Backe banking on newfound defensive shape

JPA's sharpness and Dane Richards's return will key the attack

The
Red Bulls are running wild with three straight wins, their second longest
winning streak of the season.  Sunday
night’s meeting against Colorado is a big road test for New York – last year
the Red Bulls lost to the Rapids 4-0 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Four things
to watch for in Saturday’s match:

1. Dane’s Return – It’s been a while
since Red Bulls’ fans have seen Dane Richards on the field - he limped off the field
after 15 minutes in early June against Houston – but now he’s back. Richards’s
hamstring injury is a thing of the past and the speedy winger practiced in full
this week, even sprinting.

“I think Dane should be available for
us,” head coach Hans Backe said. Richards’ pace can help this team and
especially at altitude where his ability to get up and down the field can help
in defensive cover.

2. Staying Compact – Over their past
three matches – all wins – the Red Bulls have given up just one goal in league
play. The team is staying compact and tight much like they did to start the
season 5-1. Expect to see the same backline against Colorado as the one Backe
used
in the win over Kansas City last week.

“I think we started the season very well with our defense and how
we maintained our shape,” Backe said. “We’re still conceding too many
opportunities in the back although we are performing better over the past few
games.”

3. Mendes Centrally – In the past two
games, both shutouts, Carlos Mendes has partnered with Tim Ream in the center
of the defense. Before inserting Mendes in the lineup, Backe said that he did
so to give Mike Petke a rest after a grueling stretch of minutes played by the
veteran center back.

“Carlos came in and did very well and we had a clean
sheet,” Backe said. “There is no reason to change anything.”

4. Angel Flying High – The reigning MLS Player of the
Week, Juan Pablo Angel, looked feisty in practice this week, actively engaged
and working on trying to get the offense to click better.

The Red Bulls are
tied as the fifth highest scoring club in the league with Angel having nearly
half the team’s goals. His brace last Saturday comes after scoring the game
winner on a free kick against Houston just before the stop in play for the
World Cup.

“He looked sharp,” Backe said about Angel’s two-goal performance on
Saturday. “He looked like he had his legs and more pace.”

Kristian Dyer is a reporter for MLSSoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.