UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — The Red Bulls already had a tall order ahead of them this weekend with the league-leading LA Galaxy coming to town. It got a bit taller, though, when defensive midfielder Teemu Tainio picked up his second yellow card in the 69th minute of Saturday’s 2-2 draw in New England.
Tainio, who has been key in most of New York’s best performances this season, won’t be easy to replace. Head coach Hans Backe said that Rafa Márquez, Stéphane Auvray or Jan Gunnar Solli could step in to play at holding midfielder.
Auvray was acquired two weeks ago by New York and has made second-half substitute appearances in his first two matches with the club.
“His last two sessions have been very good,” Backe said of the Guadeloupe captain. “The thing I appreciate the most is the way he tackles.”
But Solli could also be an option for New York. A central midfielder for much of a career spent in the Norwegian top flight, Solli was touted as a “box-to-box midfielder” by Backe in January.
But when Tainio was brought in to the team on a February trial, Solli moved to right back and has stayed there ever since. He has only moved to the midfield for spot duty thus far in MLS, but the whole of the Norwegian international’s pre-2011 career was been spent in the midfield.
“I’ve almost been playing 29 games in a right back position,” Solli said. “If they want to test me centrally in the field, I’m up for the challenge.”
Solli is almost fully recovered from a quadriceps injury suffered three weeks ago in a 3-0 loss at Real Salt Lake. While he did not travel last weekend to New England, he was on the field on Tuesday during individual training with an eye towards this Sunday against the Galaxy.
“I’m much better,” Solli said. “I’ll be in training tomorrow. I had my fitness test today, looked sharp.”
Dane’s new role
Dane Richards has made a name for himself in MLS as a right winger whose blistering pace and improved crossing make him a threat up and down the flank.
Backe is now hoping Richards can make the transition to forward, and took heart from the fifth-year player’s two-goal performance against the Revs. Richards is filling in for the injured Luke Rodgers and has moved ahead of Juan Agudelo in the forward pecking order to start alongside Thierry Henry.
“We said last year we need pace up front,” Backe said. “That’s the key. Luke had that ability, Dane has that ability.”
Nielsen almost back
Danish winger Brian Nielsen, who has been inactive with a series of maladies stretching back more than a year, participated in the first half of practice, playing in small-sided games of touch before working with the goalkeepers on his finishing. Nielsen and Solli both had a fitness test on Monday that involved lots of quickness and mobility testing.
“You can ask Brian Nielsen if the session yesterday was tough,” Solli said. “He almost puked”
In a small field game featuring the reserves against the first team, Agudelo scored two goals for the second-stringers.
Joel Lindpere dribbled through three second-team defenders to get in alone on goal before Alex Horwath made a solid save to deny the midfielder what would have been a dream goal.
• In a short scrimmage, Chris Albright interchanged well with Henry before sending in a quality cross that was headed into the back of the net by Dax McCarty, who rose over two defenders to get his head on it.
• Mohawks are in fashion in Red Bulls-land as Dane Richards returned to sport the cut he has fashioned from time to time over the past three seasons. Two weeks ago, Lindpere debuted the look.
When asked by MLSsoccer.com if he will get a Mohawk if the Red Bulls win the MLS Cup, sporting director Erik Solér said, “If we win, yes, I will.”
Solli wasn’t so sure about getting the haircut himself, but he said he’d celebrate with the help of Red Bulls supporter Johnny Toro, who paints his face red and wears bull horns to the game.
“If we win, I will just grab some horns," Solli said, "like the ones Johnny Toro has.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer