Despite heading into the weekend with a favorable playoff outlook, but the New York Red Bulls could still use a strong performance against Sporting Kansas City to continue building some late-season momentum. Since both teams have been out of action for a short stretch, we swapped questions with Sporting Kansas City blog "The Daily Wiz" to make sure everyone is caught up and ready for what could be one of the best non-playoff matches of the season.
Read on for some good insight into Teal Bunbury, LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, and how an odd midweek friendly may have an impact on the outcome on Saturday night.
1) Once a Metro: What a crazy finish to Sporting Kansas City's match against San Jose the other week! Teal Bunbury came up big at the end, but his form has been inconsistent throughout the season. Has a sophomore slump cost him a permanent starting spot? Also, it seems fairly common for Vermes to sub Bunbury off with 20-30 minutes left in the match when he does start. Is this tactical or a fitness issue?
The Daily Wiz: I've been calling Teal Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde all season long. We just don't know which Teal will show up from game to game, or even half to half.
I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that he's still only 21 years old. No doubt, he's been going through some growing pains. I still think he has a problem in regards to consistently putting in maximum effort all match long. Sometimes you'll see him give up on a play if he's not directly involved. He still has to learn how to be a threat in the air, or maybe he'll just never develop that facet of his game, because it might just not be who Teal is as a player.
But I will say; for every frustrating moment we've seen with him this season, we've almost always seen that flash of undeniable talent, like we saw when he scored the equalizing goal against San Jose last week. Even though he's been rather inconsistent this season, he still has seven goals.
There's a lot to like about Bunbury, but for the most part, he's yet to be able to put everything together on a consistent basis, which is why we've seen C.J. Sapong start so many games this season for Sporting. In a lot of ways, C.J. is the anti-Teal. Sapong does all of the little things coaches love, and he works hard the entire match. Of course, C.J. doesn't have Teal's speed, and his upside probably isn't as high as Teal's.
Needless to say, I think Sporting Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes probably has a difficult time deciding which of the two get the start on a game-to-game basis.
2) Once a Metro: Sporting Kansas City has a mid-week friendly against Mexican club Chivas de Guadalajara. Is it strange to you that the team is hosting an exhibition match three days before what may be one of its biggest games of the regular season? What impact might this have on the team for Saturday?
The Daily Wiz: It's definitely strange. I wrote a little bit about that particular subject for my preview of the Chivas match. The way I'm looking at it is as a glorified scrimmage, where we'll get a chance to see some of Sporting Kansas City's younger players. We'll get a chance to see what they can do against a talented Chivas side. I wouldn't imagine Vermes would keep his starters in the match for very long, if even at all.
But definitely, everyone has their eyes on Saturday. Such a huge match for both Sporting and New York. Essentially, who ever wins that game gets to punch their ticket to the playoffs. And Sporting probably couldn't have picked a worse time to face the Red Bulls. New York is starting to play like the team everyone thought they would be at the beginning of the year.
3) Once a Metro: Kansas City enters the weekend having lost just two league matches in their new stadium, Livestrong Sporting Park, and both were one-goal losses to formidble opponents in Seattle and FC Dallas. Beyond the club's impressive record at home, what has the opening of the stadium meant for the team both this season and long-term?
The Daily Wiz: It's been huge. I think in a lot of ways, it legitimizes the franchise. The club is no longer playing in an American football stadium (Arrowhead), or Community America Ballpark, which in all honesty, was slightly embarrassing. To go from that to having one of the nicest soccer-specific stadiums in the United States has been a true game changer.
I definitely think LIVESTRONG has helped the franchise in a number of ways. It seems like the stadium has re-energized the Sporting fan base. Attendance has been very good since the stadium opened up. It has a great soccer match environment to it. I honestly can't say enough good things about it, and what it's meant to not only the team, but also the community as well.
It's nice finally having an actual home for our soccer team.
And three questions on the New York Red Bulls from The Daily Wiz:
1) The Daily Wiz: We know that New York has a tough final two games to close out the season against Sporting Kansas City and Philadelphia. Both of those games are on the road. What's the general vibe among the New York Red Bull community in regards to the team's chances of making the playoffs this year?
Once a Metro: New York is still alive in the playoff race and there is nothing but a cluttered Eastern Conference and 10-team playoff format to thank for that. A lot of points are being dropped by teams with playoff ambitions as they tie each other or lose to lesser opponents. Who would have thought that New York could have come out of a weekend draw against Toronto in a better playoff position than when they entered? Three points against the Galaxy were huge as well, just as three consecutive losses for DC United against Philly, Columbus, and Vancouver definitely don't hurt.
But enough with the scoreboard watching. If New York can win against Kansas City and/or Philadelphia they will make the playoffs, but with how inconsistently the team has played as of late (they haven't won back-to-back matches since April) - there is no telling how or when their season might end.
2) The Daily Wiz: If you had to name three Red Bull players that you feel have been the most vital to the team this year, who would they be, and why?
Once a Metro:
Joel Lindpere - In fact, if I could name him three times, I would. He is the engine of the team, hasn't missed a start all season, plays the full 90 minutes nearly every match (he was subbed off two times both in the waning minutes of 2-0 and 3-0 victories), and he absolutely dominates the wing while making up for the mediocrity of left back Roy Miller. He was the team MVP last season and may surprise a lot of people and beat out Thierry Henry for the award again this year. What's most unbelievable is that he makes just $90,000 base salary per year - not even putting him in the top ten earners on the Red Bulls.
Theirry Henry - While he isn't the same player he was even just two years ago during World Cup qualifying, Henry is one of if not the most technically skilled and gifted player in Major League Soccer. I know, David Beckham can bend a ball or something like that, but watching Henry when he's in the zone is special. Unfortunately, that player too often only shows up for spurts during the game as he adjusts to being positioned a little deeper into the midfield as a playmaker instead of exclusively up top. His fourteen goals put him in a tie for top goal scorer in MLS, and a number of his tallies have come to pull the Red Bulls level in the dying moments of a game and salvage some kind of result.
Luke Rodgers - I don't think I'd even seen general sentiment about a player change for the better as quickly as it did around Luke Rodgers. He's become a fan favorite with his fiery play and nose for goal after initial skepticism and uncertainty when Backe brought him into the team from a lower English league. If there is one bad thing about Rodgers it's that he's been missing for a good chunk of the season as he's fought off a nagging foot injury. When Rodgers starts, New York is 8-3-7. Otherwise the Red Bulls are an unimpressive 1-4-9.
3) The Daily Wiz: How do you see the match this Saturday playing out?
Once a Metro: If the Red Bulls go into halftime ahead they will win the match, as they have every time they have entered the locker room when leading this season (don't worry, it hasn't happened that often).
If Backe continues to go with a Marquez/Tainio midfield, New York will semi-clumsily try to control possession but really just try to score on the counter attack. Henry, Rodgers, and Lindpere should be well rested after an almost two week break in action - all New York can hope is that the four starters (and Juan Agudelo) who were away for international duty come back ready for the stretch run.
Special thanks to Justin Mayhugh from The Daily Wiz for putting together some great questions an answers. Check back soon for a match preview and live thread for Saturday's match kicking off at 4 PM on MSG.