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Backe banking on newfound defensive shape

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 This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.