Preview: New York Red Bulls at Sporting KC

IMAGE, NEWYORKREDBULLS.COM

BY MARK FISHKIN
Staff Writer

With only twelve league matches to play, the stretch run begins for New York this week as the Red Bulls jet to the Midwest to face its third conference leader in the last four weeks: Sporting KC.

After victories versus Montreal and Salt Lake, one would think that the Red Bulls’ confidence would be sky-high.  However, both of those victories came in the friendly confines of Red Bull Arena, where New York usually takes care of business.

While the Red Bulls’ 3-4-3 road mark isn’t bad, the team has been a completely different team away from Harrison of late (See: 0-3 at Philadelphia, 0-0 at Toronto).  SKC will be counting on a massive post-All-Star buzz and crowd to push New York back into the MLS Eastern Conference dog pile.  Will Kansas City continue its mastery (six straight unbeaten) over New York?  Will the Red Bulls continue to click offensively (8 goals combined v Montreal & Salt Lake) at Sporting Park? Can a Tim Cahill-less New York squad even grab a point? Let’s dig into the two sides and see how they match up.

Record, Eastern and League Position, and Recent Form:

Kansas City, 36 points from 22 matches, 31 goals scored, 1st and 2nd, DWWWL

New York, 35 points from 22 matches, 33 goals scored, t2nd and t3rd, WLWDW

SKC’s front line vs. the Red Bulls defense:
Kei Kamara, Soony Saad and Claudio Bieler vs. Roy Miller, Jamison Olave, Markus Holgersson and Brandon Barklage (and Luis Robles).

Bieler is the real deal for Sporting. His nine goals place him fifth in the league, and Kamara’s been dangerous since his return from the EPL with four goals in twelve appearances. Former Youth National teamer Saad has three tallies and two assists.  New York’s back line has to be overjoyed that they won’t see Alvaro Saborio again this regular season, but one has to wonder if the Red Bulls D will be a bit shaky after allowing three (one on a pk) to the Costa Rican last week.

Slight Advantage: SKC

New York’s attackers vs. Sporting’s defense:
Thierry Henry and Fabian Espindola vs. Ike Opara, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, and Seth Sinovic (and Jimmy Nielsen).

Espindola’s two emotional penalty kicks against his former club were stellar to see, but all too often, he’ll fail while taking on three defenders rather than look for open teammates. Henry continues to hum along with an assist on Cahill’s goal last week, though he may be a bit gassed after his 57 minutes at the All-Star game.  Sporting’s defense has played together for a number of seasons now, and Jimmy Nielsen (0.95 GAA, 8 shutouts) has New York’s number. If fact, the Red Bulls haven’t scored on Kansas City in over six matches, since Luke Rodgers hit the back of the net on April 30th, 2011. In addition, Collin, who played the full ninety against Roma on Wednesday, is a scoring threat on set pieces (3g, 1a)

Advantage: SKC

The Midfields:
Johnny Steele, Dax McCarty, Eric Alexander and Lloyd Sam vs. Benny Feilhaber, Orioil Rosell, and Graham Zusi.

With Tim Cahill out 3-4 weeks with a PCL tear suffered in the RSL match, Alexander shifts to CAM and Lloyd Sam starts on the right (or Wright-Phillips if his ITC arrives). Alexander is a half-decent fill in here, but Cahill’s absence is a major loss both attacking and defending set pieces. McCarty must still be on Cloud Nine after his match-winner last week, and chippy matches like this are made for him.  An in-form Zusi (4g, 6a) makes SKC go, but his quad knock during the All-Star game, will help New York immensely if he misses the match. Haitian Peterson Joseph (14 appearances, 0G, 0A) may be Zusi’s replacement. Feilhaber is having a quiet but productive season (1g, 4a) to date for Sporting. Rosell holds down the d-mid space in KC’s 4-3-3.

Advantage if Zusi’s healthy: SKC. If Zusi doesn’t play: Even.

The Coaches:
Mike Petke was rightly criticized for failing to make changes earlier in the RSL match until after New York blew a 2-nil lead.  Petke continues to learn on the job, and his challenge for the month of August will be integrating new signings Bradley Wright-Phillips and Ibrahim Sekagya into the club.  SKC’s Peter Vermes continues to steer his tight ship towards the MLS Playoffs and a possible Supporters Shield.  Last year the club was a surprise loser to Houston.  Despite a late slip on the road in Montreal, Vermes has the club’s respect and continues to perform well for him.

Advantage: SKC

Intangibles:
All of Kansas City will be aglow, and perhaps a bit hungover, after Wednesday’s MLS All-Star Game.  SKC is not a stellar home team, boasting only a 5-3-3 record this season at Sporting Park, with losses to Portland, Seattle, and Montreal. New York’s recent road woes have been documented, but the club has a knack of playing to the level of its opponent. Sporting’s home crowd is as vocal and passionate as any in the league, and will make it tough on New York. Forecast is for a high of 89 and 30% chance of thunderstorms.

Slight Advantage: SKC

Prediction:
Without Cahill’s skill in the air, RBNY doesn’t stand a chance. Sporting KC is New York’s bogey team.  Even if Zusi misses the match, the Red Bulls just can’t figure out how to break them down.

An 0-2 loss awaits.