Week one of the MLS season brought with it some disappointment to both the San Jose Earthquakes and the New York Red Bulls.
New York’s issues have been well documented; from a litany of travel issues to the loss of a two goal lead thanks to a lifeless second half of soccer, the Red Bulls left Portland with a surprisingly disappointing point on the road.
Meanwhile, the defending Supporter’s Shield Champion San Jose Earthquakes looked like anything but against Real Salt Lake. A late game Alvaro Saborio brace ruined what was to be a promising start to the season at Buck Shaw.
San Jose limped into the competition with Steven Beitashour, Dan Gargan, Marvin Chavez, Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon missing from the encounter. Now, striker Mike Fucito will likely miss the match against New York thanks to a hamstring injury picked up against RSL. The Red Bulls have injury issues of their own with playmaker Juninho out of this encounter as well.
Who has the edge? EoS breaks it down with this weeks preview:
PROJECTED RED BULL LINEUP (4-2-3-1): Robles; Barklage, Olave, Pearce, Miller; Steele, McCarty; Bover, Cahill, Espindola; Henry
HISTORY: Red Bulls 10 wins, 15 loses, 8 ties
LAST ENCOUNTER: April 14th, 2012: 2-2 draw (Cooper, McCarty; Baca, Wondolowsk)
BATTLE TO WATCH: Chris Wondolowski v. Jamison Olave. It was an up and down debut for Olave, and that came to be expected. With a makeshift backline and a speedy, young Timbers side, the Colombian defender was tested early and often. Though he made his fair share of mistakes (beyond a simple own goal), Olave was arguably the steadiest defender for New York on that night. He will shoulder the bulk of the responsibility taking on former West Coast rival Wondolowski.
X-FACTOR: Travel woes. For the second week in a row, the Red Bulls have battled adverse travel conditions. Last week, a three hour spell in the airport led the team to charter a flight for Saturday afternoon. This week, a late season Noreaster had a similar effect. Thierry Henry and others blamed the travel for their lack of drive in a flat second half against Portland. A repeat of that could mean a loss against a strong Earthquakes side.
The last time these two teams met, Shea Salinas was side-kicked by Rafa Marquez and the normally reserved Wondolowski had some words with Thierry Henry. It was a fiery affair for an early season fixture which could provide a nice subplot for Sunday evening’s action.
“We know how good they are although they are missing some players,” Henry noted. “But we know how good they are and I am sure they are going to want to make sure that the defeat against Salt Lake was not the right thing. I am sure they are going to want to respond against us.”
In order to avoid the inevitable offensive onslaught, New York will likely play a physical and simplistic defensive match in an attempt to steal points on the road. Newcomer Jonny Steele is likely to start for the injured Juninho, immediately bringing some bite to the midfield. He alongside Tim Cahill and Dax McCarty will be tasked with clogging the middle and keeping Wondolowski off the score sheet.
“It’s going to have to be different against San Jose because we know we can score goals – we showed we can score goals especially against two of (Portlands) mistakes,” Cahill said. “Whether I go back and lay deeper is another decision that might have to happen because we don’t want to lose away.
“That’s the main thing for us and when you set up sometimes it has to be defensive and not what everyone wants to see and what you guys are going for being in New York, Red Bulls attacking. You saw it but sometimes we have to take one for the team and be deep and make sure we try to get those opportunities because in the end, we could have been up with run away opportunities which we are definitely going to get because of the quality.”
The Red Bulls counter attack style may work against the injury laden Quakes, but New York will once again have to fight travel and acclimation issues to do it. That in itself won’t be an easy task.
“San Jose is a very compact, very organized team and they look to break pretty quick with a guy like Wondolowski,” head coach Mike Petke said. “It’s about them keeping on their toes, dropping when there is no pressure on the ball from San Jose so we are not hit with a ball over the top.”
2-0 Red Bulls (EoS Season Record 0-1)