MONTCLAIR, N.J. — New York Red Bulls manager Hans Backe was right at home in the blizzard that fell on the New York area on Saturday.
“Scandinavian weather!” the Swede said, smiling.
He seems equally excited for Sunday afternoon’s match with the LA Galaxy in the first leg of their Western Conference Semifinal series (3 pm ET, ESPN2/Deportes, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). The Red Bulls were the only club to post a winning record against the Supporters’ Shield-winning Galaxy in 2011, and Backe is optimistic about his side’s chances of burning the visitors from sunny Southern California.
“We like playing them,” he said after putting the Red Bulls through their final paces on Saturday. “All four games so far these two years have been quality games playing the Galaxy. Not hectic football, but kind of a European game, when you have more time and space on the ball.”
In 2011’s two contests — a 1-1 draw at LA and a 2-0 win in New York — Thierry Henry was the danger man for the Red Bulls. He scored in both matches, and feels similarly buoyed by the previous results.
“We do match up well against them,” Henry said. “They’ve been the best team in the league this year and last year. You have to admire their consistency. [But] every time we have had a chance to upset them, it is because we raised our level to play better. Hopefully we can do the same thing.”
New York already appear to have raised their level in the past few weeks. The 2-0 win at Dallas in midweek in the Wild Card match was arguably their most complete performance in a while.
“It was a totally different team when we played in Dallas,” Henry said. “We were compact. Difficult to break. Playoff time: It’s another story. You almost have to erase what you did in the league, and now see what we can do.”
The Red Bulls were particularly effective in the defensive strategy, shutting down Dallas’s string-pulling central midfielder Daniel Hernandez. Backe expects to employ a similar tactic on Sunday.
“Both of LA’s central guys, [David] Beckham and Juninho, are quality guys for [making] final passes,” he said. “It will be a team effort for us defending. We have to get our shape as quickly as possible. Sprint to get the shape.”
Rodgers good to go
Backe made it clear during his teleconference on Friday that injured striker Luke Rodgers would return to the lineup for the LA match.
Rodgers, who trained with the first XI on Saturday, said he had fluid drained from his knee this week, but he is expected to start. “It feels good,” he said. “Definitely [can go 90].”
Mendes at right back
Jan Gunnar Solli’s red card against Dallas meant longtime New York defender Carlos Mendes was set to get the nod. The 30-year-old trained with the starting backline on Saturday.
“Obviously, it’s a good opportunity for me,” Mendes said. “LA and New York is always a great match. LA can hurt you in a lot of ways.”
One thing Mendes won’t be doing is eagerly jumping into the attack the way Solli often does, particularly with Dane Richards playing in front of him. But Backe doesn’t expect the team’s right said to be all that changed.
“Carlos is a little bit more of a defending back and Jan is more of an attacking one,” Backe said. “But I don’t think it will be a huge difference.”