Preview: New York Red Bulls at Columbus Crew

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by MARK FISHKIN

The New York Red Bulls’ rotated squad played well for long stretches on Wednesday night at Salt Lake, but faded late, ending their 400-plus minute scoreless streak, and then their five-match winning streak. The road trip continues Saturday night in Columbus, where New York will meet the 2015 Eastern Conference playoff champion for the first time since being eliminated at Red Bull Arena last November.

The Crew have doddled through the first half of the season after jettisoning their star Kei Kamara to New England after a locker room dispute. Columbus will miss star midfielder Federico Higuain, who’s out after hernia surgery. Can Jesse Marsch continue to rotate the squad to positive result?


Match Information

Saturday, June 25th at Mapfre Stadium, 7:30p ET kickoff

TV/Streaming: MSG/MSG Go (Optimum and xfinity subscribers)

Red Bulls Radio: TuneIn App and www.newyorkredbulls.com/matchday/radio

Referee: Baldomero Toledo

Record: GF/GA, Division & League Position, Current League Form

Columbus: 15 points from 14 gms, 18GF/25GA, 9th in the east, 18th in MLS, DDLWD

New York: 22 points from 16 gms, 27GF/22GA, 2nd in the East, 5th in MLS, WWWWL


Projected Lineups

Columbus

CLBvNY

New York

NYvCLB


The Crew attack vs. the New York back line

Ethan Finlay vs. Connor Lade, Gideon Baah, Ronald Zubar*, and Sal Zizzo (and Luis Robles)

Finlay (1G/4A), who scored twice last season against the Red Bulls, gets the nod up top for Columbus. An all-star and MLS Best XI midfielder a year ago, Finlay and his stats has suffered significantly with the departure of Kei Kamara.  However, the Crew has added Norwegian international Ola Kamara (4G) this offseason, and the “new” Kamara has scored in half of his appearances, racking up a hat trick against RSL on May 28th. New York’s back line faded badly in the heat and altitude of Salt Lake on Wednesday, allowing goals in the 65th and 87th minute. Gideon Baah was a bright spot, playing physically and scoring his second goal as a Red Bull. I’ve penciled Zubar here as Baah’s linemate, but as of this writing, the league has yet to rule on whether Aurelien Collin’s late red card will be upheld. If overturned, Collin gets the nod. Chris Duvall had a nightmare of an appearance on Wednesday, losing Yura Movsisyan on the first RSL goal, then deflecting in Jordan Allen’s second. Still, he may spell Sal Zizzo on the right given Zizzo’s odometer over the last few matches. Robles wasn’t to blame on either New York goal in Utah. Even with the loss, the Red Bulls have only conceded twice in the last six matches overall.

Slight Advantage: New York


The Red Bulls forward vs. the Crew defense

Bradley Wright-Phillips vs. Corey Ashe, Tyson Wahl, Michael Parkhurst, and Harrison Afful (and Steve Clark)

Anatole Abang played 67 mostly invisible minutes on Wednesday, without taking a single shot toward the RSL net. Neither did Bradley Wright-Phillips as a substitute. BWP has yet to find the net since his hat trick against Toronto before the Copa America break. If the Crew has anything going for it this week, it’s the team’s defense. The Columbus back line has been hot and cold of late, conceding eight times over their last five league matches, but also posting two shutouts during the stretch. Corey Ashe (3A) has bounced from Orlando to Columbus over the last two seasons after nine strong years in Houston. Wahl has all of one assist in MLS play since 2014. Parkhurst (1A) has played the full 90 in thirteen straight matches for the Crew. Ghanaian national teamer Afful (1A) is the only twenty-something on Columbus’ back line. Keeper Clark’s four clean sheets has him on pace to beat his MLS-best 8 shutouts earned in 2014. Last time out, the Crew held Didier Drogba and Montreal to a scoreless draw.

Slight Advantage: Columbus


The Midfields:

Justin Meram, Will Trapp, Mohammed Saeid, Tony Tchani, and Hector Jiminez vs. Mike Grella, Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestan, Sean Davis, and Alex Muyl.

Both pairs of five-man midfields will determine the match. In the second leg of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, the Crew altered their typical game plan, collapsing and stifling New York’s ability to generate quality chances. With less at stake on Saturday, the Crew, though undermanned without Higuain, will push forward. Of course, anyone who’s watched MLS this season will have seen the Audi commercial highlighting Justin Meram’s (2G/5A) early goal versus the Red Bulls in last year’s playoffs. Will Trapp has played every minute for the Crew so far. Swede Saeid (1A) will play in the number 10 spot, but he’s no Higuain. Tchani has been relegated to the bench for most of the last two months, and made his first ninety-minute appearance since March last week against Montreal. Jimenez has also come on as of late to help Columbus during Higuain’s absence.  New York will continue to rotate the squad during this tough summer run. Mike Grella (6G/3A) returns to the lineup after the birth of his daughter. Captain Dax McCarty (2G/1A) is back after resting against RSL. Sean Davis picked up his first point of the season, feeding Baah’s early goal on Wednesday. Davis didn’t have the best match against RSL, but Marsch will want Felipe rested for Wednesday’s US Open Cup tilt at Philadelphia. Sacha Kljestan will start after a 13-minute substitute stint at Salt Lake. Alex Muyl (1G/1A) should get a second straight start on the right side after Lloyd Sam played the full 90 midweek. Veron may come on as a sub.

Advantage: New York


The Coaches

Gregg Berhalter has had a tough road a season after hosting — and coming up short — in MLS Cup. A massive spat between his two big stars necessitated jettisoning Kamara, who contributed 22 goals in 2015. Now, without Higuain, his club is suffering near the bottom of the league. Berhalter built a perfect game plan to get by New York in last year’s playoffs. Can he repeat the feat on Saturday? Jesse Marsch’s decision to go to a five-man backline so early on Wednesday backfired and cost his side three points. Without numbers in the midfield, RSL was able to keep possession, knock in two late goals, and grab the victory. Even throwing on starters BWP and Kljestan didn’t create a scoring opportunity. While Marsch has to continue to rotate his squad, he needs to prove he can get the better of Berhalter.

Advantage: Columbus


Intangibles

Columbus is 3-1-3 at Mapfre Stadium this season, but the Crew has won only once in seven MLS matches. New York is 31-32-9 all-time vs. Columbus, and 14-18-4 in Columbus. Bradley Wright-Phillips has four all-time goals versus the crew, John Wolyniec has the most with seven, including the sudden-death game-winner in 2003 that was named one of the best MLS goals of the league’s first ten seasons. The home team won four of five matches between the teams in 2015. The Red Bulls took all three points at Mapfre last March 28th on Grella’s audacious chip. New York won’t get a break after the searing heat in Utah. Game time temperatures in Ohio look to be in the upper eighties and clear skies. The Crew rank sixteenth in the league in attendance, averaging fewer than sixteen thousand fans per match. The Nordecke supporters section, however, is always loud and engaged. The teams will only meet twice this season. The Crew visit Red Bull Arena on October 16th.

Advantage: Even


Prediction:

Given the performance at Rio Tinto, settling on a result is challenging. Should Collin be permitted to play, New York’s chances increase. A fresh Grella, McCarty and Kljestan will help as well. Given the heat, and the extra rest that the home-standing Crew bring into the match, I’ll call it a 1-1 draw, with the hot Grella notching the goal for the Red Bulls.