MLS PLAYOFFS: N.Y. could be L.A.'s foe

The Galaxy will open Major League Soccer's postseason against one of the wild-card winners, taking on the lower seed to advance, which could be Colorado (2), Columbus (3) or New York (4).

Only FC Dallas, which is home Wednesday night against New York, isn't going to match up with L.A.

Here's a look at the New York Red Bulls, who will be home for the first leg Sunday against the Galaxy if they win in Dallas.

Who are these guys?

They're the club with the biggest MLS payroll, nearly $13.4 million, and star power to match the Galaxy, with Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez. They're also the biggest disappointment in MLS this year, following a torrid 4-1-3 start by winning just twice in 4½ months. They scraped into the playoffs primarily because other Eastern Conference teams failed to pull away.

Who's their go-to player?

Henry's talent is undeniable -- the 34-year-old Frenchman is one of the finest players of his generation and probably the best player ever to pull on an MLS jersey. He finished third in the league scoring race with 14 goals, but he has not been the kind of leader the Bulls expected, and his talent alone isn't enough to breed success.

Who flies in under the radar?

Several guys. This is a team with some real players, including Estonian winger Joel Lindpere, who enjoyed an exceptional season, and newcomers Jan Gunnar Solli, a Norwegian back, and Teemu Tainio, a Finnish midfielder. But let's recognize Jamaican speedster Dane Richards, in his fifth season with the Red Bulls. Richards can stretch backlines, create and score -- he was critical to New York's stunning run to the 2008 MLS Cup title game.

What can the Galaxy exploit?

New York is more a collection of really good players than a team, and although they've been in better form the last six weeks, even head coach Hans Backe acknowledges they're not the team they were at the start of the season. The backline has been iffy, especially center back Tim Ream, who has been in an awful sophomore slump. The most important player for New York might be English forward Luke Rodgers, an energetic, gives-everything striker who scored nine goals, and he's out because of a knee injury suffered in Thursday's regular-season finale. Too bad for the Bulls: They've won only once when he hasn't been in the starting lineup.

Why might the Red Bulls win?

So much talent. Nobody matches them there, although the Galaxy and Seattle -- better teams, unquestionably -- are close. And nobody really wants to play New York, because they can beat anybody. Winning a two-game series with L.A. will be tough, and winning four or five games to claim the title is probably beyond them. But that's not a bet you'll want to make.

How did the matchups turn out this year?

The Red Bulls won the series. Henry's early goal led to a 1-1 draw May 7 at Home Depot Center, and New York romped Oct. 4 in Harrison, N.J., over an exhausted, depleted L.A. side, 2-0, on goals by Rodgers and Henry.