The MLS schedule makers did the New York Red Bulls no favors this season. After a four game road trip that included three matches on the West Coast, followed by two in the space of a week at Red Bull Arena, it's back on the plane for New York. They kick off a two-game road this evening against Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center, before taking on Colorado Rapids on Wednesday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. The Chivas match will be the Red Bulls' final regular season encounter in the Pacific Time zone. From August forward the travel itinerary gets less daunting, even if the opponents do not.
The Red Bulls have only managed to pick up full points away from home once this season - the 4-0 dismantling of DC United way back in April. With the majority of their first choice starting XI available (barring Luke Rodgers and Rafael Márquez) and new goalkeeper Frank Rost in place, they will be hoping to avenge the stinging 3-2 home loss to Chivas in May that, one could argue, began the club's slide into mediocrity. Justin Braun tore New York asunder that day with a hat trick that seemed to have long-lasting repercussions for New York's defensive confidence. Will signing Rost help patch the holes and restore solidity at the back? This rematch should be a good gauge.Juan Agudelo and Thierry Henry have not looked like the most potent striker combination for New York this season. More often than not, Agudelo has tended to dribble himself into dead ends and failed to pick out Henry when the two have been paired together. This was an especially glaring issue during his substitute appearance against DC United, when the youngster's selfishness essentially took Henry out of the game for the final 25 minutes. But with Luke Rodgers missing three to four weeks with plantar fasciitis, the Red Bulls have little other choice up front. The kid and the veteran will simply have to find a way to work together.
Teemu Tainio, returning from his suspension due to yellow card accumulation, will be back in the team alongside Dax McCarty in the center of midfield. He was sorely missed in the DC loss. Without his bite and tackling ability in midfield, New York is not the same team. His presence also gives McCarty greater freedom to roam forward and link up with Henry, Dane Richards and Joel Lindpere in the attack.
At the back, this may be Carlos Mendes' final start before the return of Marquez. Tim Ream had a stellar game against DC United, picking Andy Najar's pocket several times and making a sliding save that prevented a Charlie Davies goal. He was named to the MLS' Team of the Week for his efforts. Any hit that Ream took to his confidence as a result of the own goal he surrendered in the Gold Cup seems to have vanished.
For Chivas, the forward position has been a longstanding problem area. Finding a reliable partner for the hard-working Braun has been an issue for first-year manager Robin Fraser. The Goats used Red Bull killer Alejandro Moreno when they visited Red Bull Arena, but he is at Copa America with the Venezuelan National Team and unavailable for selection this time. It's likely that Marcos Mondaini, who was suspended for the two clubs' previous meeting this season, will take Moreno's place.
Fraser uses a midfield diamond in most matches, similar to the pre-McCarty Red Bulls. Nick La Brocca has been the key man for the Rojiblancos in midfield of late, with goals in three straight games, including last weekend's 1-1 road draw against Sporting Kansas City.
If not for a number of goals surrendered late in matches, Chivas could be much further up the standings. Of course there is little chance of the Red Bulls taking the Goats lightly after what happened in May. A further reason for caution, however: the Red Bulls have only managed to beat Chivas once in Los Angeles, and that was way back in 2005. With the exception of a tight 1-0 win last season at Red Bull Arena, Chivas has dominated this matchup in recent seasons, no matter the players, managers involved or the relative positions in the table.
Kickoff is at 10:30 PM ET. The match will be broadcast on locally on MSG and nationally on Galavision. As usual, we will have a match thread up and running here at Once a Metro, so stop by and give us your thoughts.