBNY Notes: Home field holds the key to Red Bulls' playoff hopes

August, 24, 2011
8/24/11
4:04
PM ET
Over at his insightful blog Soccer by the Numbers, Chris Anderson followed a post that summarized the effects of home-field advantage in the English Premier League by observing that Manchester United maximized its ability to collect draws on the road in addition to winning at home en route to winning the 2010-11 EPL division title.

Inspired by Chris's efforts, here's a look at the effects of a home-field advantage in MLS during the Red Bulls era (2007-present):
  • Since 2007, home sides in MLS have won 47% and lost 23.8% of their matches while settling for draws in the remaining 29.2% of their regular-season fixtures. That trend means all MLS sides since 2007 finished with slightly more draws than defeats, collected twice as many wins than losses, and ultimately accrued almost as many wins as non-wins at home.
  • However, draws are way, way up in 2011. 38.2% of all MLS matches in 2011 thus far have ended in ties, which is considerably higher than the five-year average. Moreover, the next-highest percentage of draws in a regular season occurred in 2009 when 30.7% of all matches concluded in a draw. So if it feels like the Red Bulls' 14 draws this season is hefty, it's not unusual in the context of what the rest of the league is doing.
  • What is unusual is where those draws are taking place for New York. The Red Bulls collected ties in 64.3% of all regular season matches away from their namesake arena in 2011, which is not only significantly higher than the 2011 average but, more surprisingly, the second-highest ratio in MLS after the Houston Dynamo at 66.7% have finished level in two-thirds of their road matches. After the Red Bulls and Dynamo, no other potential playoff contender except Chivas USA (46.2%) presently possesses an away draw ratio above the average.
  • Those away draws come at the expense of wins and losses -- a reality to which New York is not exempt. New York's only win on the road makes up 7.1% of the road results while the losses contribute 28.6%. While the losses fall well below the average, only one MLS playoff side in the Red Bulls era clinched a playoff spot with a worse away win ratio: the 2008 New York Red Bulls with 6.7%. And that 2007 side at least had the decency to win 60% of its home games before making a playoff run that resulted in New York's first and only MLS Cup appearance.

So how does this affect the Red Bulls over their final eight games? For starters, five of their final matches will take place at Red Bull Arena. As previously demonstrated, MLS sides win twice as many matches as they lose at home. For a New York side praying for another 12 points in the standings to feel better about its postseason hopes, that's a phenomenon that could provide an edge as long as the back line can make a few leads stand up.

More importantly, two of New York's remaining three away games will occur in the two matches preceding their final regular season game at home against the Philadelphia Union on October 20. The ratios suggest that New York may have accumulated too many draws at the expense of road wins and likely can't sustain that during a postseason push.

Those two away matches -- October 1 at Toronto FC, October 15 at Sporting Kansas City -- will come at a pivotal time in the stretch run. If New York fails to accrue victories in September, that road trip represents what could be the last chance to undo that damage. Draws don't fix things; only wins will do that.

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

August, 10, 2011
8/10/11
12:52
AM ET
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).

Chivas USA's LaBrocca gives MLS All-Star Game an NJ flavor

July, 27, 2011
7/27/11
11:05
AM ET
The best of MLS need little prodding to step into the spotlight of the 2011 MLS All-Star Game (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3), but it was the location of that spotlight which enticed Chivas USA midfielder Nick LaBrocca the most.

For the Howell, N.J. native and former Rutgers standout, representing Major League Soccer on a stage against English Premier League titans Manchester United elevates to the next level as it will occur just an hour's drive from his hometown.

“As soon as I heard, I was really excited about it,” said LaBrocca. “I’ve spent my entire life playing there, and now I get an extra game back home. Not only do I represent myself and my family, but I get to represent my teammates, my fans and the league as a whole both on and off the field.”

LaBrocca’s All-Star selection adds an exclamation point to a season that has seen the Goats midfielder play all but two minutes of the club’s 21 games this season while contributing an already career-high six goals to the Chivas offensive efforts – despite never previously scoring more than two goals a season and netting only 10 in four years at Rutgers.

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe confirmed the selection of LaBrocca, also a three-time All-Big East selection, shortly after the fans recognized the MLS All-Star First XI, but Chivas coach Robin Fraser concedes that he has kept tabs on his star midfielder – who arrived via trade with Toronto FC prior to the 2011 season – for quite some time.

“He’s a player that I’ve tracked for a while,” said Fraser. “I really envisioned him as someone who could be a great attacking midfielder. He’s got a great soccer brain, very good first touch, a really good idea as a good finisher. So far, he’s lived up to what we expected.”

For Fraser, LaBrocca’s All-Star nod reinforces what the first-year Chivas coach is trying to implement for the Los Angeles-based club. Seeing LaBrocca depart along with Chivas teammate and two-time MLS All-Star Heath Pearce further recognizes the team-first mentality being implemented by their coach.

“We are trying to create a very close-knit group that is very much about a team going forward together,” said Fraser. “Together, (LaBrocca and Pearce) have helped grow this team and a lot of it has to do with the performances of both of them. It’s only fitting that they both get the opportunity.”

That opportunity also cements a proud New Jersey soccer tradition, which can now boast LaBrocca’s recent success. For the guy who sprung his soccer career from Exit 7A on the New Jersey Turnpike (or Exit 98 on the Garden State Parkway, depending on your itinerary), LaBrocca readily admits to the boost that the Garden State influence has given his good form.

“There’s such great talent and competition throughout the entire state where you play so many games,” said LaBrocca. “Every day is competitive which definitely helps you grow and push your limits. With that comes great coaches. Whenever you see great talent like that, you see great coaches.”

W2W4: NY Red Bulls vs. FC Dallas

July, 23, 2011
7/23/11
10:53
AM ET
With a stinging loss still fresh in their minds, the Red Bulls face one more test before a much-needed All-Star break as they welcome 2010 MLS Cup runner-up FC Dallas to Red Bull Arena on Saturday evening.

New York returns home with its tail between its legs after being summarily trounced 4-1 by the defending MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids on Wednesday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Sanna Nyassi created the offensive spark for the Rapids by netting his first career hat trick, while Thierry Henry spoiled Colorado's clean sheet by scoring his league-leading 10th goal of the season.

FC Dallas has claimed wins in four of their past six MLS regular season matches, with a 1-0 victory over a revamped Toronto FC squad on Wednesday capping their hot streak. Dallas midfielder Brek Shea burned TFC 'keeper Stefan Frei with a bold shot from distance that found the upper 90 of the near post to break a 242-minute scoreless drought for FC Dallas with the game's only goal. It was Shea's ninth goal of the season.

Nothing changed atop the Eastern Conference, as the Philadelphia Union (8-4-7, 31 points) remain two points better than the second-place Red Bulls (6-5-11, 29 points). The Columbus Crew (7-6-7, 28 points) continue to bide their time in third place.

Feel The Burn: As New York prepares to rebound from being burned by the Rapids and to face the MLS squad formally known as the Burn, their most pressing concern will involve the burning sun bearing down on them at first kick. The forecast predicts a temperature of 96 degrees at the start, not to mention the heat index nor what the surface temperature will feel like on the pitch.

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe will need to take great care in not letting his squad overheat en route to finishing the club's last full 90 in MLS play for two weeks -- even if the looming 2011 MLS All-Star Game and Emirates Cup will preclude his squad from resting during that time.

Key Matchup -- Rafael Marquez vs. Brek Shea: Nyassi exposed a fatal flaw in the Red Bulls' back line on Wednesday as he blew past them on all three goals and set up the fourth: Tim Ream and Carlos Mendes lack speed.

Mercifully, Mendes will return to the bench as the Red Bulls welcome Rafael Marquez back to the back line in his first action since leaving the Gold Cup finale with a hamstring injury. New York will need Marquez to quickly plug the hole that Nyassi exploited for a hat trick, or risk FCD midfielders Andrew Jacobson, Daniel Hernandez and Martin Chavez providing service to Shea's lead on the FC Dallas attack through the same gap.

Fixing The Hype Machine: Juan Agudelo continues to carry the weight of lofty expectations on his shoulders after MLS commissioner Don Garber selected him with one of his two picks for next week's All-Star Game.

That unfortunate reality, combined with the lingering absence of Luke Rodgers, means the young Red Bulls forward will be asked to punch above his weight. He has four goals this season -- two during the Toronto FC blowout, one in April against D.C. United, and one in the season opener against Seattle -- and showed a bit of chemistry with Henry up top in setting up the former Gunner's goal on Wednesday.

That chemistry now fuels the Red Bulls offense, whether or not Agudelo is ready for that responsibility.

Scandinavian Shuffle: Backe may be without Teemu Tainio once again as he recovers from a quadriceps strain, which could lead to Mehdi Ballouchy starting alongside Dax McCarty at a holding midfield position, or on the left wing with Joel Lindpere entrenching at center midfield.

If those combinations don't work, the return of Chris Albright could give Backe another option at midfield with Jan Gunnar Solli. Backe has already indicated that Albright will not start on Saturday. But Solli, who has admirably filled the right back role in Albright's absence, is a natural midfielder and could be relieved of his defensive responsibilities with a late Albright substitution to join the Red Bulls attack.

Welcome Home: New York has only one win in 12 games on the road this season, but its home record of 5-2-3 implies that the cozy confines of Red Bull Arena could help lift their spirits. Combining that with an FC Dallas losing streak in New Jersey that stretches back to 2007, and there's a solid setup for the Red Bulls to end the supporters' planned silent protests and give them a reason to cheer.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls vs. DC United

July, 9, 2011
7/09/11
9:09
AM ET
A season sweep is at stake as the New York Red Bulls welcome longtime rival D.C. United to Red Bull Arena on Saturday evening.

New York enters Saturday's match with a 4-0 victory over DC at RFK Stadium on April 30 and on the heels of the offensive stampede that finished off lowly Toronto FC with a 5-0 win on Wednesday. Reigning MLS Player of the Week Joel Lindpere extended his goal-scoring streak to three games while all three Red Bulls forwards -- Thierry Henry, Luke Rodgers, and Juan Agudelo -- found the back of the net for the home side.

D.C. United is repeating a refrain familiar to Red Bulls fans as they seek their first victory since May 29 after conceding a 2-2 draw to the Philadelphia Union last Saturday. DC received leads before and after halftime with Josh Wolff's fourth goal of the season in the 44th minute and a beautiful strike by young playmaker Andy Najar in the 58th minute, but surrendered each respective boost with an own goal by DC defender Perry Kitchen and a late equalizer by Guatemalan forward Carlos Ruiz that drew Philly level before the final whistle.

That DC (4-5-7, 19 pts) draw helped the Union (7-4-6, 27 pts) stay within a point of the first-place Red Bulls (6-3-10, 28 pts) in the Eastern Conference.

Triple Threat? For a side that has struggled to finish off sides at home or away since April, the four goals scored by the forward trio of Henry, Rodgers, and Agudelo should come as a sigh of relief to Red Bulls supporters.

Wednesday's outburst represents the first time any part of that trio has accrued a goal since Henry scored against the Portland Timbers on June 19. While Henry did contribute as Red Bulls coach Hans Backe combated a depth chart depleted by injuries and the Gold Cup, one still needs to go back to May 28 to find a goal by either Agudelo or Rodgers -- with the latter scoring an equalizer at Vancouver.

Key Matchup: De Rosario vs. McCarty. With the trade that sent Backe's long-coveted number 10 to DC still fresh in the minds of Red Bulls supporters, Canadian midfielder Dwayne De Rosario will make his first visit to Red Bull Arena since being dealt for Dax McCarty on June 27.

Their styles contrast considerably -- De Rosario's attack-oriented while McCarty favors a holding midfield role -- but the swapped duo will need to go through one another to support their respective sides. To get behind the Red Bulls back line, De Rosario will need to beat McCarty's line of defense. To halt United's attack, McCarty will need to pick up the slack created by the absence of Teemu Tainio -- Tainio is serving an automatic one-game suspension due to his accumulated yellow card total -- and continue the clever distribution he displayed against Toronto FC while disrupting the DC passing lanes that now feed De Rosario.

These two midfielders will collide, with the better performance sure to be used as evidence of the greater beneficiary of the trade.

'Keeping Score. Just two days after Red Bulls GM Erik Solér publicly stated the club's interest in acquiring a new netminder via free agency, Red Bulls shot stopper Greg Sutton answered the call with his second clean sheet of the season. The Reds hardly challenged the Canadian 'keeper for most of Wednesday's match, but Sutton capably made five saves to add to the Red Bulls domination of TFC.

But what can he do for an encore? Sutton's shutout against a rebuilding Reds side will not silence doubters unless he or Bouna Coundoul can keep it going against DC -- if it isn't already too late. According to Jack Bell of the New York Times, the Red Bulls are already kicking the tires on longtime German goalkeeper Frank Rost for the stretch run.

Goal Giveaway. De Rosario will need to lead the charge for the visiting side, but his work will be for naught if his defense surrenders the gains of DC's offense. DC has allowed 1.81 goals per game this season, which is the worst rate in league play this season. That deficiency has created a -6 goal differential for United, which ranks 5th worst in MLS in 2011.

DC 'keeper Bill Hamid shares the blame for those poor totals with a non-descript back line that only features Kitchen, a rookie, among its bright spots. The suddenly-potent Red Bulls attack should find ample chances to direct shots on target against a DC back line that presently seeks a right back and other help on defense.

United We Strike. That said, DC United has scored at a rate of 1.44 goals per game this season, which is third best in MLS (the Red Bulls rank first with 1.79 goals per game). DC's attack is potent as the combination of team captain Wolff, reclamation project Charlie Davies, and DC mainstay Chris Pontius pack a scoring punch worth 17 of the club's 23 goals this season. With De Rosario providing service to that trio along with Najar off the bench, the Red Bulls defenders cannot rest on their result against Toronto FC if they hope to hold the back line intact against the visiting side.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC

July, 6, 2011
7/06/11
8:48
AM ET
Two win-deprived Eastern Conference foes face off at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday evening as a rebuilding Toronto FC side opens the season series against the New York Red Bulls.

New York seeks to restore their winning ways after conceding their third draw in four matches in a 1-1 result against the San Jose Earthquakes at Stanford Stadium on Saturday. MLS Player of the Week Joel Lindpere provided the scoring touch for the Red Bulls with a double that erased a Steven Lenhart header and a Bouna Coundoul gaffe that led to a goal by Quakes midfielder Khari Stephenson.

Toronto FC arrives with a new addition to their trophy case after claiming a 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Nutralite Canadian Championship final at BMO Field on Saturday. NCC tournament MVP Joao Plata set up a tap-in for Belgian defender Mikael Yourassowsky in the 61st minute for the game winner as the Reds, who also ended a nine-game winless streak in MLS play with a 1-0 victory against the 'Caps last Wednesday, won the Voyageurs Cup for the third consecutive season.

FC Dallas helped the Red Bulls (5-3-10, 25 pts) reclaim sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference with a 2-0 victory over the Columbus Crew (6-5-6, 24 points) on Saturday, though New York remains two points behind the first-place Philadelphia Union (7-4-6, 27 pts).

'Keeping Their Options Open. With Coundoul being unable to overcome the occasional Bouna blunder thus far and Greg Sutton unable to steal a game thus far, goalkeeping remains an area of concern for the Red Bulls. The uncertainty has fueled speculation about reserve 'keeper Alex Horwath getting the nod against TFC, but Red Bulls GM Erik Solér acknowledges that help between the posts may need to come from elsewhere.

"We are looking to create one or two more moves," Solér said to ESPN.com's Leander Schaerlaeckens on July 4. "We are looking for a goalkeeper, that's one position. In the other position, we are looking for somebody who can go straight into the lineup."

Schaerlaeckens cites Solér as saying that the Red Bulls expect to acquire a potential shot stopper via free agency. "We have been scanning all over the market to see if there are any options," Solér said. "The player has to be a free transfer and have a salary [demand] we can live with."

If Coundoul and Sutton want that chatter to stop, they'll need to start collecting clean sheets against the club with the second-lowest win total in MLS this season.

Key Matchup: Red Bulls's Left Defense vs. TFC's Wingers. TFC head coach Aron Winter implemented the attack-friendly 4-3-3 system he learned from his AFC Ajax tenure, and before he necessarily had the personnel to execute it properly. That means the Reds will look to their wingers to build the attack, but the likes of Plata, Dan Gargan, and Nick Soolsma -- who scored his first goal of the season against the 'Caps last Wednesday -- have the weight of youth and inexperience bearing down on their shoulders.

That recipe should make for a textbook defensive performance for Tim Ream and Roy Miller, but that pairing fell apart as the Quakes focused their attack on the right wing in the second half on Saturday. According to the MLSsoccer.com Chalkboard feature, Miller lost possession of the ball 12 times in the second half compared to seven in the first half, while Ream relinquished control six times in the second half compared to three before halftime. When Lenhart and Chris Wondolowski rallied the Quakes attack, Ream and Miller crumbled.

It should help to have some in-game experience with the new holding midfield tandem of Teemu Tainio and Dax McCarty, but the onus remains on Ream and Miller to tighten up and disrupt the lateral passing lanes between the Reds wingers and their forwards.

Many Happy Returns. Thierry Henry is expected to return from the flu-like symptoms that sidelined him against San Jose, but the big news is that Luke Rodgers is expected to join him after missing the last four matches with plantar fasciitis. The English forward, who still ranks second for the club lead with five goals, trained with the first team on Tuesday and reported no pain in the left foot that precluded him from joining the Red Bulls on their recent road trip.

Meanwhile, the Reds' first visit to Red Bull Arena this season also includes a sort of homecoming for Tony Tchani and Danleigh Borman, both of whom were included by the Red Bulls in the April 1 trade for Dwayne De Rosario.

Tchani, who showed great promise in the Red Bulls' midfield in 2010, has missed the past four MLS matches with an ankle injury but did appear as a substitute in the NCC final. Borman has played his way into the TFC back line and shown great creativity from the left back position with his crosses and with his restraint.

Not Ready for Primetime. TFC made a big splash on the personnel front last Friday after announcing the club's acquisition of German defensive midfielder Torsten Frings and Dutch striker Danny Koevermans.

However, the pairing are not officially eligible to join the Reds until the transfer window opens on July 15. That means the Red Bulls will get a good look at the depleted Toronto side, but they can take few lessons from it for the rematch at BMO Field in October.

Numbers Game. While clubs managed by Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe remain unbeaten at 19-0-8 in games where they score first, seven of those eight draws have occurred in the 11 matches since a win against Sporting Kansas City on April 30. New York is 0-2-1 in matches where they don't score first over that stretch, meaning their path to boasting an unbeaten streak rather than a winning streak continues to come from conceding a lot of leads.

Rapid Reaction: Earthquakes 2, Red Bulls 2

July, 3, 2011
7/03/11
12:52
AM ET
While the Red Bulls can start and finish with the best of MLS, it's the middle that leaves them fit to be tied.

A Joel Lindpere brace bookended the Red Bulls' scoring efforts as New York escaped Stanford Stadium with the club's third draw in four matches after a 1-1 result against the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday. Lindpere provided the offensive touch for the visiting side with an early strike in the 7th minute and an equalizer in the 85th minute that was temporarily ruled an own goal for Quakes defender Bobby Burling.

Steven Lenhart headed in a long lob pass from the right flank by Steven Beitashour in the 68th minute to give San Jose its only lead of the game after Khari Stephenson converted a gaffe by Bouna Coundoul for a first-half equalizer.

The top of the Eastern Conference shuffled again as the Red Bulls and Philadelphia Union left their respective matches on Saturday with a draw while the Columbus Crew fell 2-0 to FC Dallas, giving New York a one-point nudge into second place.

Estonian Emergence. If Lindpere still isn't enjoying his time on the pitch, he sure isn't showing it in his form.

The Estonian midfielder found himself right in the middle of the Red Bulls' offensive efforts, highlighted by his goal-scoring efforts that salvaged the draw. He always seemed to find himself in the right position to join the attack and the right position to capitalize, especially on his high-bouncing strike that drew the Red Bulls level in the waning moments of the match. He truly started to display the form that made him a revelation to Red Bulls supporters and an MLS All-Star in 2010.

Play of the Game: Lenhart's Golazo. While the sequence that created Lenhart's go-ahead goal seems fitting here, it doesn't do justice to the defensive breakdown that plagued the Red Bulls in the second half.

Beitashour's lob pass from the flank came from more than 30 yards out and only found Lenhart's noggin as center backs Tim Ream and Carlos Mendes left too wide a gap between them to box out the Quakes forward. That sequence followed a Chris Wondolowski shot that hit the woodwork in the preceding moments, and was engulfed by mental lapses that San Jose consistently exploited.

If Mendes and Stephen Keel were accountable for their mixed results in holding up the patchwork backline, Ream now receives his share of the blame for being out of position on Lenhart's goal and for not clearing the ball to kill the persistent San Jose attack. He picked it up shortly thereafter, but the US defender needs to discover his discipline before an error reminds him to do so.

Influential Influenza. An hour before first kick occurred at Stanford Stadium, the Red Bulls announced via Twitter that Thierry Henry would not start against the Quakes due to what the club described as "flu-like symptoms."

With Luke Rodgers still tending to his plantar fasciitis and Dwayne De Rosario now playing for D.C. United, that left Juan Agudelo paired with Mehdi Ballouchy up top to start the match.

Get a Grip. New York bestowed rookie 'keeper Bouna Coundoul with his second-consecutive MLS start after Greg Sutton minded the net for the baby Bulls in Tuesday's US Open Cup win.

Unfortunately, the Sengalese stopper returned the favor with his second soft goal in as many games. Coundoul broke through a penalty area scrum following a corner kick to get his hands on the inbound ball, but failed to maintain possession as Teemu Tainio leaped in his path at the last moment. The ball deflected toward the spot where Khari Stevenson converted it on an open net for the equalizer.

At some point, the Red Bulls will need a goalkeeper that provides more answers that questions in the back. Thanks to yet another Bouna blunder, that point is not now.

Twelve. That's how many matches the Red Bulls have played this season in which they scored first. The Red Bulls now have ten draws.

The Red Bulls now head back to Red Bull Arena to open their season series against Eastern Conference foe Toronto FC on Wednesday. First kick is scheduled for 8:00 p.m.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at Seattle Sounders

June, 23, 2011
6/23/11
12:29
PM ET
New York continues its transcontinental tour as the Red Bulls visit the recently-renamed CenturyLink Field to face the Seattle Sounders on Thursday evening (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes).

The Red Bulls find themselves in the middle of a three-game road trip after escaping Jeld-Wen Field with a 3-3 draw against the Portland Timbers on Sunday. Dwayne De Rosario converted the club's second penalty kick of the season to cap a tumultuous second half that opened with two quick goals by Jack Jewsbury and Kevin Goldwaithe of the Timbers and an own goal by Red Bulls central defender Stephen Keel. Thierry Henry recorded the soccer equivalent of the Gordie Howe hat trick by tallying a goal and assist before receiving a straight red card for striking Timbers midfielder Adam Moffat in the back of the head during stoppage time.

Seattle returns home after collecting a 1-o win over Toronto FC at BMO Field last Saturday. Colombian striker Freddy Montero scored the game winner in the 90' minute by curling a free kick from distance around the TFC wall and just inside the top corner of the right post. The Sounders carry a four-game unbeaten streak into Thursday's contest.

A scoreless draw at PPL Park brings the Philadelphia Union into a tie with the Red Bulls for first place in the Eastern Conference, with New York's 5-2-8 record falling one win below Philly's record of 6-4-5.

Help Wanted. Henry will miss Thursday's match due to the automatic one-game suspension that culminates from his red card. Luke Rodgers did not make the trip out west as he continues to rest the plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Wednesday's 1-0 win for the United States over Panama in the Gold Cup semifinals means Juan Agudelo remains committed to his national team responsibilities through Saturday. So what does that leave for the Red Bulls at forward?

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe indicated that De Rosario will start up top alongside Dane Richards, who returned to the club earlier this week after the US eliminated Jamaica from the Gold Cup quarterfinals on Sunday. Neither De Rosario nor Richards are strangers to the job, but they may be strangers to one another after last playing together on May 21 against the Houston Dynamo. They'll need to translate their midfield magic to the forward position in order to fuel one more makeshift Red Bulls attack.

Key Matchup: Red Bulls' Back Line vs. Freddy Montero. After Timbers team captain Jack Jewsbury opened the scoring in the 48' minute of last Sunday's match, the Red Bulls defense fell apart at the seams and found itself incapable of regaining the run of play from Portland. A New York 'keeper has not kept a clean sheet since Bouna Coundoul kept Sporting Kansas City scoreless on April 30, but the central defense took a major hit when stalwarts Tim Ream and Rafael Marquez departed for international duty in late May.

Enter Montero, whose goal against TFC last weekend should give him some positive momentum heading into Thursday's tilt. Montero is a dynamic playmaker and striker for the Sounders who could benefit from the pairing of Alvaro Fernandez and Erik Friberg regaining their form in the midfield. If Kassel and Carlos Mendes do not create enough disruption for the Sounders' passing lanes in the middle, it won't be long before Montero soils another sheet for a Red Bulls 'keeper.

Defense and Duct Tape. The Red Bulls will not be the only club struggling with a patchwork back line on Thursday. Colombian defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado received a red card in last Saturday's match at Toronto, rendering him unable to play and leaves Seattle coach Sigi Schmid looking to Patrick Ianni or Hawaiian defender Zach Scott for relief. The latter has played admirably in a reserve role, while the former has left enough room in his form for Scott to emerge. Both represent unknown quanities, and a potential hole for the Red Bulls' attack to exploit.

'Keeping the Faith. Despite the short work week and three-goal outburst by Portland, Backe indicated that he favors Greg Sutton to mind the net for New York. It's tough to blame the Canadian goalie for the complete failure by his defense in the second half at Portland, but Sutton would accrue seven consecutive caps with a start at Seattle while New York still faces two more matches against the Chicago Fire and FC New York in the next five days. Can Sutton handle the heavy workload?

Go Crazy, Folks. Go Crazy. While the Red Bulls successfully escaped the raucous atmosphere found in the cozy confines of Jeld-Wen Field, that experience may look quaint compared to what awaits at CenturyLink Field. The Sounders are expected to remove the tarps from the upper decks for the first time in anticipation of a crowd that could easily exceed 45,000.

New York could have brought the full onslaught of their supporters groups along for the ride and barely made a dent in what will likely be a very energetic and pro-Sounders audience. New York will need to keep the composure they lost in the second half last week and take charge in front of a big soccer crowd.

SPONSORED HEADLINES