Playoff Preview: New York Red Bulls v Sporting Kansas City

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by MARK FISHKIN
Staff Writer

Thirty-four regular season matches have come and gone, and all that remains for the 2014 Red Bulls is a run at the MLS Cup.

New York is only six matches away from lifting the Cup for the first time, but the club is hardly a favorite as the post-season begins. While New York has reached the post-season fifteen times in nineteen years, and eleven times in the last twelve seasons, the franchise has found little success in the playoffs, advancing past the Conference Semifinals just twice; in 2000 and again in 2008.

However, without the mantle of expectation weighing the team down, perhaps these Red Bulls can put their post-season failure behind them and make a run at the title.  After the season-long marathon, the sprint to the MLS Cup starts Thursday at Red Bull Arena against a familiar, but hurting, opponent.


 

Match Information:
Thursday, October 30th at Red Bull Arena, 8:00p ET kickoff, TV: ESPN2

Referee: Armando Villareal

Regular Season Record, GF/GA, Division and League Position, Recent Form:
New York, 50 points from 34 matches, 55GF/50GA, 4th in the East, 8th in MLS, LWWLW
Kansas City, 49 points from 34 matches, 48GF/41GA, 5th in the East, 10th in MLS, LDWLL


 

New York’s front line vs. the Sporting defense:
Bradley Wright-Phillips vs. Seth Sinovic, Matt Besler, Aurellien Collin, and Kevin Eliis (and Erik Kronberg).

After scoring twice at KC on Sunday and having a few decent looks to break the single-season scoring record, Bradley Wright-Phillips insists that there are more goals to come.  He’s got to hope that Peter Vermes throws out the same defense that the record holder victimized Sunday night at Sporting Park.  Neither Besler, who can’t wait for the off-season to get healthy again, or Collin, who had his pocket picked by BWP for New York’s second goal Sunday, had any answer for the Red Bulls’ attack. Defensive wing Igor Juliao has served his suspension, but is smarting from an injury picked up in Costa Rica a week ago, and is unlikely to play. Kronberg allowed more goals (two) than made saves (one) Sunday night.

Advantage: New York


Kansas City’s attackers vs. the Red Bulls’ defense:
Soony Saad, Dom Dywer, and Sal Zizzo vs. Roy Miller, Jamison Olave, Ibrahim Sekagya, Richard Eckersley, (and Luis Robles).

After playing the entire Champions League match last Thursday, Soony Saad (3G/1A) sat out the regular season finale.  I think the Michigan product starts on the front line this week, if only to generate some accuracy for a team that put only a single shot on net Sunday.  Dwyer (22G/1A) generated that single shot, a wicked first-half curler that was saved well on Robles. Zizzo did little in his sixty-three minutes of action before sitting for Toni Dovale.  The return of Saad to the lineup will allow Graham Zusi to head back to his familiar midfield role.  Luis Robles and his back line posted their sixth shutout of the season on Sunday. New York defended wonderfully as a team, and both Miller and Eckersley pushed up well, though the Englishman allowed Dwyer to deliver a dangerous pass across the box in the second half that could have been converted.

Advantage: Even


The Midfields:
Ambroise Oyongo, Eric Alexander, Tim Cahill, Dax McCarty, and Lloyd Sam vs. Graham Zusi , Mikey Lopez, and Paulo Nagamura

Tim Cahill’s return to the starting lineup on Sunday was a productive one.  The Aussie Captain drew six fouls, took a shot, and kept feeding BWP in hopes he’d break the record.  With news on Tuesday that Thierry Henry will be ready to go, will Cahill retreat to the bench?  Given New York’s success on Sunday and the quick turnaround should the Red Bulls win, I’d start Cahill and bring on Henry late if needed.   Oyongo returned to the lineup as well and was a bit rusty. Sam played well and delivered a few dangerous corners.  McCarty & Alexander held down the fort well, clogging the middle of the field and defending when necessary. As noted above, Zusi will benefit from shifting to his natural midfielder from forward. Nagamura was very active on Sunday, but Lawrence Olum, who had played the entire match at Saprissa, came off completely fatigued after 30 minutes. Mikey Lopez filled in for the final hour. Sporting will miss Benny Feilhaber most of all, directing the attack and feeding Dwyer.  Kansas City is tired and hurt, and New York is mostly rested and mostly healthy.

Advantage: New York


 

The Coaches:

After Sunday’s win, Mike Petke noted that the match was his most enjoyable as coach, as his team executed his game plan to perfection.  If Petke is to snag his first playoff win as coach, he’ll have to manage Henry’s minutes while considering his subs well in case the match goes into overtime. Peter Vermes has done it all before, but his side is undermanned and away from home. Yes, Sporting has played better away from home this season, but his club will be playing his third match in eight days in three different cities.  Nevertheless, his team will surely be motivated after a disappointing regular season.

 

Advantage: Even


Intangibles:

New York finished 2014 with impressive 11-3-4 record at Red Bull Arena, but the team has yet to win a playoff match there since the venue opened in 2010.  The Red Bulls have lost to San Jose, Los Angeles, DC, and Houston to date in the postseason in Harrison. New York has never faced Kansas City in the playoffs. Since the Knockout Round was established in 2011, home teams have gone 4-2, with FC Dallas in 2011 and the 2012 Chicago Fire losers at home. Kansas City went 2-7-1 in its final 10 MLS matches. However, Sporting garnered an impressive 8-8-1 road record this season, capturing most away victories in the league.  Bradley Wright-Phillips scored four goals in three regular-season matches versus Kansas City this year. The weather report for Thursday is typical for playoff soccer: low fifties at kickoff, dropping into the forties, with clear skies.  The crowd, with a short selling period and late start on a weeknight, will shock all but longtime fans with its small size.

Slight Advantage: New York


Prediction:
The Red Bulls have the Golden Boot Winner, a healing and rested Thierry Henry, a possibly rejuvenated Tim Cahill, and a defense that’s posted shutouts in two of its last four matches.  Sporting is missing its key midfield general, has gotten poor play down the stretch from its World Cup stars, is tired, and has won twice in the league since August 23rdNew York is the pick here, a 3-1 winner.