THE FIVER: Story-lines to watch ahead of RBNY vs. San Jose
The Red Bulls had a five-game unbeaten stretch snapped with the 3-1 defeat at Eastern Conference rival Philadelphia on Wednesday night but the team returns home to Harrison to try to rebound against struggling San Jose. New York remains in a tie for fourth place with New England since both teams lost midweek.
The Earthquakes sit at the bottom of the West with 16 points from 16 games despites conceding the third-fewest goals in the league (18). This is the only match between the two clubs this season and is the first meeting in 16 months.
Here are five storylines to watch for in this crucial interconference match-up:
1. The BWP-Henry connection strikes again
Bradley Wright-Phillips scored his league-leading 16th goal of the season on Wednesday night in the 60th minute with the assist coming from Thierry Henry, the Frenchman’s league-leading 10th of the campaign. The two have linked up in two straight games and, overall, of Wright-Phillips’ 16 goals, Henry has assisted 7, all coming over the last 12 league matches. Their form has been crucial for the Red Bulls attack this season and will need to continue as league play heads further into the second half of the schedule. New York also have the added benefit of two more of the league’s leading assisters in Lloyd Sam and Eric Alexander. Both players have six assists apiece on the season, making New York the only team to have three players with six or more assists.
2. Bounce back from the loss and continue good home form
This Saturday night is just the team’s third home game since May 24 against Portland, which was also, coincidentally, their last league loss before Wednesday night in Philadelphia. The Red Bulls have had stellar home form the past two seasons, both 11-2-4, and have only one season over the past decade in which they’ve lost more than three at home. New York is currently 3-2-3 after their latest win at Red Bull Arena, a 4-1 victory over Columbus. The only blemishes at home this season have been two tough losses in the middle of May against Chicago and Portland. Against San Jose, the Red Bulls had won four straight home meetings in a row vs. San Jose before the teams played to a 2-2 draw in their last meeting at Red Bull Arena in 2012. Against the ‘Quakes all-time at home, New York is 8-4-5 with 32 goals scored and 17 conceded.
3. East vs. West
San Jose is the sixth Western Conference team the Red Bulls will play this season with only three more interconference match-ups left on the schedule. The three remaining West teams that New York will play, however, are the current top three of that conference (Seattle, Los Angeles, and Real Salt Lake). Thus, the importance of getting a result against San Jose is elevated. This season so far against the West, the Red Bulls are 1-2-2 overall and winless at home with a 0-1-2 record.
4. Conceding early goals
The Red Bulls have struggled all season long with allowing early goals to opponents and have been punished for it to the tune of a 0-5-6 record when opponents find the back of the net first. New York has allowed eight goals in the opening 15 minutes and, expanding that, an additional seven in the first 15 minutes after halftime. The Red Bulls have outscored their opponents 23 to 14 outside of the initial 15 minutes of each half but consistently find themselves playing from behind. However, at home, New York has done a better job of keeping their composure in the first half. The team has only trailed once and lead five times at halftime at home this season. It’s vital to get out on the right foot against San Jose because the team is 3-1-2 when scoring first at home this season.
5. What has San Jose done lately?
The Earthquakes sit at the bottom of the Western Conference with a 4-8-4 record and 16 points through 16 games. Although they have gotten back Chris Wondolowski and Victor Bernardez from the World Cup, the team has lost their last four straight games, including a loss to Seattle in the U.S. Open Cup. Their last three league matches, all defeats, have come at Buck Shaw Stadium. Despite winning, 2-1, in Dallas at the end of May, the ‘Quakes are 1-4-1 on the road this season with just four goals scored. In Chris Wondolowski they have one of the league’s most prolific scorers; Wondo has scored 78 goals over his last five seasons, including six in just 10 matches this season and a record-tying 27 goals in 2012. The team sorely missed his presence over the seven games he missed due to being with the national team in Brazil as they could muster just seven goals over that span, with five of those coming in two victories.