The New York Red Bulls take on Colorado Rapids this evening at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado - the second leg of a two-game road swing. Following a dull 0-0 draw in Los Angeles against Chivas USA, New York will desperate for all three points against a club that suffered the blow of losing key striker Conor Casey to a season ending Achilles injury earlier in the week. If the Red Bulls want to have any hope of finishing atop the Eastern Conference, or even holding off the group of clubs behind them, they simply must start to pick up points on the road.
The Rapids have won just three times in their ten home matches this season, and their only win since April came against bottom-feeders Vancouver Whitecaps two weeks ago. For all the talk about Colorado's advantage of playing at altitude, they really haven't capitalized on it this season. On the other hand, key man Omar Cummings missed a long stretch of games due to injury, and Casey sat out a number of matches earlier in the campaign as well. Despite their troubles, manager Gary Smith has managed to keep them in the thick of things in the competitive Western Conference, and the Rapids are in fact just two points behind the Red Bulls on the same number of games played.
Hans Backe may have chalked up the Chivas USA result as another point earned on the road, but for Red Bulls fans there were worrying signs. Deprived once again of a #10 type player with the departure of Dwayne De Rosario, the goals have dried up. Thierry Henry has been forced to drop deep to start attacks, and has not been able to develop the same kind of understanding with Juan Agudelo that he has with the injured Luke Rodgers. While the midfield combination of Teemu Tainio and Dax McCarty provides plenty of defensive steel in front of the back four - so much so that new goalkeeper Frank Rost had almost nothing to do in Los Angeles - it has created some new offensive issues in that Hans Backe will need to work through and solve quickly.
Barring any last minute changes, expect the Red Bulls to use the same lineup we saw against Chivas. Rafael Márquez has still not fully recovered from his hamstring injury. Our friend Mark Fishkin at the Seeing Red! podcast pointed out that Márquez has now taken part in just nine of the Red Bulls 21 (soon to be 22) games this season. Not exactly the kind of return one would like to have from a designated player.
In addition to the high altitude, Backe will need to keep in mind both the hot weather and the fact that the Red Bulls are in the midst of three games in a week. After Wednesday's game, they return home to play FC Dallas on Saturday at Red Bull Arena, with temperatures forecast in the upper 90s near kickoff. Should Backe choose not to use his bench again in Colorado he could have a very tired group of players on Saturday - and it will be nobody's fault but his his own.
Tonight's match will be broadcast locally at 9:30 PM ET on MSG. We will have our usual match thread going here as well.