UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – The road was less than kind to the Red Bulls the last time they went looking for a win in Texas. New York came away with a 2-2 tie against Houston on July 31 in a match the Red Bulls thought they should have won, up a man for the bulk of the match and with Thierry Henry freshly introduced to the team and playing well from the outset.
They head back to the Lone Star State on Thursday, this time against FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco. Here are four things to watch in the match:
1. Tougher To Break Down – When these two teams met at Red Bull Arena in April, New York had no answer for FC Dallas’ five-man midfield or the way their wing backs pushed into the attack. The Red Bulls settled into a defensive shell, and both their goals in the 2-1 win came against the run of play. The Red Bulls are more solid defensively now, having conceded just four goals in their last seven games.
A big reason for the resurgence has been the play of Chris Albright, who has been very strong at right back during the stretch and is moving well into the attack from a deep position.
[inline_node:318395]2. The Rafa Factor – It is clear that Mexican National Team captain Rafa Márquez is a difference maker for this team. Two weeks ago, he was away on national-team duty and the Red Bulls midfield looked horrible against Real Salt Lake.
And when an ankle injury forced him to leave in the second half of New York’s 3-1 win over Colorado last Saturday, the Red Bulls struggled to control the midfield without his calming presence. Márquez will travel with the team to play FC Dallas and hopes to be on the field.
3. Starting Stronger – The Red Bulls have won three of their last five and started strong and pressured the other team into easy giveaways in every win. In the losses, however, New York failed to control the flow and pace of the game for the full 90 minutes. They need to be more consistent and more confident in their possession to put their stamp on the game.
“When we played Salt Lake, apart from the first 20 minutes of the second half, they looked solid,” Henry said. “Sometimes we go through patches in a game where you’re saying [about the other team], ‘Man, they’re amazing.’”
4. Ballouchy All The Time – The Red Bulls on Monday traded for creative playmaker Mehdi Ballouchy, a player whom head coach Hans Backe believes is the “missing link” in the midfield. Ballouchy is comfortable on the ball and can create scoring opportunities for Henry and Juan Pablo Angel up top. At least on paper, it looks like a good fit for New York and Ballouchy.
“They play the ball on the ground, their movement is great,” Ballouchy said.
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012