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Eastern Conference Championship

Preview: Eastern heavyweights NY host 1st place Sporting

NEW YORK RED BULLS vs SPORTING KANSAS CITY
RED BULL ARENA, Harrison, N.Y.
September 19, 2012 (WEEK 29, MLS Game #271)
7 p.m. ET (MSG+; KSMO)
 
A massive match at the top of the Eastern Conference is ahead on Wednesday evening when the New York Red Bulls take on Sporting Kansas City. It’s the second of three meetings over the final three months of the season for the teams, separated by just two points atop the division. The Red Bulls are now in third in the East, lengthening their undefeated run to five with a 3-1 home win against Columbus last weekend, while Sporting maintained their hold on the conference leadership with a last-gasp 1-1 home draw with Houston.
 
REFEREE: David Gantar. AR1 (bench): Corey Rockwell; AR2 (opposite): Adam Wienckowski; 4th: Jose Carlos Rivero
MLS Career: 14 games; FC/gm: 26.4; Y/gm: 3.1; R: 8; pens: 1
 
 
INJURY REPORT:
NEW YORK RED BULLS – OUT: GK Ryan Meara (L hip surgery); DF Roy Miller (groin strain)
SPORTING KANSAS CITY – OUT: FW Teal Bunbury (L knee ACL tear); DF Cyprian Hedrick (L fibula fracture); DOUBTFUL: FW Bobby Convey (R hamstring strain)
 
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
SUSPENDED: none
 
WARNINGS:
SUSPENDED NEXT YELLOW CARD:
NY: Joel Lindpere
KC: Roger Espinoza
SUSPENDED AFTER TWO YELLOW CARDS:
NY: Kenny Cooper, Connor Lade, Victor Palsson
KC: Julio Cesar, Chance Myers, Jimmy Nielsen, Paulo Nagamura, Lawrence Olum, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi
 
HEAD-TO-HEAD
ALL-TIME (44 meetings): Red Bulls 17 wins (2 shootout), 55 goals …Sporting 17 wins (2 shootout), 57 goals … Ties 10
AT NEW YORK (20 meetings): Red Bulls 10 wins (1 shootout), 29 goals … Sporting 3 wins (0 shootout), 20 goals … Ties 7
FUTURE MATCH: 10/20: New York Red Bulls vs. Sporting Kansas City, 7 p.m. ET
  • The teams are meeting for the second time this season, and the middle game in a set of three meetings between the East’s top two teams over the final three months of the season.
  • The teams played to a 1-1 draw on Aug. 26, as Kei Kamara scored at both ends, giving Sporting an early lead then scoring into his own net for the equalizer.
  • Coaches' records: Hans Backe v KC: P5 W3 L1 D1 … Peter Vermes vs. NY: P6 W2 L3 D1
LAST MEETING (MLS)
  • 8/26: KC 1, NY 1 (Kamara 4 – own goal 28)
  • Sporting took the lead after just four minutes. Graham Zusi lofted a ball over the top from midfield, and Teal Bunbury chipped it over center back Markus Holgersson as Red Bulls goalkeeper Bill Gaudette came off his line. Kei Kamara outjumped defender Connor Lade and headed the ball into an empty net.
  • The visitors drew even with some good fortune in the 28th minute. Sebastien Le Toux lofted a long free kick from the left flank toward Tim Cahill on the back post. Sporting ’keeper Jimmy Nielsen didn’t come out to challenge for the ball, and Kamara’s attempt to head it away instead found the back of Sporting’s net.
  • SPORTING KANSAS CITY (4-3-3): Jimmy Nielsen - Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic - Paulo Nagamura, Julio Cesar, Roger Espinoza - Graham Zusi, Teal Bunbury (C.J. Sapong 14), Kei Kamara.
  • NEW YORK RED BULLS (4-2-3-1): Bill Gaudette - Connor Lade, Heath Pearce, Markus Holgersson, Wilman Conde - Teemu Tainio, Dax McCarty - Sebastien Le Toux, Tim Cahill, Jan Gunnar Solli (Roy Miller 90) - Kenny Cooper (Joel Lindpere 70).
NEW YORK RED BULLS
The New York Red Bulls extended their undefeated run to five games, getting two late goals for a 3-1 win against the Columbus Crew on Saturday evening at Red Bull Arena. The Red Bulls are in third place in the Eastern Conference, with 49 points from 28 games.
 
LAST MATCH
  • The Crew got off to a dream start, opening the scoring on three minutes. Receiving the second of a pair of onetwos on the left side of the Red Bulls penalty area, forward Jairo Arrieta delivered a low rolling cross that Milovan Mirosevic tapped home.
  • The Red Bulls equalized six minutes later through Thierry Henry. Rafa Márquez hit a perfect diagonal ball from just inside his own half to a streaking Henry, who trapped the ball smoothly before calmly placing a low shot into the back of the net.
  • The home side took the lead in the 79th minute. After Henry had seen a shot tipped off the crossbar by Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum, Henry whipped in a corner kick that Dax McCarty looped perfectly inside the left post with a header. Gruenebaum struck his face against the left post on the play, resulting in a lengthy delay for treatment before he was forced to leave the match.
  • Henry capped his virtuoso performance three minutes into second-half stoppage time. From the left corner, he curled the ball perfectly around subsitute 'keeper Matt Lampson and off the inside of the far post into the goal to secure the victory.
  • Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe made two changes that reached a 2-2 draw with D.C. United at RFK Stadium. Rafa Marquez came into the midfield for Teemu Tainio and Kenny Cooper started in place of Joel Lindpere.
  • NEW YORK RED BULLS (4-4-2): Bill Gaudette - Connor Lade, Heath Pearce, Markus Holgersson, Wilman Conde - Jan Gunnar Solli (Joel Lindpere 68), Rafa Marquez (Teemu Tainio 60), Tim Cahill, Dax McCarty - Kenny Cooper (Sebastien Le Toux 77), Thierry Henry.
TEAM NEWS
  • Thierry Henry scored his first goal in seven games, since hitting the lone goal in the loss to Montréal on July 28. Now with 13 goals on the season, he is tied for fourth in the MLS Golden Boot standings.
  • Henry scored his fourth multiple-goal game this season, with two goals March 25 vs. Colorado and April 7 vs. Columbus, and a hat trick March 31 vs. Montréal.
  • "He's been training very well," Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe said. "He's getting fitter and fitter after his injury and I think that as close as you're coming to the playoffs, that's a big thing for these guys. They get so much more motivated. ... But when he's sharp and motivated, it's very difficult to stop him."
  • Henry’s second goal – a gol olimpico directly from a corner kick – was already achieving worldwide acclaim at the start of the week. It was the second goal directly from a corner kick by a Designated Player in MLS in as many seasons, after David Beckham scored one in a similar fashion last July 9.
  • “I scored some OK goals in my career," said Henry, “but I have to say this one is not a bad one.”
  • “You can’t say anything about it. You just watch it, and be in awe of it. He says he saw him and the ‘keeper, everyone was kind of floating to the near post. In that situation that’s perfect because we have a bunch of guys back. We don’t have anyone in the box, he sees it and it’s an amazing goal. It’s just another one to add to his highlight reel which there are plenty of,” said Dax McCarty.
  • Rafa Márquez made his first start since July 15, coming into a deep-lying central midfield role. Márquez has started just five games – none consecutively – since starting four games in a row from March 25-April 14.
  • Said McCarty: “His record on the field speaks for itself, I don’t think we’ve lost with him on the field. He takes a lot of stick from the fans and from the media sometimes, but he’s a great player. You don’t play at Barcelona and you don’t play in World Cups and you don’t play over 100 caps in Mexico unless you’re a good player.”
  • Márquez contributed his third assist on Henry’s first goal, his first assist since May 13. "When Rafa plays, I have another option: I can go behind the defense and you saw it tonight," Henry said. "How many times you saw me dropping tonight? None. How many times you saw me going behind the defense? Every single time. It’s another dimension for me when Rafa plays."
  • With Márquez in the lineup, McCarty moved from his usual holding midfield spot to a wide role on the right of the Red Bulls midfield.
  • “I enjoy [playing as a defensive midfielder] a lot but it’s kind of taken away from my attacking game,” said McCarty. “I’m no Messi, or Henry for that matter, but I like to think of myself as a useful player going forward. Wide right is probably not my strongest position, but at the end of the day I think I can do a job there. With [right back Connor Lade’s] engine getting up and down the line and my ability to tuck inside and try to keep possession for our team and find space in behind the midfield and combine with Thierry and the forwards, I think it’s a good mix for us.”
SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Sporting Kansas City left it late but got a equalizing goal to end in a 1-1 draw with the Houston Dynamo on Saturday evening at Livestrong Sporting Park. Sporting are in first place in the Eastern Conference, with 51 points from  28 matches.
 
LAST MATCH
  • The Dynamo took the lead in the 58th minute. From a continuous spell of possession, Brad Davis took Boniek Garcia's pass in the middle of the attacking third, worked to his left to get into space, and put a low shot past a screened Jimmy Nielsen and inside the far post.
  • But Sporting hit for a late equalizer in the third minute of stoppage time. Latching onto a loose ball at the top of the box, Graham Zusi chipped the ball to the far post and C.J. Sapond flung himself headlong at the ball, nodding it past goalkeeper Tally Hall to keep KC atop the East.
  • Sporting head coach Peter Vermes made one change to the team that posted a 2-1 win against Toronto FC at Livestrong Sporting Park. Aurelien Collin returned from suspension in place of Lawrence Olum.
  • SPORTING KANSAS CITY (4-3-3): Jimmy Nielsen - Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic - Paulo Nagamura, Julio Cesar, Roger Espinoza (Jacob Peterson 74) - Graham Zusi, C.J. Sapong, Kei Kamara.
TEAM NEWS
  • For a second consecutive match, Sporting scored a late, late goal to snatch points; they scored in the 87th minute to grab a 2-1 win vs. Toronto FC on Sept. 1.
  • “Our commitment tonight from the opening whistle was tremendous and it shows how deep this team is when we get a goal in injury time, because we’re pressing, we’re trying everything we can and guys are still keeping the calmness to get that opportunity,” said SKC manager Peter Vermes. “All in all, a good performance from us, and we definitely deserved to get a point if not more.”
  • C.J. Sapong scored his first goal since June 16. It was his second consecutive start since the season-ending injury to Teal Bunbury.
  • “Obviously, it feels good,” Sapong said. “I'm a forward. I like scoring goals. But I definitely try to make sure that I make an impact first, whatever that means. If I'm holding the ball, getting players in, scoring – whatever it is, if I'm having an impact, I'm happy.”
  • Sporting uncorked a club-record 28 attempts at goal, and equaled their 2012 season-high with nine of those on target.
  • If [Houston] had left here with all three points, they should have been arrested for robbery. We were lucky to score at the time we did -- I will admit that,” said goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen. “But this does not feel like a victory for us. I feel like it’s the same story every time we play at home. You have to respect the opponent’s playing style, and we’ve got to do a better job finding ways to create open chances. We have to be able to find solutions.”
  • Graham Zusi contributed the assist on the equalizer, his 13th of the season, tying him with Seattle’s Mauro Rosales for the MLS lead.
  • “The result was big,” said Zusi. “To get a point out of a game where it looked like we might not take any, I think that's favorable for us. I don't think we're too worried about dropping a couple of points here tonight, but we can't let that happen every time.”
  • The trip to New York starts a string of four of the next five games away from Livestrong Sporting Park for KC – all against Eastern Conference clubs. The spell concludes with another trip to Red Bull Arena on Oct. 20. Sporting is 7-4-2 on the road this season, the best record in MLS.
  • “We have the best road record in the league and it proves that we go and play at other places and that we go there to get points, we don’t go there to just hopefully get out of there with a tie,” said Vermes. “And I hope that that is going to continue to provide opportunities for us because we still have a couple of away games as well.”
  • Said defender Matt Besler” “It’s a big road trip for us, and it’s going to be a huge challenge. We’ll focus on New York first before going to Montreal. But both games are really important. At this point in the season, all games are crucial and you have to approach them the same way.”