Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Has the Storm Passed for the Red Bulls?

Hurricane Irene: A Blessing in Disguise? (Photo Courtesy of Daily Harrison)
If it has been a bit quiet around these parts lately, there's a reason for it - several actually. First, there really has not been much to discuss regarding the Red Bulls. When RBNY lines up on Saturday against Vancouver Whitecaps, it will be their first league game in exactly three weeks. Remember that hectic period in the middle of the summer when the team was on a three games a week binge? That's ancient history now. Hurricane Irene conspired to torpedo last weekend's sold out home date against the Los Angeles Galaxy, which has since been rescheduled to Tuesday, October 4, and put a massive hole in the middle of New York's schedule. It may have been a blessing in disguise.

Whether many fans actually show up for that weekday game against LA in October will be dependent on results over the next two weeks, starting with Saturday's match against they Whitecaps, who have the league's worst record and are winless on their travels this season (0-10-4). Anything less than the full three points for RBNY would be a disaster, with tough games against FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake on the horizon.

The second reason for the lack of acton around here has to do with the fact that yours truly took a badly needed mental break from soccer to travel around the Caribbean on a cruise ship with his family. When I left JFK last Friday I fully expected the Red Bulls to be out of the playoff picture on my return. But not only is RBNY mathematically still very much in the playoff mix a week and a half later - they are in fact well positioned to make a run over the final eight games. If they can get a healthy Luke Rodgers back and take advantage of the stumbles of their Eastern Division rivals, they may even find a way to finish above a wild card spot. But let's not get carried away just yet - one game at a time and all that...

It all starts with taking care of business on Saturday at Red Bull Arena. Rodgers is unlikely to start, but could potentially feature as a sub. Goalkeeper Frank Rost is also on the cusp of a full recovery from his quad injury, and might be back as soon as next week's away game in Dallas. Tim Ream and Juan Agudelo were used sparingly - if at all - by Jürgen Klinsmann during this week's international break, so there should be no concern with fatigue. The only real issue for RBNY on Saturday will be the absence of Teemu Tainio through suspension, but which game would you rather see him miss - home against Vancouver or home against the Galaxy? Yeah I thought so.

Of course everything could come crashing down cataclysmically - and few of us would put it past RBNY to hand lowly Vancouver their first road victory. This year's Red Bulls are a team that has developed a nasty habit of underperforming when points were there to be had. Hopefully the three week break has given the players and coaching staff some time to detox and get on the road to recovery. We'll find out on Saturday evening.
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