Eric Hassli and Tim Ream
Getty Images

Hassli a familiar threat as Red Bulls face Vancouver

UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — The New York Red Bulls know all too well how difficult it can be to stop Eric Hassli. The French striker has enjoyed a scintillating first year in MLS, scoring a team-high 10 goals for the Vancouver Whitecaps, including one from the penalty spot in a 1-1 draw against New York on May 28.

Now, with Hassli and the Whitecaps set for a showdown with New York at Red Bull Arena on Saturday (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online), Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe hopes to contain Hassli by making sure that he doesn’t see much of the ball at all.

“I think it’s more before he reaches the ball, that we have to be good and defend well,” Backe said of Hassli, who had five shots in the draw in May. “That’s the key, that they can’t feed him with too easy passes, we need to make it difficult for them to find him.

“But then when they find him, we probably need to play very tight against him because he’s always looking for shooting opportunities every time,” Backe added. “But it’s more that with our zone system, we can close him down.”

Marking has suddenly become a priority for New York, one season after topping the league as the stingiest defense and piecing together the lowest goals-against average in franchise history. The Red Bulls spent some additional time on Friday after their regular session to work with the starting back four on their shape and form.

The team has been plagued by individual mistakes and breakdowns on the backline this season, leaving them currently stuck in a seven-game winless streak in MLS play.

“We try to work on it, as we did now, the last final 10 to 15 minutes,” Backe said. “Just sharpen it up. I think mentally the guys feel OK to, for 10 to 15 minutes, that kind of individual work.”

There is a curveball thrown at the Red Bulls backline for the next two weeks, with Roy Miller having suffered a right abductor strain. The Costa Rican international is definitely out this week, and the club spent Friday trying to blend together some new pieces to the backline.

Backe, who insisted that he won't change the team's formation to a three-man backline, will likely choose between Chris Albright and Carlos Mendes for the two outside spots after Jan Gunnar Solli said earlier this week that he'll move up into the midfield with the suspension of Teemu Tainio.

Stay connected: Get access to breaking news, videos, and analysis from North America's best soccer reporters via "This Week in MLS" newsletter or using our FREE mobile app.