UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — If New York Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe is to record his first-ever win against Real Salt Lake on Saturday (10 pm ET, MLS Live), his side will need to cut out the mistakes that saw them lose their season opener against FC Dallas.
Having never defeated RSL since Backe took over, the Red Bulls are planning to use different methods to top a team that boasts a 3-0-1 record against them since 2010.
“That’s the team we have struggled a lot against, so we definitely need to find some other options how to defend against them,” Backe told MLSsoccer.com.
Defending Álvaro Saborío, Fabián Espíndola, Luis Gil and Javier Morales will be a difficult task for the Red Bulls, as they still develop defensive understanding, with a new center back partnership. Central defenders Markus Holgersson and Stephen Keel struggled at times in their first game together in last Sunday’s 2-1 defeat, and a much-improved effort will likely be needed in order to grab a result at Rio Tinto Stadium vs. a RSL side high on confidence, coming off a 3-1 win over LA Galaxy.
On offense, New York are without midfielder Rafa Márquez (suspended) and two of their top forwards: Luke Rodgers’ standing with the club is still in limbo due to his troublesome visa situation, while Juan Agudelo is currently with the US Under-23 national team preparing for Olympic qualifiers.
That means the attacking burden will fall on forwards Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper, as well as contributions from the midfield, which at times looked out of sorts in the season opener.
“[Real Salt Lake] are far ahead of us,” Henry admitted this week. “I’ve said it for a very long time, they are, with LA, the best team in this league, by a distance. It’s not a coincidence that we have not beaten them yet since I’m here. Not a lot of teams beat Salt Lake, especially at their place, so it’s going to again be a difficult task.”
What would make things tougher for the Red Bulls is if they make the same type of errors that led to both goals against FC Dallas in Week 1.
“That’s what we have to do: Try to avoid doing mistakes,” Henry said. “If a guy turns and smashes the ball from 30 yards [into the] top corner, what are you going to do? They outplay you, they cross, they score, what are you going to do? You have to accept it.
“But it is kind of difficult to take it when you give them goals and it was the story of the season last season,” the French Designted Player continued. “Hopefully it can happen against Salt Lake, but now we’re going to play against a team that won 3-1 in LA and is already one of the best in this league. So for sure, the first games of the season at their place, they’re going to be fired up.”
If New York do fall at Rio Tinto Stadium and record successive defeats to open the season, Backe doesn’t think it will be time to panic, however.
“It’s a long, long season,” the head coach said. “It’s two really tough road games against Dallas and Salt Lake to start with. But anyhow, I think we have the quality to surprise them on Saturday, but we need to play at our best.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com.