Friday, May 18, 2007

Red Bulls Preview: Game 7 vs. Village People

After a listless "brain-dead" 0-1 home loss to Colorado, the New York Red Bulls must pick up their game tomorrow night vs. Columbus (7:30pm, MSG, DK) in the middle game of a three-game home stand. New York suffered mightily from the absence of field general Claudio Reyna in Sunday's loss vs. the Rapids, and Captain America is listed as questionable with a groin pull versus Columbus.

The New York injury list also includes D Hunter Freeman (out), M Demo Kovalenko and Markus Schopp, and G Ronald Wattereus (questionable), putting pressure on the healthy Red Bulls to deliver a better performance in front of what hopefully will be a larger home crowd than Sunday's sorry sub-8,000 turnout.

Now I wasn't at Sunday's Mother's Day match, and the other husbands and fathers out there can attest to the need to play your "go see a match on a Hallmark holiday" cards handily (though Mrs. Fish has amazingly stepped up to allow me to head to US-Korea in Montreal on 6/30, so I'm doing just fine, thank you). As noted in this space previously, the Red Bull Front Office has decided to focus its marketing on "grassroots," a code word for "on the cheap," so the poor NY attendance should not be a surprise. This team simply is invisible in the media, and with the Mets-Yankees series taking the NY sports world's attention this weekend, don't look for anyone to notice the Red Bulls tomorrow.

MLS is playing up the rivalry betweeen NY's (ex-River Plate) Juan Pablo Angel and Columbus' (ex-Boca Juniors) Guillermo Barros Schelotto, which may get a bit of play in the area's Hispanic press. Will that angle translate into butts in seats? The weather report is for 49 degrees and a 50 percent chance of rain. I'm not optimistic.

Recent Form:
New York: WWWDL
Columbus: DDWLD

Here's a line-by-line look at what to expect:

The Columbus forwards vs. the Red Bulls' defense:
Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Alejandro Moreno, and Eddie Gaven vs. Seth Stammler, Jeff Parke, Carlos Mendes, Todd Dunivant (and Jon Conway). What an upgrade for Columbus! The signing of Schelotto and the trade for Moreno in the last few weeks will provide a major boost for the Crew's attack, which has managed just four goals in six games (tied for last in MLS). While Tim Regan has been a Metro fan favorite, his inability to mark Nico Hernandez last week led to the game's only goal. The Red Bulls will miss Freeman, but still are tied for the league lead in goals-against. Slight Advantage: New York

New York's attackers vs. the Crew's defense:
Juan Pablo Angel vs. Frankie Hejduk, Marcos Gonzalez, Ezra Hendrickson and Rusty Pierce (and Andy Gruenebaum). The strength of the 1-1-4 Crew is its defense, which like New York has only allowed four goals this season. The Hebrew Hammer in goal is an early season surprise, Heydude continues to be an ageless wonder, and Hendrickson has scored a goal for the Crew. As long as Bruce sticks to his 4-5-1, we won't see JPA and Jozy Altidore on the field at the same time, which could test any defense. Without strong service last week, JPA foundered. Slight Advantage: Columbus

The Midfields:
Ned Grabavoy, Danny O'Rourke, and Stefani Miglioranzi vs. Dema Kovalenko, Claudio Reyna, Clint Mathis, Dave van den Bergh and Dane Richards. The Crew's midfield is a work in progress, though Grabavoy has accounted for half of Columbus' goal output this season. Not sure if Sigi Schmid wants to play a 3-man midfield against New York's experienced group. The Red Bull game notes has Reyna as a probable starter. How long he plays tomorrow night may be the determining factor. Advantage: New York

The Coaches:
Sigi Schmid is as-tenured a coach can be in MLS. He's made some significant upgrades this season, and has only lost once in six outings this year. Arena ripped his team last week after an unacceptable performance. He's playing at home, and needs to motivate his team to show up. Advantage: Push

Colombians and Argentinians fans may create an atmosphere in the cavernous Swamp... but the poor weather report may convince fans to watch at home on the tube. New York is vulnerable with all the injuries. Advantage: Push

Prediction: What do you say about a team that can't score, but doesn't concede and goals, either? If Reyna goes 90, New York wins. I don't think he will. Yet another scoreless draw.

Media Relations Campaign: Week 2
Won't you take a minute out of your day and drop a quick email to 1010 WINS Newsradio? Let him know that news and scores of Red Bull matches should be part of every sports report on days when the team plays. Every email counts!

MLS' Big 'To
I experienced a tinge of admiration and one of regret when watching Toronto FC's historic first win last Saturday. To see a crowd holding its breath on every pass and every shot, and erupting on each of its team's goals was just amazing. Congrats to everyone in the TFC organization for allowing the passion of soccer to flow freely around the club. I so badly want the same atmosphere around the Red Bulls. I just fear that the insistence of MLS management to market to primarily to the youth soccer crowd will prevent such an atmosphere from happening in New York. I hope the league office is asking themselves how to bring the TFC experience to every MLS stadium.

TV Party

Here's what to watch this weekend. Enjoy! (all times ET):

Saturday, May 19:
9:25am: GER: Stuttgart-Energie Cottbus, GOL
11:30am: GER: Schalke-Arminia Bielefeld, GOL
2:00pm: ESP: Mallorca-Valencia, GOL
3:30pm: MLS: Toronto-DC United, DK, CSN Mid-Atlantic
4:00pm: ITA: AC Milan-Udinese, GOL
7:30pm: COL: Ind. Santa Fe-Atletico Nacional, GOL
7:30pm: MLS: New York-Columbus, DK, MSG
8:30pm: MLS: Houston-New England, FSC
9:00pm: MLS: Colorado-Kansas City, HDNet

Sunday, May 20:
9:00am: ITA: Cagliari-Roma, FSC
9:00am: ITA: Atalanta-Inter Milan, GOL
11:00am: ESP: Dep. La Coruna-Sevilla, GOL
11:00am: ITA: Lazio-Parma, FSC
1:00pm: ESP:Recreativo-Real Madrid, GOL
3:00pm: ARG: River Plate-Estudiantes, FSC
3:00pm: ESP: Atletico Madrid-Barcelona, GOL
5:00pm: MLS: Chivas USA-LA Galaxy, TF
5:00pm: ELS: Luis Angel-Aguila, GOL
7:00pm: COL: Ind. Medellin-Millonarios, GOL
7:00pm: MEX: Chivas-Club America, UNI
9:00pm: GUA: Municipal-Xelaji, GOL