A Rocky Mountain rematch is on deck as the New York Red Bulls pay a visit to the defending MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Wednesday.
New York will seek to regain its attacking form after leaving the Home Depot Center with a scoreless draw against Chivas USA on Saturday. Roy Miller headlined a Red Bulls defense that empowered new German goalkeeper Frank Rost into collecting his first clean sheet by preventing the Goats from registering a shot on target, while Chivas kept the New York press at bay until late in the second half.
Colorado continues to tread water in the Western Conference after dropping a 4-3 result to the Seattle Sounders in a wild match at CenturyLink Field on Sunday. The Rapids hope to regain the form that created two early leads over New York before leaving Red Bull Arena with a 2-2 draw in the first leg of this regular season matchup on May 25.
An easy 3-0 victory for the Philadelphia Union (8-4-7, 31 pts) over the New England Revolution on Sunday once again relegates the Red Bulls (6-4-11, 29 pts) to second place in the Eastern Conference and two points behind the first-place Philly side.
Mighty Casey Strikes Out. While Colorado's loss to the Sounders further damaged their chances at defending the MLS Cup this fall, it's another loss from that game which is creating greater concern.
The Rapids lost their leading scorer for the rest of the season after Conor Casey fell to the ground unchallenged in the first half of Sunday's loss at Seattle with what an MRI later revealed as a torn Achilles tendon. Rapids coach Gary Smith indicated to MLSsoccer.com that Caleb Foran will likely fill in up top for Casey, who has six of the club's 25 goals this season.
Key Matchup: NY's Central Defense vs. Rapids Forwards. With the Rapids having a very short period to rebound from Casey's injury, it creates uncertainty as to whether Colorado can establish an attacking form that they've lacked at full strength this season.
Casey made an impact against the Red Bulls tandem of Tim Ream and Carlos Mendes upon entering the May 25 tilt -- Mendes filled in for Rafael Marquez, who was tending to a hamstring injury ahead of the Gold Cup -- as a substitute after returning from a hamstring injury. He almost scored the game-winner in the 77th minute after deflecting a net-bound shot off Red Bulls 'keeper Greg Sutton, only to have Ream knock it away at the goalmouth.
No team just replaces a player like Casey. And it's inevitably up to Ream and Mendes to prevent any contenders from filling Casey's shoes on Wednesday.
Set Piece Salsa. Both Colorado goals in May came from the foot of Jeff Larentowicz, who scored one from a set piece and finished the other by collecting his own rebound from another free kick. New York didn't surrender many free kicks against the Rapids, but the visitors made them pay for each occurrence. The zonal marking system implemented by Red Bulls coach Hans Backe could be put to the test again and will be judged by that poor performance in May.
Turnover Town. New York dominated possession against the Rapids in the first leg in May, but Colorado did just enough to cut the legs out of the Red Bulls attack with timely turnovers. It made things tough in the defensive third for the Rapids, with only Drew Moor consistently establishing any distribution from the back. But it made things impossible for the Red Bulls, who simply couldn't get behind the Rapids back line and finish off their guests after the half.
Five. If you include the 2011 AT&T MLS All-Star Game, that's how many games Backe could call Ream, Thierry Henry, and Juan Agudelo to participate in over the next 11 days.
Luke Rodgers, who described his Red Bulls tenure to Staffordshire's The Sentinel as "the happiest (he's) been in football," remains in limbo due the lingering effects of plantar fasciitis. New York's depth also took a hit with their Monday trade of Austin da Luz to D.C. United, leaving Backe with his work cut out for him in balancing the team's attacking depth for the MLS regular season, their appraisal in the MLS All-Star Game, and their reputation in next week's Emirates Cup challenge.