After a two week break from league play, the New York Red Bulls get their MLS campaign re-started this evening at Rio Tinto Stadium against Real Salt Lake. Though they ran themselves ragged over 180 minutes in London as they captured the Emirates Cup, New York should be well rested coming into Saturday's encounter in Utah. The team was given two days off upon the return from England to rest and recuperate, and did not resume training in earnest until Wednesday. Both Frank Rost and Joel Lindpere, injury doubts in midweek, look likely to play. Dane Richards is suspended as a result of the red card he picked up against FC Dallas.
Real Salt Lake played in mid-week and dropped all three points in Kansas City, despite playing the majority of the second half with a man advantage. Combined with last weekend's surprising defeat at the hands of Columbus Crew, it marked the first time RSL had suffered consecutive losses this season. You'd have to go back to 2007 to find the last time RSL lost three in a row. It simply doesn't happen on Jason Kreis' watch, so New York have their work cut out for them. On top of it all, the Red Bulls have never won a regular season game in Sandy (though we all remember what happened in the 2008 playoffs).
With Luke Rodgers' season in jeopardy as a result of chronic plantar fasciitis, Juan Agudelo will be expected to carry the load up front for the Red Bulls, alongside MVP candidate Thierry Henry. If form holds, Hans Backe will probably insert the ineffective Mehdi Ballouchy in Richards' place on the right side of midfield. Of course he could surprise everyone by shifting Jan Gunnar Solli forward and starting Chris Albright at right back, but that seems unlikely from a manager as cautious and conservative as Backe. Rafa Márquez and Tim Ream should be back at the center of a defense that looked very solid in London against some tough opposition.
Real Salt Lake had been cruising along toward a playoff berth before hitting their recent rough patch. The loss of Javier Morales to injury has done little to dampen the title aspirations of one of the league's more consistent teams. In fact, prior to the loss to Columbus, RSL had scored 12 goals in four games. Even without their most dangerous playmaker they still have weapons all over the pitch, including Alvaro Saborio, Kyle Beckerman and Fabian Espindola. Still, If the playoffs were to start today (and of course they don't), RSL would only get in via wild card. The Red Bulls are in a similar position, albeit with more games played and in a much much weaker Eastern Conference.
The match kicks off at 9PM ET on MSG. We'll have our usual match thread up and running here at Once a Metro. Vamos toros!