KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Sporting Kansas City’s players found out Friday that they won’t be facing Thierry Henry when the New York Red Bulls visit Livestrong Sporting Park.
But even without the high-scoring French striker, who is taking the match off to welcome his new son, Sporting know the Red Bulls will bring plenty of firepower into Sunday night’s matchup of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference (9 pm ET, ESPN2, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
One word kept coming up at Friday’s weekly news conference – “dangerous” – and with good reason.
The Red Bulls, who trail Sporting by two points with nine games remaining for each team, can still call on Kenny Cooper, who is tied for second in the MLS Golden Boot race with 14 goals – three more than Henry. He’s backed by a strong supporting cast that includes new Designated Player Tim Cahill and forward Sebastien Le Toux, who has five goals this year with Vancouver and New York.
“We’ll have to adjust, but I don’t think too much will change,” center back Matt Besler said during a news conference. “I think with Cooper and maybe Le Toux up top, they’re still pretty dangerous. We’ll have another day to prepare and find out what we want to do.”
WATCH: Vermes pre-game presser
Sporting manager Peter Vermes said Cahill and Le Toux have made the already-loaded Red Bulls even more challenging to defend.
“Cahill has brought a different dimension to the team,” Vermes said. “His running out of midfield is very dangerous. Timely runs. Le Toux has an unbelievable work rate on the outside flanks, and he also makes great late runs.”
No matter who’s leading the attack for New York, Sporting forward Teal Bunbury said, the key to stopping it is to start defending deep in the Red Bulls’ end.
“It starts off with our pressure, forcing them one way and not giving their center backs a chance to play balls over the top,” Bunbury told MLSsoccer.com after Friday’s training session. “They’re great at making runs behind defenses.
So for us as strikers, it’s best to put them under pressure so as not to give them easy access to dribble the ball up to midfield and play easy balls on the ground or in the air.
“That doesn’t mean we’re going to high press every minute of the game,” he added, “but it means locking them in, being ready and being aware.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.