After a solid opening-day win over the Seattle Sounders, the New York Red Bulls head out on the road to face the Columbus Crew this weekend, but they will have to do so without a number of key players. The Red Bulls' lone goalscorer in this young season, Juan Agudelo (also 2011's first MLS Goal of the Week winner), has been called up as part of the USA squad to face Argentina, along with fellow New York youngster Tim Ream. Sacir Hot will be with the US U-20s, Rafael Márquez and Mexico take on Paraguay and Venezuela, Dane Richards has been called up by Jamaica, and Bouna Coundoul is off to play for Senegal.
In addition to a debilitating set of international absentees, Thierry Henry is out with a hamstring strain, Jan Gunnar Solli and Roy Miller are both recovering (and likely to play) after the same injury, and Greg Sutton will miss the game because of a concussion. That means even a best-case scenario would have New York missing six of its eleven starters from the game against Seattle.
The Red Bulls will be particularly thin at striker and in defense; now that the club has waived Salou Ibrahim, it appears that Luke Rodgers and Corey Hertzog will both make their MLS debuts on Saturday, and that at least two of the Red Bulls' back four will be playing out of position (probably Roy Miller at centerback and Solli at right back).
Sutton's injury left New York without a goalkeeper for the game this weekend, so former University of Wisconsin 'keeper Alex Horwath was signed on Friday and will start against Columbus. Former NC State centerback Tyler Lassiter has also been signed; Hans Backe has said that he is already ahead of Tim Ream in his development...yet somehow he's not good enough to start on Saturday.
All of this squad disruption means that the Red Bulls will look very different against Columbus as they try to avoid defeat at Crew Stadium for the first time since opening day in 2007. Horwath will start in goal, with Danleigh Borman at left back, Miller and Mendes in the middle, and Solli on the right. Mehdi Ballouchy, Teemu Tainio, and Joel Lindpere will be joined by Tony Tchani in midfield, with Rodgers and Hertzog up top.
Probably unfortunately considering that lineup, the game against the Crew will be on MSG+ at 4 PM, even though the Red Bulls have yet to sign a full-season TV deal for 2011.
On the other hand, Columbus look like the best possible opponents for a team missing so many key players: after a torrid pre-season, they fell 3-1 to DC United in their opening game of the season. The Red Bulls deservedly lost both games against Columbus last season, but will have hope of improving their record with at least a draw this weekend.
We had a few technical problems last week, but there will be a GameThread going here on Once A Metro for your (well, at least my) Roy Miller complaints and general discussion during the match tomorrow afternoon. Given the many absences a victory for New York looks distinctly unlikely, but they're not very good either so a point should be within reach.