UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – One of the stingiest defenses in the league, a red-hot midfielder and an in-form forward.
That is just some of what the New York Red Bulls will be up against on Wednesday night, as they host Sporting Kansas City at Red Bull Arena (7:30 pm ET; MLS Live). The match will serve as a better gauge of where the Red Bulls stand, especially since Thierry Henry & Co. will have to face a defense led by center backs Aurélien Collin and Matt Besler that has not conceded in four straight matches.
“It goes without saying that Besler and Collin are, for me, the best partnership at the back in MLS by a distance but you have to give credit to their team,” Henry told reporters following New York’s training session on Tuesday morning. “They frustrate teams, if they have to make a professional [foul], they will make a professional foul to make sure you can’t counter on them. [They are a] very tough team, play hard in a good way, but [Besler and Collin] are the masterminds of that operation.
“You have to give credit to the whole squad with the way they’re defending, and every time that you somehow manage to pass them, [goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen] pulls out some kind of save that I don’t know how he does. You have to give them credit.”
New York may have plenty of respect for what Sporting KC have done defensively in recent weeks, but they also believe they will have opportunities to exploit when they play in their second match in five days, after defeating D.C. United over the weekend.
“To me, the telltale that they’re a very good defensive team is they leave a lot of 1-v-1s exposed in the back and they still come away with the ball,” Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke said on Tuesday. “That’s confidence. That’s ability. And that’s a willingness to throw caution into the wind and say, ‘Come beat me.’ I respect that about them.
“I look at the talent we’ve got going forward and it could possibly be a very interesting night tomorrow night, from both sides, with some good individual battles.”
Two of the battles the Red Bulls will need to win if they wish to grab three points at home are against striker Claudio Bieler and midfielder Graham Zusi. Stopping the two in-form players will be vital to limiting Sporting KC’s attack, but don’t expect the Red Bulls to focus its whole gameplan on them.
“We’re not aiming towards one specific player,” said Petke. “We know they are talented at almost every position but they have a handful of really key players. It’s not like we’re going out and man-marking a certain player or overloading on a certain player.
“If we [play] defensively as a block and, as a team, get in our solid blocks and cut off the spaces we think they’re very dangerous in, then we’ve won half the battle. The other half the battle is winning the ball and capitalizing at the other end. It’s not going to be an easy game tomorrow night.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.