The New England Revolution are facing off against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday night for the third and final time of 2012. The series is split at 1-1-0, though the teams could not be further apart in the league.
With the Red Bulls coming off a lackluster 2-0 loss to Kansas City at midweek, the Revs have to feel they have a good chance to play spoiler. New York has never won at Gillette Stadium - their last win in Foxboro came at the old stadium about ten years ago - and the Revs always seem to get up for this fixture. With the pressure of trying to qualify for the playoffs lifted from their shoulders, this game may represent a good opportunity for New England to just go out there and play good soccer.
Today's Q&A is with Dan Ferris of Once A Metro, SB Nation's New York Red Bulls blog. You can head over there to get a look at my answers to his questions.
TBM: Checking through the numbers here...it looks like the Red Bulls (and MetroStars, previously) have never won at Gillette Stadium. Simple query: why is that, and do you think New York can turn it around this weekend?
DF: It's been over ten years since the Red Bulls/Metrostars have won away at New England. A lot of talk about the turf gets thrown around, and not that it would have meant different results but, for what it's worth, Thierry Henry has yet to play at Gillette for that very reason. But I'll give credit where credit is due though, because New England has been plenty competitive at home this season despite an otherwise disappointing year. They're a respectable 6-4-5 at GIllette in 2012 with a +7 goal differential, compared to having just one win on the road. Bottom line: New England typically plays better at home, and against an Eastern Conference rival you expect them to bring a little extra.
TBM: Rafa Marquez, one of my least-favorite soccer players of all time, recently made his return to the Red Bulls lineup after a lengthy absence. An absence that some would argue coincided with an uptick in fortunes for the club. Then again, against Columbus this past week, Marquez assisted on the first Red Bulls goal. Do you think he's going to be a key contributor - and a positive contributor - going forward in 2012? And do you see him sticking around for 2013?
DF: Up until Wednesday night, New York was actually undefeated in games that Rafa had played in during the 2012 season (now 7-1-3). Although you would not be hard pressed to find someone to argue that they won most of those games despite the presence of Marquez. And while he showed signs of life in his return to action against Columbus, he crumbled against a stronger and more aggressive Kansas City midfield. His reliance on the hustle of a fellow central midfielder such as Dax McCarty was exposed when Hans Backe moved him to the right side. Is Rafa capable of making incredible, pin point long passes? Sure. But unless he picks up his level of urgency and aggression, and I don't mean throwing a soccer ball at Landon Donovan's head after the final whistle, he will go down as a prime example of how Designated Players can earn one hundred times more than some of their teammates and provide very little in return.
TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player that Revs fans should watch out for in this match.
DF: Lloyd Sam - the lone bright spot in an otherwise cringe inducing performance by the Red Bulls in their midweek match against Sporting Kansas City. After joining New York in August, he has featured sparingly off the bench, but on Wednesday night he got the nod in the second half and the right side of the field immediately became the focal point of the Red Bulls attack. We'll see whether he did enough to earn a chance in the starting eleven against New England, but regardless he adds a dimension to the team on the wing like no other player has since Dane Richards was traded to Vancouver.
TBM: Who do you think the Red Bulls fear most on the pitch for New England?
DF: If he hadn't torn his ACL, I would have not hesitated to say Saer Sene. He gave the Red Bulls fits their first two meetings this year but couldn't find the score board. That said, I'd say Jerry Bengston is the biggest threat to give the New York defense fits and break through.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
DF: Backe has been so unpredictable all season with his starting lineup but i'll give it a shot. I'd say Henry* and Cooper up top with a midfield of Lloyd Sam, Tim Cahill, Rafa Marquez, and Dax McCarty. Despite having an abysmal start to the match on Wednsday against Kansas City, expect the same back line of Wilman Conde, Heath Pearce, Markus Holgersson, and Connor Lade. A big caveat is if Thierry Henry plays - since joining MLS he has always sat out games at Gillette as mentioned above because of the turf.
Final score: a 2-2 draw with both New York goals coming from Tim Cahill.