Preview: New York Red Bulls at Columbus Crew

IMAGE, NEW YORK RED BULLS FACEBOOK

BY MARK FISHKIN
Staff Writer

After what may have been the Red Bulls’ best team performance of the season, New York faces a certain trap game in Columbus against a Crew team that has lost three straight and four of five.

After playing the counter to perfection against Sporting KC, the first-place Red Bulls will have a chance to dictate play against an opponent they’ve yet to lose to this season (1-0-1). However, neither of this year’s Red Bulls-Crew matches were easy for New York. On May 4th, NY needed a late header by Tim Cahill to snatch a 1-0 win. Three weeks later, the Red Bulls twice fell behind Columbus at home before Jamison Olave scored in injury time to salvage a 2-2 draw.

After such an emotional win last week, New York fans have a right to wonder if their squad will produce another superlative road effort against a lesser opponent. Let’s dig into these two squads and see which team will come out on top.

Record, GF/GA, Eastern and League Position, Recent Form:
Columbus, 28 points from 22 matches, 25GF/30GA, 8th in the East/16th in MLS, LWLLL
New York, 38 points from 23 matches, 36GF/29GA, 1st in the East/t1st in MLS, LWDWW

Columbus’ front line vs. the Red Bulls defense:
Jair Arrieta and Dominic Oduro vs. Roy Miller, Jamison Olave, Markus Holgersson and Brandon Barklage (and Luis Robles). Former Red Bull Oduro has been uncharacteristically proficient this season, with nine goals and an assist, which puts him on pace to surpass his best MLS season for Chicago in 2011 (12 goals). Oduro danced through the New York backline in the May 26th match to score the opening goal just two minutes in. Arrieta (2g, 2a) is way off his 2012 pace when the Costa Rican netted nine for Columbus.

The Crew, however, have only scored two goals during the club’s current three-match losing skid. Despite New York’s unbeaten run, the club has allowed five goals over two matches for the first time since the first two weeks of the season (3 at POR, 2 at SJ) Robles’ throw on New York’s third goal Saturday night was absolute magic. He could have been punished, however, for at least two more goals last week due to poor positioning.
Advantage: Even

New York’s attackers vs. the Crew’s defense:
Thierry Henry and Fabian Espindola vs. Danny O’Rourke, Augustin Viana, Josh Williams and Chad Marshall (and Matt Lampson). With three goals in two games (albeit two via PK), Espindola tops New York’s scoring chart with nine. Henry continues to be the Red Bull’s best player, but TH14 hasn’t scored any of the club’s nine most recent goals. Henry loves to play the Crew, with five goals and two multi-goal matches versus Columbus all-time. The Crew D has been leaky of late, allowing seven goals in consecutive losses to New England, Toronto, and Houston.
Advantage: New York

The Midfields:
Johnny Steele, Dax McCarty, Ibrhaim Sekagya and Eric Alexander vs. Matias Sanchez, Bernardo Amor, Federico Higuain, an Will Trapp.
Sekagya acquitted himself quite well to the New York lineup with a 90 minute debut. It will be interesting to see what the Ugandan can do when allowed to push up a bit as the Red Bulls attempt to return to their traditional possession game. Dax continues to shine, and Steele’s goal and assist at KC will surely lead to a national team call-up for the Northern Irishman.

Columbus lives and dies with Higuain. His five goals and six assists have been immensely important to the club’s limited success this season. If McCarty can neutralize the Argentinian, New York will cruise. Trapp is a US Youth National Teamer that’s played the full ninety in each of the Crew’s last four matches. Anor takes a lot of shots (26) but few go in (2).
Slight Advantage: New York

The Coaches:
What a game plan last week by Petke. Considering New York hadn’t scored in eons against KC, his lineup (with Sekagya) and sub selection and timing (Sam) were masterful. The New York manager will attempt to keep his team on an even keel after an emotional win, though with his late ejection in KC, it’ll be Assistant Coach Robin Fraser that will manage the club this week. If Columbus’ Robert Warzycha isn’t on the hot seat yet, he’ll be soon with new ownership in the house for the first time on Saturday. The longtime Crew Chief (since 2009) has racking up more league losses than anyone in the league this year except DC and Chivas.
Advantage: New York

Intangibles:
New York hasn’t lost to Columbus since July 17, 2010, going 3-0-3 over that span. However, as this season’s matches between the two have proven, not much separates the sides. Columbus will want to make a good impression with their new owner watching in person. Columbus is 3-4-3 at home this season with a home goal differential of zero – not exactly a home field advantage. Although the Nordecke can rock, the Crew attracts less than 15,000 fans on average to CCS, which seats a shade over 20,000. Weather will not be a factor, with a forecast of 77 and partly cloudy, and only a 10% chance of rain.
Slight Advantage: New York

Prediction:
As fans have discovered, Petke’s New York squad gets up for big games and sluffs off when the opponent is less imposing (See Chicago away, Vancouver at home). Although the Red Bulls sit atop the East, there are still plenty of doubters of New York’s quality. As silly as it sounds after beating division leaders Montreal, Salt Lake, and Kansas City, a road win against a poor opponent may finally build credit across the national soccer media. Just like the Vancouver match, there’s no reason to think that New York will falter here. In early June, they faltered. In mid-August, they’ll deliver.

New York wins 3-1.