Preview: New York Red Bulls v Colorado Rapids

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

BY MARK FISHKIN
STAFF WRITER

After starting the season with a thrashing out West, the New York Red Bulls limp back to the friendly banks of the Passaic with a mind to put last week’s 4-1 demolition at the hands of Vancouver behind them.

Coach Mike Petke has taken the blame for his lineup decisions and strategy versus the Whitecaps, but with Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave returning to field, his side can’t help but improve.  Saturday was an object lesson for Petke, and he’ll be sure to get maximum effort from his team in front of a raucous home crowd. New York was a healthy 11-2-4 at Red Bull Arena last season, and Red Bulls fans are hoping that home cooking is the right recipe to right the ship.

Match Information:
Saturday, March 15th at Red Bull Arena, 4p ET kickoff, TV: MSG/Univision Deportes

Record, GF/GA, Final Division and League Position, Form:
New York, 0 points from 1 match, 1 GF/4 GA, 8st in the East/17th in MLS, L
Colorado (2013 results): 51 pts from 34 matches, 45 GF/38 GA 5th in the West/t8th in MLS

Colorado’s front line vs. the Red Bulls defense:
Deshorn Brown and Gabriel Torres vs. Roy Miller, Armando, Jamison Olave, and Kosuke Kimura (and Luis Robles). Brown (10g/4a in 31 apps) and Panamanian Gold Cup star Torres (3g/1a in 7 apps) are a formidable, speedy duo that will give New York’s backline-in-progress a lot of work.  Brown led the Rapids in goals as a rookie last year. Torres will shoot from distance, so the Red Bulls must do what they were unable to in Vancouver: step to attackers and force them to rush shots.  Petke all but admitted that starting four players in the back that hadn’t played an MLS match together was not a sound strategy.  The Red Bulls coach has to rectify his error by adding Miller and Kimura back in the lineup along with Olave to settle things down.  I give Armando the nod over Sekagya in center, but either choice works.  Neither player did much to distance himself from the other last week. Hard to fault Robles for any of the four goals conceded last week. Advantage: Colorado

New York’s attackers vs. the Rapids’ defense:
Thierry Henry and Bradley Wright-Phillips vs. Drew Moor, Marvell Wynne, Chris Klute, and Shane O’Neill (and John Berner). Henry will be raring to go in New York’s home opener, and partnering up top with BWP will add speed to the Frenchman’s flair. Former Metro Wynne has been shifted by neophyte coach Mastroeni from wingback to center, where he’ll be joined by burgeoning star Chris Klute.  30 year-old Captain Drew Moor, starting his eleventh season in the league, had three goals last season. The big story for Colorado is that third-string keeper John Berner is likely to get his first MLS start, due to an injury to starter Clint Irwin and backup Joe Nasco’s personal leave. Look for New York to pepper Berner’s net and rattle the 35th SuperDraft pick. Advantage: New York

The Midfields:
Johnny Steele, Dax McCarty, Tim Cahill, and Lloyd Sam vs. Nathan Sturgis, Nick LaBrocca, Jared Watts and Jose Mari. Cahill, with a week’s rest, should be more impactful than he was on the BC Place turf.  Sam earns a second-straight start given his effectiveness in Vancouver. As poor as New York’s backline was last week, it was in the midfield where the Whitecaps found little resistance.  McCarty must step up and excel in his role as disruptor if the Red Bulls are to keep a clean sheet.  Colorado won’t get a ninety-minute performance by 2013 Rookie of the Year Dillon Powers, who is building back to full fitness. The Rapids’ newcomer, Spanish defensive midfielder Mari, takes the role that Colorado’s coach held for so many years. Advantage: New York 

The Coaches:
For the second straight week, New York faces a former MLS player in his coaching debut, this time with longtime Rapid and now coach Pablo Mastroeni. In what direction will the former US international take his young club? Mike Petke surely said all the right things after his brutal defeat last week.  One would think that the New York coach will return to his more traditional lineup. The challenge for Petke will be finding a place for Luyindula, who he values greatly, in a formation that maximizes Wright-Phillips’ output. Although last week was admittedly a disaster, Colorado’s lineup challenges give the advantage to Petke and New York

Intangibles:
As mentioned at the top, the Red Bulls’ home field advantage provides a natural edge. Though New York is only 10-7-2 all-time against Colorado at home, the Rapids haven’t won at Red Bulls since 2009 (0-3-1 since).  The Red Bulls are 6-0-4 in the club’s last 10 home openers.  Thierry Henry has scored five goals in five matches against the Rapids in his MLS career. The weather will be superlative for mid-March, with a mostly sunny sky and high of 55 degrees.  Advantage: New York

Prediction:
Mike Petke and his team understand the meaning of Saturday’s match after last week’s “performance.”  Frankly, a Colorado team with a first-time head coach, playing on the road makes perfect prey for a squad that will be buoyed by the return of Henry and Olave.  With a rested Cahill and returning, familiar backline starters, New York should take care of business handily.  Fans of the team easily recall last season’s club’s predilection for playing down to the level of their opponent.  Without the Rookie of the Year, and with an untested keeper, Colorado just won’t have enough to mount a serious challenge.  New York wins 2-0.