Jeff Parke is injured. Gabriel Chicero is suspended. Just how will the New York Red Bulls continue their five-match unbeaten streak against Western Division leaders Houston on Sunday (3p, TF)? Adding benched Norway-bound D Hunter Freeman may be the answer. On August 13th, Freeman signed with IK Start of Norway, though he won't join the club until January. Since then, a peeved Juan Carlos Osorio has kept the one-time US Youth International on the bench to punish Freeman for his disloyalty.
The hiccup in New York's backline couldn't have come in a worse time, with 2-time defending MLS Cup champ Houston in town, sporting a four-match winning and seven-match unbeaten streak of their own.
In the clubs' match at Roberston stadium on May 31, an Angel-less New York squad was punished for its one mistake in the game, a defensive lapse on a free kick, allowing Houston a 1-0 victory. The Dynamo played that night without Pat Onstad, Dwayne deRosario, and Brad Davis, who all will take the plastic pitch at Giants Stadium on Sunday. On paper, Houston should roll in this one, but New York has been playing well. Let's take a deeper look.
Position, Recent League Form, and playoff position:
New York, 28 pts from 20 matches, 5th East, TTTWW, would face Houston in Conf. Semis
Houston, 32 pts from 20 matches, 1st West, TWWWW, would face New York in Conf. Semis
Here's a line-by-line look at Sunday's match:
The Houston forwards vs. the Red Bulls' defense:
Brian Ching and Nate Jaqua vs. Kevin Goldthwaite, and Andrew Boyens, and Hunter Freeman (and Jon Conway). Ching may be sapped from playing a physical 90 minutes on Wednesday at Guatemala, but the Flyin' Hawaiian needs only to get a head on the ball to make a difference. did you know that Jaqua has 30 MLS goals? The one-time US MNT prospect has only two this season. Houston, though, is on a scoring tear, having hit the net 12 times in their last four matches. The third man on the NY backline will be busy, whether its Freeman, Carlos Mendes, or newly signed Diego Jimenez. Perhaps given Houston's attacking strength, JCO puts four in the back. Advantage: Push
New York's attackers vs. the Dynamo defense:
Juan Pablo Angel and Mike Magee vs. Wade Barrett, Eddie Robinson, Bobby Boswell, and Richard Mulrooney (and Pat Onstad). Scoring goals for Metro... Mike Magee... Magee has scored in his last two MLS starts, and is proving to be a passable option up front for New York as Osorio continues to close in on a full-time replacement for Jozy Altidore. Angel is playing with verve, but still doesn't have the spark that he did last season. Although the Dynamo allowed three to RSL last weekend, Houston has posted five shutouts in its last seven outings. Wow! Advantage: Houston
Dave van den Bergh, Juan Pietravallo, Jorge Rojas, Seth Stammler, and Dane Richards, vs. Brad Davis, Dwayne DeRosario, Brian Mullan, and Rico Clark. Houston's midfield has nine of the club's 32 goals to date this season, and when clicking, is deadly. Perhaps Mullan on the right side is a little vulnerable, but the Dynamo has a veteran group that knows how to play as a unit. New York's middle five are skilled, though the jury is still out on Pietravallo. Rojas is a fine holder and distributor of the ball, but can he take advantage of the scoring opportunities he finds? Advantage: Houston
UPDATE at 4p ET: with Jorge Rojas stuck in Venezuela due to visa problems, metro chances for points just went hopeful to slim.
Houston's Dom Kinnear continues to have his team peaking at the right time, and will surely have his team focused on the first three-peat in MLS history. Osorio is seeing the dividends of his summer acquisition spree, as New York is in playoff position for the first time since late June. Kinnear has the hardware, however. Advantage: Houston
Houston is seventh points clear of missing the postseason, so the Dynamo, who played on Wednesday, may take the foot off the gas a bit in the Jersey heat (forecast is for 85 degrees, partly cloudy, 10% chance of precip.). There's a lot more urgency for the Red Bulls in the match, as three key away Eastern Conf contests (DC, CHI, CMB) loom in the next four weeks. With a point, New York moves ahead of DC in the tightly-packed Eastern standings. The Sunday crowd should be just average. Advantage: New York
Prediction: A win would so help New York get closer to their sixth-straight playoff appearance, but with the options few in the back, and Houston once again in championship form, three points seem to be unlikely. Let's say the teams bat it around in a late-summer hazy 1-1 draw.
Data Point which might intrigue only me: New York and Houston are two of three MLS squads who are unbeaten in August. The other? San Jose!
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