September 16, 2012
It's Red Bulls vs. Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday
By Michael Lewis
HARRISON, N.J. -- With one word, Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty best described his team's big Wednesday clash with Sporting Kansas City.
"It's huge," he said. "There's no other word to describe it. It's going to be a great game."
OK, it was more than one word, but the 7 p.m. confrontation at Red Bull Arena could very well go a long way in determining who will win the Eastern Conference.
Kansas City enters the match atop the conference with a 15-7-6 mark and 51 points, a point ahead of the Chicago Fire (15-8-5, 50) and two points in front of third-place New York (14-7-7, 49).
If the Red Bulls have any serious designs on the conference title, they must win.
A draw or a loss would favor KC.
McCarty said the game was "a big opportunity. These are the games you want to play in."
He called Kansas City "one of the best teams in the league. A team that we had a good battle with in Kansas City. They're in first right now. so, they're the best team in the East as far as I'm concerning."
In the teams' first encounter on Aug. 26, the Red Bulls managed to tie at Livestrong Sporting Park, 1-1, despite not talking a shot on goal. Their only goal was off a Kei Kamara own goal.
Wednesday's confrontation is the first two KC visits. The team will return on Saturday, Oct. 20.
"They have to come play us here and I think it's a different story than we had to play them in Kansas City," McCarty said. "So we need to refreshed, get our legs back, make sure we prepare right for the game. I think we play like we played tonight -- let's hold back giving up a goal two minutes into the game -- that's kind of happened to us."
Midfielder Jan Gunnar Solli said Saturday night's 3-1 win over the Columbus Crew will give New York some much needed momentum entering the encounter.
"Had we gotten a draw here, we would have the feeling now, 'Oh now, we have to [win]," he said. "We really want to win at home. And I think we have every opportunity. It's a nice confidence going into that game knowing that we ust had a win earlier on this week and Kansas had a draw game."
That was a 1-1 tie with the Houston Dynamo on Friday night. Since the game will played in mid-week during the school year, Solli doesn't necessarily think the stadium will be full. But he hoped the crowd will help inspire the Red Bulls.
"I really hope we get a lot of people, get the support," he said. "Even though it's not a full stadium. But it's still a great atmosphere out there. I just home people will come out and support us."
Red team captain Thierry Henry acknowledged that the game was an important encounter. "I know it's great," he said. "I know it's a great thing for the league, great game and everything. We have to think about how come we don't start well."
Yes, during the post-match interview Henry continued to harp on the Red Bulls' inability to get off to decent starts. They have been forced to rally for a 2-0-1 record in three of their last four games.
"The only thing I will go home with tonight we don't start the game well," he said. "It can be Kansas City. It was Portland. How many times you have seen a game this year and you say, 'Wow, here we go again. one-nil, two-nil, 1-1, whatever. We just have to figure out what's the problem and work at it because the playoffs are around, if we go to the playoffs."
Wednesday's game will be the second of a three-game span in eight days. Coach Hans Backe has stressed how it important it was.
He wasn't that certain.
"You have four more games after that," he said. "If you lose them all, what? the playoffs start now. It's way before that, now the way the league is, the way the table is, you cannot afford to lose any game."
Henry agreed it was a crucial game.
"Well, it is," he said.
But . . .
"But before the thing about first place like i said to you -- I know I'm going to say the same thing and I'm boring -- we have to do into the game against Kansas City and not concede after five minutes. Let us count how many games we have conceded a goal after four, five [minutes], 30 seconds. You can't do that. That's the only thing that I'm thinking about before I think about Kansas City and think about being first. I know it's great. I know it's a great thing for the league, great game and everything. We have to think about how come we don't start well."