Preview: New York Red Bulls at Real Salt Lake

IMAGE, NEWYORKREDBULLS.COM

By MARK FISHKIN
Staff Writer

While a one-goal exhibition victory over an EPL side is nice for fans, the best news about Saturday’s Arsenal match is that New York posted a shutout for the first time in seven matches across all competitions.

Luis Robles made some spectacular saves, and Roy Miller’s return lifted the back line in the first half against some the Gunners’ top players. Now with a tough week ahead of them, Miller’s return to league play for the first time since May 10th which should ease New York’s defensive woes. 

Before a home match against a very bad New England team comes a trip to Rio Tinto, the site of the Red Bulls’ most meaningful away victory: the Western Conference Final in 2008.

Match Information:
Wednesday, July 30th at Rio Tinto Stadium, 9:00p ET kickoff, TV: ESPN2

Referee: Mark Geiger

Record, GF/GA, Division and League Position, Recent Form:
Salt Lake, 32 points from 20 matches, 31 GF/26 GA, 2nd in the West, 4th in MLS, LWLDW
New York, 24 points from 20 matches, 32 GF/31 GA, 5th in the East, 12th in MLS, DDWLD

RSL’s front line vs. the Red Bulls defense:

Joao Plata and Olmes Garcia vs. Roy Miller, Jamison Olave, Ibrahim Sekagya, and Chris Duvall (and Luis Robles). 
The RSL front line has been a mash unit this season, with Alvaro Saborio lost for months due to a foot injury suffered in Costa Rica’s national team camp, and Plata missing five games due to a hamstring earlier this season.  Still, the Ecuadorian’s eight goals (and four assists) have Plata in the middle of his best MLS season to date. Robbie Findley has two goals for RSL this year, but Garcia scored twice in thirty-one minutes against Montreal last week.  Is Petke ready to roll the dice and reinsert Miazga into the lineup?  Against RSL’s veterans, I think Sekagya, who played well against the Quakes, gets another start next to Olave. Miller’s return is a godsend for New York, not only because he adds experience to the back, but also because he’ll allow Oyongo to push up to midfield.  Robles was in super form against Arsenal.  Duvall will be tested by Garcia and Grabavoy.  
Advantage: Salt Lake

New York’s attackers vs. the Salt Lake defense:

Thierry Henry and Bradley Wright-Philips vs. Chris Wingert, Chris Schuler, Nat Borchers, and Tony Beltran (and Nick Rimando).
Ho-hum, Henry and BWP connected yet again for another New York goal on Saturday, this one the lone score in the Red Bulls’ victory against Arsenal. Wright-Phillips has scored in five-straight league matches. The league record is seven matches with at least one goal. While the BWP show has been fun to watch, the Englishman has 53% of New York’s goals this season. New York needs others to put the ball in the net. Unlike New York’s back line, Salt Lake’s defenders have played together consistently all season long. Schuler’s 16 appearances this season are the fewest among the veteran unit, and while none among Real’s back four have scored this season, they’ve held opponents to a single goal in each of the club’s last five matches.  Nick Rimando has played in Salt Lake’s last four matches since returning from the World Cup.  His last shutout was eight appearances ago, a 1-0 win at Portland on April 19th.   
Advantage: New York

The Midfields:

Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy, Luke Mulholland and Javier Morales vs. Ambroise Oyongo, Tim Cahill, Dax McCarty and Erik Alexander.
Beckerman (2G/3A) sits in his familiar role at the bottom of RSL’s famed diamond midfield. The dreadlocked RSL stalwart has gone the full 90 in four straight matches after returning from the World Cup. Javi Morales (5G/7A) is the point of the diamond, and even at age 34 is on pace to rack up more goals than any of his other seven MLS campaigns. Grabavoy (1G/2A) patrols the left side of the field but distributes more often than shoots. Newcomer Mulholland (5G/3A) has avoided the accepted “MLS transition period” and has produced for RSL right away. While Mulholland’s crosses leave a bit to be desired, the Englishman opened the scoring on Montreal on Thursday.  Due to his yellow card against San Jose, Lloyd Sam will miss his first Red Bulls match this season.  In fact, Sam has played all but twenty-seven minutes of New York’s games this year.  Alexander (2G/6A) will shift from the left to the right side into Sam’s spot. Petke auditioned Oyongo at left mid against Arsenal, and with a healthy Miller at left back, the Cameroonian (3A in 5 appearances) will get his first MLS start as a midfielder in Salt Lake.  Against the Quakes, Dax McCarty had only three tackles and a single interception in his familiar d-mid spot, and four of his six unsuccessful passes were in the defensive half of the field. Tim Cahill didn’t have a single shot on goal in seventy-four minutes against San Jose.  
Advantage: Salt Lake

The Coaches:

Salt Lake’s Jeff Cassar has been involved with the league since MLS’ inception.  After serving as a keeper for eleven seasons, Cassar moved directly into coaching and had served as an assistant for former RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis form 2010 through last season. Cassar had his side off to an amazing twelve-match unbeaten streak to start the season, but a five-match winless streak without Beckerman or Rimando brought RSL down to earth. Salt Lake is 2-1-1 with its World Cup stars back, and Cassar has his club thinking playoffs once again. Petke will benefit from Miller’s return, but also has to manage Miazga’s development along with his propensity to make mistakes. Will new signing Perinelle succeed where Armando has failed? The New York manager has to figure out a way to get Cahill involved in the offense throughout a match, not just for last-gasp goals.
Advantage: Salt Lake

Intangibles:
New York has never won a regular-season match Salt Lake (0-4-4). In fact, the Red Bulls haven’t scored at RSL in 422 minutes, since Dave van den Bergh’s goal in the 2008 Western Conference Final sent New York to the MLS Cup. Only two active Red Bulls have scored against RSL: Dax McCarty and Tim Cahill.  Last season’s match between the two was the 4-3 classic, with McCarty’s goal deep into injury time gave the Red Bulls the win at Red Bull Arena. RSL is 5-1-4 at Rio Tinto this season, the lone loss to Portland on June 7th. New York is 2-4-5 on the road. Salt Lake is averaging over twenty thousand fans a game, and just had over eleven thousand at the RioT for a reserves match. The forecast is foreboding, with eighty degrees and a likelihood of thunderstorms at kickoff.
Advantage: Salt Lake

Prediction:

Real Salt Lake appears to be revving up again with its World Cup stars back at home.  Yes, RSL needed a late surge to take down bottom feeder Montreal last week, but Salt Lake will be playing at home against a team that hasn’t won there in six years.  New York will try to take whatever momentum it can muster from the victory over Arsenal on the weekend into this more meaningful match.  Surely the Red Bulls can be counted on for a BWP goal against Salt Lake’s slower backline, but can Cahill make an impact?  Can McCarty shut down Morales?  I’m unsure. I think RSL takes a tight, entertaining 2-1 victory.