Both teams looking to get early edge in Sunday's Western Conference Semifinals
By Michael Valdetara
After a Saturday morning training session in the snow, the New York Red bulls are set for their Western Conference Semifinals matchup versus the Los Angeles Galaxy. Yes, Western Conference Semifinal matchup.
After blanking FC Dallas 2-0 in their wildcard play-in game behind goals from Joel Lindpere and skipper Thierry Henry. The Red Bulls will battle the Galaxy, who had the best regular season record, having accumulated 67 points, 21 more than the Red Bulls 46. Without a doubt, the Red Bulls will have a tough task at hand, but they certainly are more than capable of advancing to the conference finals. Luke Rodgers put it well when he stressed that, “the lads are buzzing and looking forward to it.”
The Red Bulls have met the Galaxy two times this season and have managed to earn points in each matchup. They drew 1-1 in May, and most recently defeated the Galaxy 2-0, three weeks ago at Red Bull Arena. Red Bull players have been quick to praise the Galaxy for having the best record in the league two years in a row. This series will not be won on Sunday though as MLS Cup games consist of a home and away series, with the teams facing off again on Thursday. The rules are based on an aggregate goal format, where in the event of equal scores, the team with the higher amount of away goals will move on. Both teams will be looking for a win. An early goal would certainly increase the pace of the game, with the trailing team launching attacks to avoid heading into game two in need of a victory.
The Red Bulls have been in good form as of late. Dating back to Mid-September, they’re on a streak of 4 wins, 2 losses, and a tie. Although they will not have too much rest, coming off their win Wednesday night, Red Bull Arena, which is expected to be filled to capacity should give the Red Bulls some extra energy. If the 12th man doesn’t, surely Luke Rodgers certainly will. The frontman missed the game against Dallas due to a knee injury, but the Red Bulls welcome him and his 9 regular season goals back into the lineup. Thierry Henry, the team’s leading goal scorer, will have more space to attack, with Rodgers demanding attention from the Galaxy defense. Henry scored his first MLS playoff goal on Wednesday and will be looking to increase his tally Sunday afternoon. Henry is no stranger to the big stage having played in the European Cup and World Cup Finals. Defensively, New York will be without Jan Gunnar Solli, who received a one game suspension for the red card he picked up Wednesday night. Coach Backe has full confidence in Carlos Mendez who will fill the void at Right back. The Red Bulls hope that this switch doesn’t affect its defense which has held its opponent scoreless in 3 of its last 5 matches.
The Galaxy will have to make a cross country flight for their match in Harrison. Former Red Bull Coach Bruce Arena faces the task of getting his team ready after a week without a match. The Galaxy undoubtedly were the best team during the regular season, but unlike other soccer leagues which crown the team with the best regular season record champions, the MLS has a playoff system. As Thierry Henry remarked “you have to give a lot of credit to Bruce Arena’s team . They will come here and try to show why they are the best team in the league.” The biggest question marks for the Galaxy concern the health of European star Roy Keane and American product Landon Donovan. Both players are recovering from injury but took part in full training sessions Thursday before leaving for New York. Bruce Arena is undecided on whether or not they will feature in his lineup. However the marquee name for the Galaxy is Englishman David Beckham who racked up 15 assists to go along with his two goals. He will be both the captain and distributor for the Galaxy on Sunday. With his contract expiring at season’s end, this may be Beckham’s penultimate game in the MLS.
We can expect a hard fought game on Sunday, with both teams looking to gain the upper hand in this two game set. It will be interesting to see how the Galaxy deal with their cross country trip and how the Red Bulls fare with short rest. Both teams have big names, who have dealt with similar big game situations before on the international level. I believe that behind the support of their loyal home fans and a brace from Thierry Henry, the Red Bulls will come out on top with a tight 2-1 win at Red Bull Arena, setting-up a huge return match in Los Angeles on Thursday.