The New England Revolution are making the trek down I-95 to Harrison, NJ to take on Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls. New York hasn't won in their last six matches (five draws, one loss), but the Revs are looking to stop a three-loss slide and are still searching for their first goal from the run of play since April 23rd.
The Red Bulls have a roster loaded with talent but have to deal with the loss of several impact players for the Gold Cup. Juan Agudelo, Dwayne De Rosario, Rafael Marquez, Tim Ream and Dane Richards are currently barnstorming the US, representing their countries in CONCACAF's premier tournament. That doesn't mean New York is toothless - they still have Joel Lindpere, Teemu Tainio, Luke Rodgers and arguably their best player, Thierry Henry. This will still be an attack that the Revolution will struggle to contain.
The last injury report was released on Tuesday. Marko Perovic and Benny Feilhaber are out, and the only new name listed was Zak Boggs who is probable with an MCL sprain.
TBM: The Red Bulls are going to have to deal with the loss of several key players during the Gold Cup. Dwayne De Rosario, Rafael Marquez, Dane Richards, Juan Agudelo, and Tim Ream are all gone for an extended period of time. How difficult is it going to be for New York to handle their absence, and who do you expect to step up and deliver in crunch time while they're gone?
BS: The main problem that the Gold Cup presents for New York is in defense -- the Red Bulls have lost their starting centerback pair of Tim Ream and Rafa Márquez. While the Red Bulls also lose some speed up front in the absence of Juan Agudelo and Dane Richards, scoring goals hasn't been a problem for New York during their current winless run. Instead, it's been defensive errors that keep costing New York cheap goals, particularly off set pieces. At the same time, both Carlos Mendes and Stephen Keel are competent and experienced backups. Given the overall talent level of the team that is left after international call-ups, New York should probably be able to survive June with a decent points haul, although neither the game against Vancouver nor last week against Columbus gave me any great confidence in Matt Kassel or Austin da Luz, two of the Red Bulls' young backups.
TBM: As fantastic as Thierry Henry has been this season after a rather disappointing first campaign in MLS, for me the story of the year at Red Bull Arena has been Luke Rodgers. Here is a perpetual journeyman of the English lower leagues with some ability but lots of off-field issues who has come to America and absolutely exploded. He's picked up five goals and three assists in 12 appearances (ten of them starts) and seems to have an X-factor that most teams can't deal with. How critical has he been to New York's efforts to keep pace with Philadelphia at the top of the Eastern Conference standings?
BS: Some of the fine folks I stand near at Red Bull Arena have already suggested that Luke Rodgers is on course to be "the greatest Red Bull ever," and I certainly see why they believe that. He runs his socks off every game but also has some technical quality and a spiky streak (sort of a fiery, shorter version of Bayern Munich's Ivica Olic). Rodgers' high workrate is a great complement to the languid Thierry Henry, and both are very polished finishers.
TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player Revolution fans should watch out for in this match.
BS: Unfortunately Hans Backe has been reluctant to give the Red Bulls' younger players much time this season, so there's no new Tim Ream or Tony Tchani. However, 31-year-old Finnish midfielder Teemu Tainio has become a key player for New York in his first MLS season, and his performance will be crucial in determining whether the Red Bulls finally break their six-game winless streak. A stocky defensive midfielder in the Makelele mold (but with an eye for a pass), Tainio was brilliant against San Jose and DC, but hasn't performed as well in recent weeks. The Red Bulls can score, but they need Tainio to help get back to keeping clean sheets.
TBM: Who do you think the Red Bulls fear most on the pitch for New England?
BS: Shalrie Joseph has been a thorn in the side of the New York MetroStars/Red Bulls for many years, and could well continue that on Friday. While The Red Bulls are particularly weak at fullback, the presence of a midfielder to dictate the opposition's tempo has consistently unsettled Red Bulls teams and Joseph's ability to act as a more defensive player may also cause New York problems going forward. Unless Tainio can restrict his impact on the game, Joseph's play could prove the Red Bulls' undoing.
TBM: Finally, give us your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
BS: Hans Backe doesn't like to change things, but it looks like Jan Gunnar Solli (a midfielder who has been starting at right back) will be out after pulling his hamstring against Columbus, so....
(4-4-2 Diamond, L-R) Sutton; Miller, Keel, Mendes, Kassel; da Luz, Tainio, Lindpere, Ballouchy; Henry, Rodgers
Prediction: 0-5 New England (I have no clue what Red Bulls team is going to show up).