New York Soccer: USMNT

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at FC Dallas

October, 26, 2011
10/26/11
11:36
AM ET

The 2011 MLS Playoffs kick off in earnest on Wednesday evening as FC Dallas play host to the Red Bulls at Pizza Hut Park in a wild card clash that will end one club's postseason path courtesy of the round's one-and-done format.

For a Red Bulls side picked by many in the preseason to win MLS Cup outright, that's a welcome problem to have after needing all 34 regular season contests to earn the right to play tonight. They still can't sing their redemption song until FC Dallas has its say as the home side looks to better a 2010 MLS Cup runners-up finish.

However, one Red Bulls player who will have no say in Wednesday's result is English striker Luke Rodgers. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe confirmed on Tuesday that Rodgers would miss Wednesday's match due to treatment of a knee injury incurred during the club's regular season finale win against the Philadelphia Union last Thursday.

New York came out on top of their regular season confrontations against FCD in 2011. A late Thierry Henry equalizer answered a second-half brace by Martin Chavez and salvaged a 2-2 draw against FCD at Red Bull Arena on July 25, while Rodgers provided all of the offense in a 1-0 win at Pizza Hut Park on Sept. 17 that reignited the Red Bulls' late playoff push.

Luke Out. The Red Bulls will undoubtedly miss their freshman forward, especially considering the club is 1-9-4 in matches without the pesky Rodgers in the starting XI -- with the sole win coming against the Seattle Sounders during MLS First Kick festivities back on March 19. They also posted a 4-2-1 record down the stretch following Rodgers' return from a bout with plantar fasciitis that kept their English striker on the shelf for most of the summer.

Rodgers undoubtedly unlocked the Red Bulls' inconsistent attack with his presence up top and his pressure against opposing back lines, just as he did in scoring the game's only goal against FC Dallas in September. But he did the dirty work in that match despite the club missing Henry and Roy Miller due to injury as well as Jan Gunnar Solli and Rafael Marquez due to suspensions. New York may lack the guy who finished off FCD, but they will have four capable contributors this time to pick up the slack.

Key Matchup: Shea vs. McCarty. Another key player to miss that September match was FCD winger and team-leading scorer Brek Shea, who also served a one-game suspension on that date due to yellow card accumulation. The young Shea, who netted 11 goals in 31 appearances in 2011, experienced a breakout season drawing league MVP considerations in addition to rave reviews regarding his contributions to the U.S. Men's National Team.

Shea will appear in FCD coach Schellas Hyndman's starting lineup, and Backe will likely counter with Shea's former teammate in defensive midfielder Dax McCarty. McCarty will likely be charged with shutting down any activity by Shea on the right flank, as Solli tends to push up in an offensive-minded role from his right fullback position while regular right midfielder Dane Richards likely starts up top in place of the injured Rodgers.

That leaves McCarty, a player suspended by the club in the Red Bulls' penultimate match at Sporting Kansas City for an "internal team matter" as well as one who has seen his playing time diminish in concert with Marquez's return to a defensive midfielder role. Add in the burden of being the player New York received from D.C. United in exchange for 2011 Golden Boot winner Dwayne De Rosario and the expectations thrust on McCarty could not be higher.

But hey, no pressure.

Make It Stop. New York captured a 1-0 victory against FC Dallas in September, but it wasn't for lack of trying on the former's part. FCD created more than double New York's chances on net in that match, with seven of their 18 attempts registering as a shot on target as compared to only two of New York's seven attempts.

That onslaught came about without Shea, Chavez (also suspended for yellow card accumulation) and injured midfielder David Ferreira. It also came in a busy stretch for FCD that came about due to CONCACAF Champions League commitments as well as with a melancholy mood following the death of club dignitary Bobby Rhine. New York escaped that match with a win, but will need stronger defensive contributions from Tim Ream, Stephen Keel, and others to prevent FCD from implementing a similar style.

Press On. With an FCD back line including effective contributions from George John, Zach Loyd, and others, Hyndman will likely call upon the defensive press he used to paralyze the Red Bulls attack in both regular season matches. If Marquez and Teemu Tainio can't link up to the forwards or Joel Lindpere struggles to join the attack on the left side, FCD could once again impose its defensive will on the Red Bulls and bide its time until a scoring chance presents itself.

Get Your Kicks. Tonight's match is a winner-take-all affair, which means New York can't sneak out with one of its patented draws this time around. In the event that the score is tied at the end of regulation, two 15-minute periods of extra time would ensue to determine a winner. And if that fails to yield a result, the game would then advance to a penalty shootout.

New York hasn't converted a penalty kick since Sept. 24 against the Portland Timbers -- and Rodgers netted that one. Backe reportedly did not practice penalty kicks before his players boarded the plane for Dallas on Tuesday, while the club's uncertainty on their primary free kick taker never really resolved itself. Anything could happen in a penalty shootout, including the order which Backe picks for his side's participation.

W2W4: NY Red Bulls at Sporting KC

October, 15, 2011
10/15/11
10:22
AM ET
An MLS playoff opportunity will knock on the door in Kansas City this afternoon. Are the Red Bulls ready to answer it?

The New York Red Bulls make their inaugural visit to Livestrong Sporting Park to kick off against Sporting Kansas City in an afternoon match rife with playoff implications. New York arrives with its playoff destiny in its own hands following a 2-0 win over a beleaguered Los Angeles Galaxy side on Oct. 4, though the red-hot Red Bulls side that had won three of its last five contests needs to regain form following an 11-day hiatus due to the international break.

The Red Bulls also lead the regular season series over SKC after Luke Rodgers scored the game-winner in a 1-0 result at Red Bull Arena on April 30.

Sporting Kansas City comes home looking for better results following a stretch of accruing three draws in four matches. They arrive in shaky form after quickly conceding an equalizer following a go-ahead goal by Kevin Ellis in their international friendly against Mexican powerhouse C.D. Guadalajara last Wednesday, though Teal Bunbury netted a late equalizer of his own in SKC's MLS regular season match against the San Jose Earthquakes on Oct. 1.

The Houston Dynamo (11-9-13, 46 pts) did their job in boosting the Red Bulls' playoff profile with a win on Friday night that delivered a near-fatal blow to the postseason chances of their opponent, the Portland Timbers (11-14-7, 40 pts). A New York (9-7-16, 43 pts) win coupled with a D.C. United loss (9-11-11, 38 pts) would put the Red Bulls in position to effectively clinch a playoff berth as they control tiebreakers over Portland and D.C. It would also vault them over Sporting KC (11-9-12, 45 pts) and into an Eastern Conference automatic berth if the Columbus Crew (12-12-8, 44 pts) lose or draw on Saturday.

Who Wants It More? New York's not the only club playing with playoff aspirations on Saturday, as a Red Bulls loss would clinch a playoff berth for Sporting. SKC's footing may be a little surer than the Red Bulls, but a loss at home would surely deal a major blow to any club's playoff chances at such a late stage of the season.

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe continues to preach the tenets of "cynical soccer," a possession-driven style similar to the Italian Catenaccio system but with a stronger emphasis on playing keep away rather than for keeps, while Sporting coach Peter Vemes's 4-3-3 system caters to a more attack-friendly, possession-oriented offense. Backe's side will make it as hard as possible for SKC to create pressure in the attacking third, but SKC needs to not leave themselves vulnerable to the counter by making a mistake. Will either side blink?

Key Matchup: Ream vs. Bravo. Saturday will be Tim Ream's first chance to move on from the gaffe which created the Ecuador scoring chance that sent the U.S. Men's National Team to a 1-0 loss at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday. Unlike under Jurgen Klinsmann's system, Ream won't come on as a substitute on Saturday -- he'll be expected to anchor a Red Bulls back line against a possession-savvy SKC attack.

Ream's first chance at redemption will come by marking a world-class striker in Omar Bravo. The Mexican forward shares the team lead in goals scored with fellow forward Kei Kemara at nine, though Bravo reached the total despite missing five matches in the early part of the season due to a sports hernia.

Support will come for Ream and the Red Bulls' back line in the form of Stephen Keel and Bravo's Mexican national team peer in Rafael Marquez, but the spotlight will shine brightly on the 24-year-old center back. Someone has to get in the way of an SKC attack that's been shutout only once in MLS regular season play since June, and Ream will once again be charged with taking up those reins.

30. That's how many points Sporting Kansas City has accumulated in their new home at Livestrong Sporting Park, which is the second-highest total in the Eastern Conference (the Crew lead with 32 points) and fourth-highest in all of MLS. The Red Bulls have 16 points on the road, but 10 of those came from draws.

For a Red Bulls side that needs to keep winning to keep their playoff plans within their own control, they'll need to buck a couple of trends if they hope to win at one of the toughest places to play in the league -- a place that wasn't anyone's home until SKC's 11th match of the season.

Rost Rested. No Red Bulls player benefited more from the international break than goalkeeper Frank Rost. With his international duty days far behind him, Rost had eleven days to rest his legs and recuperate from any lingering effects of his quad injury following an intense five-game stretch over three weeks that saw the German netminder collect three wins and three clean sheets in the end.

His recent play has erased any lingering doubts about Red Bulls sporting director Erik Solér's decision to use a designated player slot in net and quieted any debate that reserve 'keeper Bouna Coundoul should be starting.

Going Streaking. Red Bulls team captain Thierry Henry heads to Kansas City mired in a three-way tie in the Golden Boot race. The French striker has scored in his club's last two matches to draw level at 14 goals with D.C. United midfielder and former Red Bull Dwayne De Rosario and Quakes striker Chris Wondolowski, with the latter netting a double against the New England Revolution last Saturday to vault into the race.

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.”

W2W4: NY Red Bulls vs. Real Salt Lake

September, 21, 2011
9/21/11
9:21
AM ET
Things are about to get Real for a Red Bulls side bearing renewed postseason aspirations.

New York returns home on Wednesday to kick off at Red Bull Arena against red-hot Real Salt Lake. A go-ahead goal by Luke Rodgers and Frank Rost's clean sheet helped the Red Bulls restore a modicum of respect with a 1-0 win over FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park on Saturday, but New York is still smarting from a comprehensive 3-0 loss to Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium on August 6 that reversed the goodwill of an Emirates Cup win in late July.

Real Salt Lake is rolling in recent weeks as a four-game winning streak has the Claret-and-Cobalt on the periphery of the Supporters' Shield race. Nat Borchers headed home a Kyle Beckerman free kick to convert the goal needed by RSL in a 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City at Livestrong Sporting Park last Saturday. RSL has scored six goals in that four-game regular season stretch, with Beckerman and Alvaro Saborio playing prominent roles in establishing the club's winning ways.

A win would help boost the Red Bulls (7-6-15, 36 pts) further into the playoff picture as they prepare for their final six matches of the regular season. D.C. United (8-8-10, 34 pts) and the Portland Timbers (10-12-6, 36 pts) are two MLS clubs in action Wednesday that hope to lay claim on the final wild card berth in New York's possession. Meanwhile, the third-place Philadelphia Union (9-7-12, 39 pts) and fourth-place Houston Dynamo (9-9-12, 39 pts) remain idle in the chase for the Eastern Conference's final automatic playoff berth.

Can't Find a Beckerman. If RSL coach Jason Kreis hopes for a repeat performance of his club's thrashing of the Red Bulls in August, he'll need to do so without the services of his team captain. Kyle Beckerman will watch Wednesday's match from the sidelines as he serves a one-game suspension for his accumulated yellow card total.

Kreis could turn to the newly-acquired Yordany Álvarez or Jean Alexandre as well as pull Will Johnson or Ned Grabavoy back into Beckerman's holding midfield role, but none of them can be expected to replicate the contributions of RSL's dynamic playmaker.

Beckerman may need the rest after appearing in all of the club's 26 regualr season matches this season in addition to CONCACAF Champions League and U.S. Men's National Team commitments, but he also has one goal and two assist in the club's recent winning streak and also assisted on two of RSL's three goals scored against the Red Bulls in August. You don't just replace that production with anyone.

Key Matchup: Tainio vs. the Diamond. Kreis will undoubtedly call upon his vaunted diamond 4-4-2 formation at the outset of Wednesday's match to establish RSL's possession prowess and dictate a pace that passed the Red Bulls into submission in August. Once Kreis decides on how to replace Beckerman, he'll work quick to implement the game plan of providing service to Saborio, Fabian Espindola, or Luis Gil up top.

As Steve Davis points out over at MLSsoccer.com, Red Bulls holding midfielder Teemu Tainio dropped back a bit more than usual to support a patchwork back line that appeared porous in recent weeks. It worked well as New York withstood an FC Dallas side that generated three times as many attempts on goal as the Red Bulls but only completed three shots on target. Even if Tainio refrained from his usual linking role to provide support to the young center back tandem of Tim Ream and Stephen Keel, it helped subdue FCD's constant control of the run of play.

Why wouldn't Red Bulls coach Hans Backe try it again? RSL proved its passing prowess and finishing touch in the first leg of the regular season encounters, but Tainio missed that match due to flu-like symptoms. He can't help the Red Bulls forwards get behind one of the best back lines in MLS, but his presence can keep the Red Bulls on the defensive in the best sense of the word.

Comeback Kids. Except for an injury to Roy Miller that will keep the Costa Rican fullback on the sidelines, Backe will have a as close to a full roster as he's had in some time for Wednesday's match.

Rafael Marquez and Jan Gunnar Solli will return to action after serving one-game suspensions, while Thierry Henry is expected to be available after tending to an Achilles tendon injury that kept the French striker off the pitch against FC Dallas. Toss in successful encores for Rodgers as well as Rost and Backe has more answers than questions on his depth chart for a change.

New York won't be the only club getting good news from the medical staff, though. Argentine playmaker Javier Morales, who hasn't appeared in a regular season match for RSL since breaking his ankle in May, and RSL left back and Babylon, NY native Chris Wingert will travel with the Claret-and-Cobalt and may be available to Kreis in at least a substitute capacity.

Rost Redux? Rost earned due praise for his strong outing against FC Dallas, but lost in the hysteria is that last Saturday's match was his first since a poor showing against Real Salt Lake in August that ultimately came about due to the German shot stopper's right quadriceps tear.

He should be in better form for Wednesday's rematch, but the Red Bulls have four matches scheduled in the next 15 days. Backe may not let his third designated player mind the net for every minute of that stretch if he has any lingering concerns about Rost's recovery, which could open the door to a Bouna Coundoul spot start or substitution at a moment's notice. That likely won't come on Wednesday, but it could come more sooner than later.

Seven Up. While their ugly 1-0 win over FC Dallas is a win nonetheless, it remains to be seen what New York can do for an encore. Since April 30, the Red Bulls have averaged only one win in every seven regular season matches. Considering that New York only has six matches left on their 2011 schedule, they can't let that trend or anything close to it continue.

Everton's Tim Howard talks transfer, MLS

July, 20, 2011
7/20/11
10:15
AM ET
As Everton prepares to commences its US tour on Wednesday evening at PPL Park against the Philadelphia Union, they will do so without longtime goalkeeper Tim Howard.

Howard, who will not be between the posts for the Toffees against the Union, is still resting after a grueling CONCACAF Gold Cup Tournament in which the North Brunswick, N.J. native served admirably as the shot stopper for the U.S. Men's National Team. He should have ample opportunities to gain match fitness before the start of the upcoming 2011-12 English Premier League season, but Howard may need a bit more time in the interim to recharge the batteries before resuming his role as one of the best 'keepers in the EPL and one of the great success stories in U.S. Soccer.

His club's loss during their U.S. tour is our gain, as Howard gave a few moments of his time to chat by phone on Wednesday morning with your friendly neighborhood soccer blogger about his own preparations ahead of the EPL season, his club's lack of noise thus far in the transfer market, his thoughts on missing the U.S. matches this week and on next week's MLS All-Star Game, and his enthusiasm in appearing in a slew of advertisements for Allstate.

Without further ado, here's my conversation with Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard:

ESPNNY: How are things going with preparation for the upcoming season with Everton?

Howard: Part of preparation is the rest and mentally preparing is the biggest part because it is a long, tough, grueling season. All in all, it’s going well. The spirit in the group is high. I’m ready and looking forward to getting back into action. Fingers crossed, we can have a good start and put ourselves into the position to hopefully get into the top four.

ESPNNY: There hasn’t been much chatter in terms of transfers for Everton going through this particular window. What are your feelings about the lack of movement for your club thus far?

Howard: We’re always disappointed when there’s not a lot of player movement. I think everyone involved is. Our manager, David Moyes, has shown that’s he’s pretty shrewd in the transfer market and can wheel and deal without a ton of money. But yes, I think in order to move forward, the club needs to spend money and keep up with each other. At the moment, we haven’t brought anybody in but we’re optimistic that will happen before the close of the transfer window. I do think it’s important – it just lifts the squad a little bit and gives everybody a boost.

ESPNNY: Is there anything in particular position or area that the team could use?

Howard: We have two very good top strikers, but when it comes to strikers, they’re priceless. You can always use more firepower – it’s a long season. In losing Stephen Pienaar last year, he was one of our top wingers. He’s a guy we’re trying to replace. And of course in the back, we’re on the fortunate side but we keep talking about how long the season is, those kind of things are forced to have quality and depth.

ESPNNY: There was some reports yesterday about how you won’t be with the team over the next few days at Philadelphia and at Washington. Is that accurate?

Howard: It is. I’m going on my manager’s advice to shut it down and take some more rest. He knows how much I’ve put in the last 12 months and what the next 12 months look like. He’s been generous enough to give me an opportunity to rest and get ready for this next long stretch of the season.

And part of that, unfortunately, is not being around tonight. I wish I could be there. I know the people of Philadelphia are excited for it and that’s the reason we came. We knew what good preparation it would be.

ESPNNY: So, in the end, it was the manager’s advice and not necessarily that you requested the next few days off?

Howard: Yes. Those decisions are obviously made jointly, but unfortunately, they were made quite a long time ago. They don’t get made this week. Those types of things are discussed amongst ourselves months and months in advance. That’s the unfortunate part.

ESPNNY: I wanted to change speeds a bit. Next week, Major League Soccer is preparing for its All-Star Game. You had the distinction of being able to play on both sides in that you played once upon a time for MLS and also, in 2009, you were there with Everton. I was curious about your impressions of that match since you were on both sides of the MLS All-Star Game.

Howard: That’s a good point. I’ve played for both of those teams – I’ve played for Everton against the All-Star team. I think it can be a pretty intense game. I think the All-Stars in the new format have something to prove. A European club comes over and they’re promoting themselves as well. I think the MLS All-Stars can handle themselves.

In terms of Manchester United, I think they’re very much in a transition. That usually means bad things, but not for ManU. It’s going to be exciting to watch them revamp their team from last year and kind of see what they have going on going forward. They have to replace a few different players, but they always do that and do it well.

ESPNNY: So will there be a small part of you maybe scouting as ManU prepares for the upcoming season?

Howard: If I watch, it’ll be fan first. We do enough scouting over the course of the year. We’ll have plenty of meetings on what Manchester United does. So, I won’t watch it just for that reason. But yeah, I’ll certaintly tune in. I have no doubt that they’ll play that in England. And I’ll be tuning in to see my new Allstate commercial.

ESPNNY: Could you tell me a bit about the new commercial?

Howard: It’s quite a funny one, I think, of all of them. The most entertaining. It’s called “Borange” and actually airs today on YouTube. (Ed. Note: You can see it here.) I’m super excitied to partner with Allstate this year, first year partner of MLS and and the U.S. Men's National Team. Those are all things that mean a lot to me as well as the protective side of things, being a goalkeeper and all. It’s going to be kinda cool, kind of exciting, and I think people will really enjoy this commercial. I will, I’m going to watch and enjoy the game as well.

ESPNNY: Did you have any problems with your own humility, or having a sense of humor in doing these commercials?

Howard: I think that’s the part I like about it the most -- The humor and how they twist it and made it not your run-of-the-mill type of sports commercial. I enjoyed watching, being in the process, being a part of making it, and then seeing it come to fruition.

ESPNNY: Before I let you go, could you handicap your expectations for the start of the upcoming EPL season?

Howard: I think that the Champions League, a lot of people talk about it. It’s very difficult – most clubs don’t actually attain that goal until the end of May at the last games of the season. All of that is put in place, particularly early on, we’ve shown over the course of the last 10 years that when the winter months come, the really hard, tough months, that we can grind with the best of them and we’ve always seemed to flourish in that time.

Our goal and the key to this season will be get off to a fast start and collect a lot of points early on, really make it tough on the teams around us and try to pull away earlier. Last year, we started to pull away from some teams but it happened later in the season. I think every team’s trying to do that, but the more players we can bring in with quality, the better we’ll be in that regard. Having said that, our top players are very, very good.

We have every opportunity to make that right, get some points early on. If we can do that, we’ll be a happy bunch of guys and our manager will be happy as well.

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