BY ERIC GIACOMETTI
With just 10 matches left in the regular season for New York, there’s little room for error in the competitive Eastern Conference. As it stands, the top five teams in the East all have a good shot at claiming their spot atop the table. With next week’s match against Portland marking the team’s last tilt against a Western Conference opponent, the pressure will surely be on the Red Bulls to make the most of what’s left of the regular season.
With DC, Chicago, Houston, and SKC all neck-and-neck with New York, let’s take a look at how the Red Bulls stack up.
Yes, the Scum are right in the thick of things. DC currently sits five points behind New York, but with two games in hand. So far, the season series is knotted up at a game a piece. United handed the Red Bulls their worst loss of the season back in April. Chris Pontius dropped a hat-trick on New York and DC cruised to a 4-1 rout.
In the return leg, it was the Red Bulls who took three points in grand fashion. Playing in front of a packed house in Harrison, ex-United midfielder Brandon Barklage got some retribution on the team that cut him, recording a brace en route to a 3-2 victory.
With one more match to go between the two sides, there may be a lot more than the Atlantic Cup on the line when the two sides meet at month’s end.
Oh and for those of you keeping score at home, that’s Pontius 5, Red Bulls 4.
The Fi-yer are three points back of New York with one game in hand. Much like the season series with DC, each team has taken three out of a possible six points in the team’s first two clashes, with still three more points up for grabs.
Following the same pattern as the Scum, the Red Bulls were handily beaten on the road, falling 3-1 at Toyota Park, yet winning in narrow fashion at Red Bull Arena. Were it not for a moment of brilliance from Thierry Henry on a sweltering summer afternoon, New York would have had to settle for a 0-0 home draw.
Chicago’s roster has undergone some change, namely picking up former Seattle DP Alvaro Fernandez and just recently shipping out talisman Marco Pappa. I picked Chicago earlier this year as my dark-horse team out of the East, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them challenging for a top spot in a few weeks time.
I think we all know the story here. As has been the case for the Red Bulls for much of 2012, this team undergoes a “Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde”-eque transformation when playing on the road and at home. At BBVA, New York were smacked around for 90 minutes and throughout outclassed. With their tails between their legs, they somehow walked away with score line 2-0, but anyone who watched knew it could have been much worse.
At the friendly confines of Red Bull Arena, New York returned the favor with a 2-0 performance that was not quite as convincing as Houston was in their win. Captain Henry said himself that despite having a 2-2 aggregate score in their season series, the Dynamo have proven to be the superior team. It’s hard to disagree with him, as the 2-0 score line may not be the result the Red Bulls deserved.
New York and Houston have finished their regular season set, but I envision these two clashing again come playoff time. And seriously, who doesn’t wanna see Lade vs. Kandji again?
Sporting Kansas City
MLS schedule makers must’ve known something we didn’t. How else would they be so clever as to schedule all three SKC-RBNY matchups in less than a two month span to end the season?
Foresight aside, these may be the matchups that decide the East, and maybe even the Supporter’s Shield race (although San Jose looks to be running away with it). Kansas City and New York boast the two best point per game averages in the East, 1.79 and 1.71 respectively, yet play very different styles. The Red Bulls lead the East in goals scored, but have their goals allowed average leaves much to be desired. Kansas City has scored a respectable 30 times, but their defense has been impeccable all season, with just 22 goals conceded.
Luckily for New York, two of the three matches will be played on their home turf, which usually spells success for the Red Bulls. If New York can maintain their pace amidst a crowded Eastern Conference playoff push, the homestretch will become that much more compelling.
Strap yourselves in, because the fun is just getting started.