MATCH PREVIEW: Red Bulls vs. Sporting Kansas City

The 2014 MLS Cup Playoffs are finally upon us. Thursday night marks the first Eastern Conference playoff match when the New York Red Bulls face Sporting Kansas City in a win or go home Knockout round. The winner of the match will move on to host D.C. United in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Sunday November 2, at 4:00 p.m. ET.

BUY: Red Bulls vs. Sporting Kansas City Tickets

October 30 will be the fourth and final meeting between the clubs this year, with the Red Bulls undefeated in the season series 2-0-1. Thursday’s match will mark the second game in five days between the two teams.

Last Sunday’s 2-0 victory for Red Bull at Sporting Park was a historic night for the league and Bradley Wright-Phillips who equaled the MLS all-time single-season scoring record of 27 goals with a brace on Sunday. He also won the 2014 Budweiser Golden Boot for top scorer in the league by five goals.

Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry did not play in Sunday’s match due to an Achilles muscle injury, but trained on Wednesday is expected to return to the lineup on Thursday.

New York Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke on Thierry Henry:

“Obviously the Columbus game a lot of games didn’t look so sharp. There was a lot of running, we were chasing the ball a lot in that game, and in the days after that when we met back up, Thierry started feeling some stuff…I took the decision that if he’s going to be out, to realize it sooner than later and let him start getting some heavy treatment, which he did, in order to be ready for this game coming up.”

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The Red Bulls have historically struggled at home in the playoffs, but boast an impressive 10-3-4 record at Red Bull Arena this year and have scored more goals at home (38) than any other Eastern Conference team.

New York Red Bulls forward Thierry Henry on Sporting KC:

“They are a team that knows what it takes to win…they showed it last year. We haven’t done that yet, so you have to give them their respect, but know also that you can beat them. It’s another game. You can’t look at what we’ve done against them during the season. It’s going to be a different game on Thursday.”

Defending champions Sporting Kansas City look to bounce back from a disappointing performance at home against New York last Sunday in their 0-2 loss at home. They are 2-7-1 in their last 10 matches, but have performed better on the road than at Sporting Park this year with a 8-8-1 road record.

Sporting KC will need a good performance from leading goal scorer Dom Dwyer and U.S. international Graham Zusi to produce goals, but perhaps the most important area that needs improvement after Sunday’s game is the defense. Usually a strong point for SKC, injuries and fatigue has hindered the back-line. The chemistry and communication between center backs Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin could prove to be the difference in Thursday night’s match.

As in last Sunday’s match, Sporting KC will be without midfielder Benny Feilhaber due to injury. 

The Eastern Conference Knockout round on October 30 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. will kick-off at 8:00 p.m. ET (TV: ESPN2). For tips and directions on how to get to the game, check out the Red Bull Arena Transportation HUB.