Make no mistake about it. Friday night's New York Red Bulls vs. Houston Dynamo match is a statement game for a Red Bulls side that was thoroughly embarrassed at Houston just one week ago. It was just two weeks ago that New York were real contenders in the race for the Supporters Shield, but they now find themselves just one weekend of unfortunate results away from possibly being as low as fourth in the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference standings.
The Red Bulls could also be one win away from again being atop the conference standings.
3 thoughts heading into NY Red Bulls vs. Houston: Leadership
New York captain Thierry Henry gave reporters quite the laugh earlier this week when he sarcastically described the team's lackluster defending during last Friday's game at Houston. When you really ponder his words, however, you realize the brilliance in his comments. Henry lit a fire underneath his teammates without calling out a single one by name, something that was somewhat easy to do considering nearly everybody wearing a RBNY shirt last Friday evening stunk up the joint with their play. Henry also did well to express one thought many New York fans I know have had since the start of summer.
The "revolving door" method of assembling a back line has to end.
Head coach Hans Backe has been handcuffed when picking his starting eleven throughout the campaign because of injuries and inconsistent play. I understand that. Even with Brandon Barklage slated to miss at least one more match, Backe should still be able to assemble the back line of his choice on Friday night. What position will Heath Pearce play on a weekly basis? Does Jan Gunnar Solli really have a place in the team's starting lineup this fall? Such questions need to be answered now, not in October.
3 thoughts heading into NY Red Bulls vs. Houston: Frustrating
I've read no fewer than three stories since late July about how "frustrated" Rafa Marquez is that injuries and suspensions have limited his playing time in 2012. I'm also frustrated, frustrated that a guy who makes $4.6 million has played just eight games this season, and that the same player hasn't participated in a league match since July 15. Fans can complain about Marquez's play during his RBNY tenure all they want. Facts are facts, and the facts are that the 2012 Red Bulls haven't lost once this season with Marquez in the team.
The most recent reports indicate that Marquez will start Friday night's match on the bench. That's fine if he's not fully fit, but it's very possible that he'll be needed during the second half of the contest. I'll be blunt: It's gut-check time for Marquez, time for him to prove himself to this fan base and to the team front office. You don't have to search long and hard to find a Red Bulls fan who would rejoice upon hearing that Marquez had been shipped out of Harrison, NJ for any price.
Prove such people wrong, Rafa.
3 thoughts heading into NY Red Bulls vs. Houston: Prediction
New York and Houston could, depending on the path and speed of the clouds, be in for a dark and stormy night on Friday. Such weather that slows down the pace of the game could benefit the hosts, largely because of the return of Dax McCarty from yellow card suspension. McCarty has been an absolute rock in central defense, and he has also quietly developed into a solid distributor over the past several months.
Houston are undeniably the hottest team in MLS heading into the second weekend in August. The Red Bulls, like Houston, haven't yet lost at home this season, and they have done well this year to avoid the summer swoon that plagued the club in 2011. I see Henry leading by example in the first half, the Red Bulls adding a second tally halfway through the second, and RBNY earning a bit of revenge and a 2-0 win.