New York continues its transcontinental tour as the Red Bulls visit the recently-renamed CenturyLink Field to face the Seattle Sounders on Thursday evening (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes).
The Red Bulls find themselves in the middle of a three-game road trip after escaping Jeld-Wen Field with a 3-3 draw against the Portland Timbers on Sunday. Dwayne De Rosario converted the club's second penalty kick of the season to cap a tumultuous second half that opened with two quick goals by Jack Jewsbury and Kevin Goldwaithe of the Timbers and an own goal by Red Bulls central defender Stephen Keel. Thierry Henry recorded the soccer equivalent of the Gordie Howe hat trick by tallying a goal and assist before receiving a straight red card for striking Timbers midfielder Adam Moffat in the back of the head during stoppage time.
Seattle returns home after collecting a 1-o win over Toronto FC at BMO Field last Saturday. Colombian striker Freddy Montero scored the game winner in the 90' minute by curling a free kick from distance around the TFC wall and just inside the top corner of the right post. The Sounders carry a four-game unbeaten streak into Thursday's contest.
A scoreless draw at PPL Park brings the Philadelphia Union into a tie with the Red Bulls for first place in the Eastern Conference, with New York's 5-2-8 record falling one win below Philly's record of 6-4-5.
Help Wanted. Henry will miss Thursday's match due to the automatic one-game suspension that culminates from his red card. Luke Rodgers did not make the trip out west as he continues to rest the plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Wednesday's 1-0 win for the United States over Panama in the Gold Cup semifinals means Juan Agudelo remains committed to his national team responsibilities through Saturday. So what does that leave for the Red Bulls at forward?
Red Bulls coach Hans Backe indicated that De Rosario will start up top alongside Dane Richards, who returned to the club earlier this week after the US eliminated Jamaica from the Gold Cup quarterfinals on Sunday. Neither De Rosario nor Richards are strangers to the job, but they may be strangers to one another after last playing together on May 21 against the Houston Dynamo. They'll need to translate their midfield magic to the forward position in order to fuel one more makeshift Red Bulls attack.
Key Matchup: Red Bulls' Back Line vs. Freddy Montero. After Timbers team captain Jack Jewsbury opened the scoring in the 48' minute of last Sunday's match, the Red Bulls defense fell apart at the seams and found itself incapable of regaining the run of play from Portland. A New York 'keeper has not kept a clean sheet since Bouna Coundoul kept Sporting Kansas City scoreless on April 30, but the central defense took a major hit when stalwarts Tim Ream and Rafael Marquez departed for international duty in late May.
Enter Montero, whose goal against TFC last weekend should give him some positive momentum heading into Thursday's tilt. Montero is a dynamic playmaker and striker for the Sounders who could benefit from the pairing of Alvaro Fernandez and Erik Friberg regaining their form in the midfield. If Kassel and Carlos Mendes do not create enough disruption for the Sounders' passing lanes in the middle, it won't be long before Montero soils another sheet for a Red Bulls 'keeper.
Defense and Duct Tape. The Red Bulls will not be the only club struggling with a patchwork back line on Thursday. Colombian defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado received a red card in last Saturday's match at Toronto, rendering him unable to play and leaves Seattle coach Sigi Schmid looking to Patrick Ianni or Hawaiian defender Zach Scott for relief. The latter has played admirably in a reserve role, while the former has left enough room in his form for Scott to emerge. Both represent unknown quanities, and a potential hole for the Red Bulls' attack to exploit.
'Keeping the Faith. Despite the short work week and three-goal outburst by Portland, Backe indicated that he favors Greg Sutton to mind the net for New York. It's tough to blame the Canadian goalie for the complete failure by his defense in the second half at Portland, but Sutton would accrue seven consecutive caps with a start at Seattle while New York still faces two more matches against the Chicago Fire and FC New York in the next five days. Can Sutton handle the heavy workload?
Go Crazy, Folks. Go Crazy. While the Red Bulls successfully escaped the raucous atmosphere found in the cozy confines of Jeld-Wen Field, that experience may look quaint compared to what awaits at CenturyLink Field. The Sounders are expected to remove the tarps from the upper decks for the first time in anticipation of a crowd that could easily exceed 45,000.
New York could have brought the full onslaught of their supporters groups along for the ride and barely made a dent in what will likely be a very energetic and pro-Sounders audience. New York will need to keep the composure they lost in the second half last week and take charge in front of a big soccer crowd.