Their long and winding road trip leads the Red Bulls to the door of the San Jose Earthquakes at Stanford Stadium on Saturday evening (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes).
While New York carries the goodwill of their 2-1 comeback win against FC New York in the US Open Cup match on Tuesday, they still possess only one win since April 30 in MLS play after conceding a 1-1 draw to the Chicago Fire on Sunday. Guatemalan midfielder Marco Pappa answered a first-half goal by Joel Lindpere with a soft shot that badly beat Bouna Coundoul in the NY goalie's first start in seven matches. New York will look to complete the season sweep after a Luke Rodgers brace left the Quakes chasing a 3-0 result on April 16.
San Jose will look to reestablish its scoring touch after completing a scoreless draw at home against the Los Angeles Galaxy last Saturday. The Quakes could not finish off a shorthanded LA side that called upon former Red Bulls midfielder Mike Magee to mind the net for more than a half after Galaxy shot stoppers Donovan Ricketts and Josh Saunders left due to an injury and a red card, respectively.
New York (5-3-9) sits two points behind the Philadelphia Union (7-4-5) in the Eastern Conference standings and find themselves tied with the Columbus Crew (6-4-6) for second place.
Dax's a Fact. The Red Bulls' midfield will have a new look as it debuts midfielder Dax McCarty on Saturday. New York received the veteran midfielder in a trade with D.C. United for Dwayne De Rosario on Monday.
The change in personnel may initiate a transition from the Red Bulls' 4-4-2 diamond formation to a flatter 4-2-3-1, with the defensive-minded McCarty joining Teemu Tainio in a holding midfield tandem that's expected to ease transitions from defense to offense. Whatever new look is drawn up, McCarty's presence should free wingers Dane Richards and Joel Lindpere to reinforce NY's attack.
Key Matchup: Tim Ream v. the San Jose Forwards. While Juan Agudelo's return from the Gold Cup provides much-needed depth up top for New York, Tim Ream returns with a sense of urgency to quarterback a Red Bulls back line that has played to mixed results in recent weeks.
With Rafael Marquez still tending to a hamstring injury, Ream will need to lead the defensive efforts against a dangerous Quakes attack led by 2010 Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski and the pesky presence of Steven Lenhart. Wondo -- who was Ream's roommate at the Gold Cup -- likes to play the scavenger role in the box while Lenhart tends to play a more abrasive style (A headbutt on the ball by Lenhart led to Saunders's ejection last week).
Ream didn't appear during the knockout stages of the Gold Cup, but Red Bulls coach Hans Backe gave his young center back some much-needed playing time alongside Stephen Keel during Tuesday's US Open Cup match. Ream will need to be ready for the full 90 at MLS speed against San Jose's dynamic duo.
Depth Charges. New York wasn't the only club to make a trade with D.C. United on Monday. San Jose dealt longtime center back Brandon McDonald to DC for cash considerations, which is perceived as an endorsement of defender Bobby Burling with Quakes back line stalwart Jason Hernandez.
McDonald has only played 12 minutes in the club's last six matches, meaning his departure should hardly disrupt the Quakes' attempts to keep Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls' attack at bay. That said, his departure should signal to the Red Bulls that San Jose is very comfortable with the status quo on defense -- and disrupting them could prove difficult.
Backe Out. Assistant coach Jan Halvor Halvorsen will oversee the sideline responsibilities for the Red Bulls on Saturday as Backe stayed behind in New York to recover from surgery for an undisclosed condition. While all indications are that Halvorsen will implement whatever game plan Backe drew up for San Jose, it remains to be seen what that will look like with the Red Bulls debut of McCarty and reinsertion of Ream and Agudelo.
A Sort of Homecoming. During halftime of Saturday's match, the Earthquakes will welcome back the 1994 U.S. Men's National Team to the site of the US's last stand against Brazil during the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Following a five-minute montage recalling the US run on home soil, the likes of Cobi Jones, Paul Caligiuri, and Tab Ramos will be recognized for one of the more memorable runs in the nation's history.
No word on whether former Red Bulls captain Claudio Reyna will be in attendance, but it's no secret that the 1994 World Cup served as a catalyst for the rebirth of professional soccer in the United States under the banner of MLS -- which made this and every other great American soccer blog necessary.