CARSON, Calif. – If you think the Seattle Sounders faced long odds in trying to overturn a 3-0 first-leg deficit, it’s perhaps worse for the New York Red Bulls, who face the most harrowing task of any team thus far in the 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs:
Become the first team in 2011 to beat the LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center.
Not only has that not been done this year, hardly anyone can score here, either: The Galaxy only allowed eight goals in 17 regular-season home games (0.47 per game, the second-best home mark in league history), and nine of those contests were clean sheets.
Thierry Henry understands well what his team needs to do.
“We’re going to have to do something almost incredible to be able to go forward,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
The Red Bulls will try to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit when the Western Conference Semifinals resume on Thursday night (11 pm ET, ESPN2, TSN2, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). In the process, they'll have to become only the second team this year to score more than one goal on the Galaxy at the HDC.
The challenge is daunting, but New York can take heart in their performances this season against the Supporters' Shield winners. Their league-best 1-0-1 record against LA in the regular season includes a 1-1 draw back in May, thanks to a fourth-minute goal from Henry.
The Frenchman says he was encouraged by his team’s performance in the second half of the first leg on Sunday, in which New York pressed harder and nearly found an equalizer. Dane Richards had two good chances, Rafa Márquez’s volley was saved by Josh Saunders and Henry himself just missed with a bicycle kick.
New York’s mentality during the past month has also been heartening, as the Red Bulls have rebounded from their midseason swoon and played what amounted to must-win games over and over again just to make the playoffs. Their 2-0 victory at FC Dallas in the wild card round was also a sign of newfound confidence.
“We have players with a lot of experience being involved in these type of games and that has probably helped us,” head coach Hans Backe told reporters on Wednesday. “The guys from Europe have been involved in games like this [in their careers].”
That’s where two-time World Cup veteran and UEFA Champions League winner Henry comes in. He’ll be the leader as New York seek to crack down LA’s vaunted defense, which he says is far more than just a stout back line.
“The way Landon Donovan was defending the other day, the way [David Beckham] was defending the other day, the way they were shielding their defense,” he explained, “and their defense was also doing their job.
“They showed all season that they are a great unit. Hopefully, they won’t show it too much [Thursday], because it won’t be a good sign for us.