Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Red Bulls Preview: Sizing Up Columbus Crew

After two tough losses, the Red Bulls will be hoping to get back on track when Columbus Crew visit Harrison for the first time tomorrow night.  Columbus had a strange start to the season, drawing a few matches they should have won and playing fewer games than any team in the league in the early part of the season.  The Red Bulls, of course, know Columbus all too well, having lost to them in the 2008 MLS Cup out in Los Angeles.  Some of the guys who lifted the cup then are gone, but the core of that team - players such as Marshall, Rogers, Schelotto, Hesmer and Hejduk - are still around, and Columbus is almost certainly still the strongest team in the East.  Add in Steven Lenhart and his curly mop (pictured) and you have one of the classiest squads in the league from front to back.

The Crew probably have one more deep playoff run left in them before Schelotto leaves for his next adventure.  They have not yet been dominant by any means, but the Crew are, along with the Galaxy, the only club that has yet to lose a game.  Even when they look like crap or underperform, they manage to pull out results.

Luckily for the Red Bulls, almost the entire core of the Columbus team will be missing when the teams kick off tomorrow at 8pm.  Guillermo Barros Schelotto, the Crew's midfield talisman and main creative force, has been suspended for a stray elbow in last Saturday's game.  Defender Chad Marshall and winger Robbie Rogers are missing on USMNT duty in Princeton.  There are even doubts about Hesmer's health in goal.  Remember the last time Columbus started its reserve goalkeeper in New York? I do.

Factor all of that in and you'd have to think that the Crew could be ripe for the taking.  The Red Bulls, meanwhile, will be without Carl Robinson, whose knee continues to trouble him.  Expect Tony Tchani or Seth Stammler to slot in at defensive midfield in Robbo's place.  Also missing will be Ibrahim Salou, who is starting to make Mac Kandji look like the picture of health, and Austin da Luz, who has yet to see a minute of an MLS league match as he fights various ailments.  All in all, the Columbus absences are far more damaging than the Red Bulls'. 

If the Red Bulls can't manage to create opportunities against what will essentially be a makeshift Columbus lineup fans may start asking some serious questions.  It's anyone's guess who Backe will choose to pair with Juan Pablo Angel up front - probably one of Richards, Nielsen, Chinn or Wolyniec.  But that won't really matter much if the Red Bulls can't do a better job of keeping possession, moving the ball quickly and getting in more dangerous positions.  For too much of the Seattle game, the players looked static. Hopefully Hans has lit a fire under their butts in training and we will see a reinvigorated RBNY attack on Thursday. A win over Cowtown would be a huge boost for a Red Bulls team that has taken a bit of a blow to its confidence.

Three points or a draw for the Red Bulls would continue a home unbeaten run against the Crew that dates back to 2004 (including eight wins, three draws and no losses).  New York has also yet to drop points against an Eastern Division foe this season.   We'll see if they can keep both of those streaks alive on Thursday.

PS - The Post's Dylan Butler reports this afternoon that - in addition to Robinson, da Luz and Salou - Nielsen and Lindpere will also be missing for the Red Bulls on Thursday, evening things out considerably.  This is starting to look like a reserve match.
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