For New York head coach Hans Backe, Friday night’s “big match” against Los Angeles will serve a measuring stick to see exactly where the Red Bulls lie in comparison to the Galaxy.
“We have played Real Salt Lake, Columbus twice, the Galaxy at home, and we haven’t picked up a point against the big three teams,” said Backe in a media conference call on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s a little bit special to play the cream of the MLS, which the Galaxy are, and see if we can compete.”
When the two teams met earlier this year at Red Bull Arena on Aug. 14, four of the league’s top-rated Designated Players were in the fold. Former Barcelona stars Thierry Henry and Rafa Márquez had joined Juan Pablo Angel at New York to take on Landon Donovan and the league-leading Galaxy.
The increased firepower still wasn’t enough. Los Angeles scored by way of Edson Buddle – the league's top scorer and a non-DP – and fended off the Red Bulls’ charge for the remaining 80 minutes.
The main factor in the Galaxy’s victory, said Backe, was their team chemistry.
“[The] Galaxy have played together for a couple of years with the same team,” New York’s coach said. “We have our team with new players [Henry and Márquez] coming in and playing together six weeks.”
According to Backe, to win this time around, New York’s possession game “is very, very important,” as will be attacking at the right moment and taking advantage of any breaks they get. On top of that, a high priority will be to stop Donovan.
[inline_node:316941]The man with the unenviable task of slowing down last year’s MLS MVP will be Márquez. The holding midfielder has looked a bit fatigued lately, but the coach is confident that Mexico's captain can put in a solid 65 minutes of work.
“[Márquez is] improving all the time, he just needs to get more fit to be able to play for 90 minutes,” Backe said, adding that the player’s fatigue is due to all the traveling between Mexico friendlies and Red Bulls games.
New York will enter the big match with a void to fill up top. Backe confirmed Tuesday that Henry will miss the megaclash with a knee injury. In the grand scheme of things, the Red Bulls coach prefers his player recuperate and be strong for the rest of the season than risk further injury.
“I think … it’s only one game [that Henry will be out for],” said Backe. “He will get some treatment until Sunday, Monday and start training on Tuesday. He should be ready for the Kansas City game at home [on Oct. 2].”
Filling in for the French star will be Ángel. The Colombian gave up his starting spot to newcomer Mehdi Ballouchy last week against Dallas, and the game against LA will be a perfect opportunity for the struggling goal-scorer to win it back.
For the Galaxy, the man looking to make an imprint will be David Beckham. The English midfielder returned two weeks ago from a long layoff due to a torn Achilles, and LA head coach Bruce Arena didn't rule out Beckham from the starting lineup.
It’ll be a two-vs.-two affair on Friday, and the difference could very well end up being the players not deemed as superstars.
“Without these players, you can’t win anything,” said Backe. "You need them to win a title. They have to perform all the time."
On Friday night, when the whistle blows and the ball starts to roll at the Home Depot Center, New York will have a chance to, in Backe’s own words, “see if we’re good enough.”