Desperation time came and went several months ago in Harrison. Week after week, the New York Red Bulls have been faced with "must win" games and come up short. Now, holding on to a wild card spot by the tips of their fingernails - and having played more games played than their Eastern Conference rivals - the Red Bulls again must get a win to have any hope of postseason play. This time the opponent is New England Revolution, a club that has had New York's number in recent years and has quite simply owned the series at Foxboro. In fact you have to go back to 2002 to find the last time the New York franchise defeated the Revolution away from home. Apart from that lone victory, the House that Kraft Built has been a house of horrors for the Metrobulls.
It's not catastrophic losses that tell the story of the Red Bulls season, though there have been a few. Remarkably, there are only three clubs in MLS - Los Angeles Galaxy, Philadelphia Union and Seattle Sounders - that have lost fewer games than the Red Bulls. Nor is the problem a lack of goals - the Red Bulls still lead the league in scoring. Rather, it's the staggering total of 13 draws that have put New York in danger. Nine times this season the Red Bulls have found themselves up in a match, only to settle for less than a maximum points. Whether their inability to hold a lead is a sign of mental fragility, lack of concentration, bad coaching or all the above, it's a habit they need to nip in the bud, starting this evening in Foxboro.Thierry Henry has only played on Field Turf once this season - the wild 3-3 draw against Portland at Jeld-Wen Field. Henry has spoken in the past about his dislike for synthetic surfaces, but the Red Bulls don't have the luxury of resting starters at this point, let alone the league's leading goalscorer and their most deadly attacking threat. Hans Backe's decision to pair Henry with Dane Richards against Chicago seemed to pay dividends. With Juan Agudelo continuing to struggle to find a rapport with Henry, don't be surprised if Backe keeps Agudelo on the bench this evening.
In midfield, Dax McCarty has been a major disappointment since arriving from DC United, but he has been done no favors when paired with the timid Mehdi Ballouchy. With Teemu Tainio back playing the destroyer role, McCarty should be able to roam forward with greater freedom. If Backe does decide to shirt Richards up front again, he has a decision to make at right midfield - will it be his favorite son Ballouchy getting the start again, or might we see Jan Gunnar Solli, who has just recovered from a quad injury, shifted forward in front of Chris Albright?
The Red Bulls' back four, victimized badly on Chicago's two goals last Saturday, will need to do a much better job of communicating. Tim Ream, a shadow of the player we saw last season, was burned badly on the Fire's first goal, when he blew an offside trap. Rafael Márquez has looked slow and often disinterested, and has come nowhere close to earning his keep as a designated player. The musical chairs at the goalkeeper position can't be helping either. But no surprises between the sticks this week. Backe has named Bouna Coundoul as the starter against New England, with Chris Konopka returning to the bench.
The Revs come into this game at 4-11-10, 9 points behind the Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference. They played Houston Dynamo to a 1-1 draw at Foxboro on Wednesday - a game that saw Matt Reis make several nice saves before getting sent off at the final whistle. The red card means he will miss this evening's match, with Bobby Shuttleworth expected to start in his place. On its face, that might look positive for the Red Bulls, but Reis didn't play in this fixture last season either and the Red Bulls still lost, with Shuttleworth finishing in goal after Preston Burpo's stomach turning broken leg.
As ever, containing New England is largely a matter of containing Shalrie Joseph. Joseph looked lively against the Red Bulls back in June in Harrison. Had he been able to put away his first half penalty after the Revolution had gone up 1-0 it could have been lights out for New York. In the end, it was the Revolution backline's inability to control Henry that made the difference. Ryan Cochrane in particular had a nightmare of a game, and Red Bulls fans will be hoping for more of the same. One new wrinkle for the Revs this time around is the presence of a new designated player signing, Argentinian forward Milton Caraglio, who has been brought in to bolster the league's least potent attack.
Kickoff is at 7:30PM ET, and the match will be shown locally on MSG. We will have a live match thread running here at Once a Metro.