New York Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe is back with the team and ready for the club's game against D.C. United on Saturday (8 pm ET; NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
The same does not necessarily hold true for Tim Cahill.
Speaking to reporters on Friday for the first time since returning from Sweden to tend to personal matters, Backe said Cahill is the lone injury concern for the Red Bulls as they head into the first leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series at RFK Stadium. The Australian Designated Player has been held out of training all week.
"The only question mark is Tim Cahill, who has a calf injury," Backe said via a conference call. "We will just have to make a late decision, I would guess. But otherwise, everyone seems to be ready."
Backe added that Dax McCarty was “99 percent” likely to fill in for Cahill in central midfield if the seasoned veteran cannot play against D.C. United. But that would leave a hole out wide, one that Backe said could be filled by either Jan Gunnar Solli or Roy Miller.
The Red Bulls boss indicated that starting Miller would mean having two left-footed wide players, so it appears all but likely that Joel Lindpere will start on the left side of the midfield.
One topic Backe did not want to address in detail was how the Red Bulls planned on stymieing their rivals' attack. In their three regular-season meetings this season that ended evenly split at 1-1-1, United scored eight goals on New York and no less than twice in any one match.
Backe, however, did touch on the state of United and how they are coping without their injured star player, Dwayne De Rosario.
"Since they lost DeRo, they only have played three home games, but they've been in a very good run," Backe said. "But, also, to be fair, they were so, so lucky against Chicago away. They should have probably lost 3- or 4-1…
"But without DeRo, they are more of a battle team and a really, really hardworking team,” Backe added. “Both guys in wide positions, [Chris] Pontius and [Nick] DeLeon, [and Maicon] Santos and [Lionard] Pajoy up front, all of these guys can make a difference and win the game for the team. They are defending very, very well, so they're hard to break down. I would say it's a very solid team at the moment."
Backe also discussed the Red Bulls and United's swap of venues for the first and second legs of the Semifinal series due to Hurricane Sandy, and he said there is a slight benefit to now being the team that will play in front of their home team in the decisive leg on Nov. 7.
"In most of the other leagues I've been involved in you would say home is an advantage, but that's also of course with goals counting double in Europe and perhaps other leagues, too," he said. "As I've said many times, this league is so even, I wonder, but it's probably a small advantage."
Backe also addressed Thierry Henry's recent comments on Kenny Cooper needing to make strides with his hold-up and passing abilities. Backe agreed with his captain, though he said Cooper is far from being the only one who could make progress in his game.
"I think Kenny and most of the players can improve," Backe said. "If you play as a high striker, it is very important to have a striker that can hold up the ball, give that kind of rhythm in the attacking game, so you don't have to defend all the time.
"Kenny will always be a technical goal-scorer, or let's say tap-in goals, but if we control games, if we have a lot of possession, then we always will be able to feed him these kind of goals. He's up to 18 and that speaks for itself."
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.