After allowing 15 goals in his first 10 games, Bouna Coundoul settled down to record eight shutouts over the next 20, including a spectacular 12 save effort against the Kansas City Wizards. His athleticism makes him a great shot stopper — 1.04 GAA — but he can be a wild card at times.
|Jon Busch put up seven shutouts since taking over starting duties from an injured Joe Cannon on June 25. The former Chicago Fire ‘keeper has the fourth lowest goals-allowed-average in playoff history, .81, with five shutouts. He is coming off a 4-1 loss to the Wizards, but had allowed only one goal over the previous four games.|
The Red Bulls have posted four shutouts in the last month. Tim Ream and Carlos Mendes can be caught out, but they recover well. Danleigh Borman did not have a good game against Philly, so a healthy and effective Roy Miller may be the key for New York in the first leg.
|The Quakes this season allowed the most shots on goal of any playoff team, a consequence of a constantly fluctuating lineup: nine different players started in back in 2010. Captain Jason Hernandez is the anchor in the middle, but the return of Ramiro Corrales could prove pivotal. He'll be tasked with shutting down Dane Richards, and may not have the pace.|
With Tony Tchani out injured, Mehdi Ballouchy will step into the midfield in an attacking role. Rafa Márquez will handle the bulk of the ball-winning duties. That could be bad for the Red Bulls: As good as Joel Lindpere and Richards have been, New York are at their best when Márquez gets forward.
|Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski has mostly lined up this season at right midfield, where he has a habit of eluding markers. He will push high up the field and find pockets of space for Geovanni and a resurgent Bobby Convey to feed him service.|
The absence of Henry and Salou leaves captain Juan Pablo Ángel alone up top in a 4-5-1. However, Hans Backe may throw everyone for a loop and include 17-year-old Juan Agudelo, who has looked good in two appearances for RBNY.
|Geovanni, like Ángel, is guaranteed a start. But not a partner. According to Frank Yallop, Scott Sealy has been “unlucky” to not already be in the starting lineup, but Ryan Johnson has had a good season and Eduardo has recovered from injury. Yallop has some good problems when it come to selection.|
Backe has exhibited curious tactical decisions recently. The 4-5-1 formation with Ángel as the lone striker has generated precious little offense, and the playoffs are no time to experiment. But the Swede managed to make the Red Bulls a playoff team after finishing dead-last in 2009. He should be able to succeed in the postseason.
Yallop’s extensive playoff resume (two MLS titles) gives him a massive edge over just about anyone. He has hinted about shuffling the lineup--possibly replacing Khari Stephenson in the midfield--but his real task will be to encourage attacking options other than Wondolowski.
Mike Petke and Carey Talley provide some depth on the backline for New York, but injuries have made the team a little light on the left side. Lindpere and Miller cannot go down to injury, particularly with Wondolowski prowling on the Quakes’ right.
|The Quakes are starting to get healthy at the right time. Arturo Alvarez and Corrales are both healthy again, and the depth at striker (Johnson, Sealy, Eduardo) allows Yallop to use different looks. Whether or not they’ll be able to perform at a playoff level after being out so long is a different question.|
|Backe's defensive scheme has shut down more potent offenses this season than San Jose's, Wondolowski notwithstanding. He'd be happy with a scoreless draw, but he is looking for a low-scoring win.|
|The Quakes have a seasoned head coach. They have the top scorer in the league. They are at home. But the reshuffled backline is a liability.|