New York will be out for revenge, after falling in the first round of the playoffs to San Jose in 2010. Both teams have added new pieces since then to ensure an enticing clash.
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New York Red Bulls: Neglecting the Philadelphia Union and Real Salt Lake, the New York Red Bulls have allowed the fewest goals in the league during this nascent season. Additionally, the two goals that have trickled through were caused by silly mistakes rather than glaring flaws in Hans Backe’s side. The decreased goals-against average has been attributed to New York’s new possession style that, according to Opta Stats, has provided the Red Bulls with the greatest share of the ball out of any MLS club. During this period, RBNY’s back-line has neutralized two of the best strikers in MLS, Fredy Montero and Seba Le Toux.
San Jose Earthquakes: Simon Dawkins continues to impress, despite having joined the team just days before the start of the season. He notched a second goal of the season after a fabulous give-and-go with Chris Wondolowski. In fact, the two combined well all evening, and although they look to have a good synergy on the pitch, they were unable to find the net more than once. Despite some hiccups against Seattle, the defense was much improved against Toronto with the inclusion of Ike Opara instead of Chris Leitch.
New York: While the additional possession has been aesthetically nice, the Red Bull attack has been blunted in its first four matches. Thierry Henry in particular has fielded a large amount of criticism from fans and the press alike after tallying a grand total of zero goals in 2011. However, the scoring onus falls on his fellow strikers as well as the midfield which have produced a mere two goals. The Red Bulls’ problems have been more than a lack of finishing as the club has struggled to generate chances since opening night.
San Jose: Jon Busch was right on point after the Toronto result when he said, "Somebody needs to step up and bury the (expletive) ball." While the Earthquakes are playing well and possessing the ball, the team has largely failed to find that incisive touch, which has cost them at least four points in the last two home games. The team also failed to deal with Toronto's improved play in the second half and looked increasingly stale as Toronto put numbers in the midfield. Lastly, Sam Cronin was almost entirely at fault for gifting Toronto their opening goal with a poor clearance and miscommunication with Busch, though the defense was stretched heavily.
New York: Since arriving in New York, Backe has perpetually sent out his troops in a 4-4-2. Don’t expect anything different on Saturday. The only potential change from last weekend is the omission of Thierry Henry. The French striker has struggled with an Achilles injury, but it seems likely that Henry will be ready for Saturday’s match. Luke Rogers, the would -replacement for the Designated Player, has shown little for New York during his one start and few cameos while in a Red Bull shirt. If the former Notts County forward can produce, the load on Henry could be relieved.
San Jose: While the team looks like it might need a few tweaks ahead of a tough trip to New York, it is apparent that Frank Yallop has settled on a system and most of the players in his starting XI. Many Earthquakes fans will be yearning to see Steven Lenhart replace Ryan Johnson. If the bruising forward is in even the 18, that is; Lenhart has not seen the field since preseason and will likely be eased into competitive play, coming off the bench. The insertion of Ike Opara as center back and shifting Jason Hernandez to right back worked well for most of the game, and even though the defense was stretched on Toronto's goal, it is unlikely things will change much at the back.
New York: Do you remember the last time the Earthquakes appeared in Harrison? If you don’t, you probably shouldn’t ask a Red Bull supporter. In 2011, the Red Bulls were expected to triumph in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Instead San Jose eliminated New York, vanquishing any MLS Cup dreams for the largely title-less club. Additional motivation shouldn’t be required for the likes of Henry and Rafa Marquez who were anonymous during the disappointing ending of New York’s last season.
San Jose: The Earthquakes have now failed to win any of their three home games, and the situation is beginning to look a lot like last year, with San Jose strong on the road, but underperforming at home. If road wins are going to be the keys to San Jose's success this year, there is no better place to make a statement than at Red Bull Arena. A win would certainly erase much of the doubt surrounding the team after subpar home performances.
Avery Raimondo: The Red Bulls should finally get out of their scoring rut with at least one goal by Henry. I’ve predicted this over the last few matches, but the additional pressure may finally lead to an explosion of scoring.
Nick Rosano: The Red Bulls have struggled in the early part of the season, but have scored in both their home games, so I'll go for a 1-1 draw that will leave the Earthquakes a lot happier than New York.
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