The Red Bulls return home for a date with the Columbus Crew on Saturday night, July 12. The match will be the first of three to take place over a seven-day period. New York and Columbus are currently tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference, each with 20 points and a zero goal differential over 17 games. The Red Bulls are coming off a 2-2 draw in Houston.
Bradley Wright-Phillips continued his league-leading campaign with two more goals but the visitors were undone with a controversial handball and subsequent penalty that was slotted home by the returning Brad Davis.
Here are five stories to watch for this week:
1. BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS CONTINUES TO SCORE
Wright-Phillips added two more goals against Houston and remains atop the MLS Golden Boot standings with 14, two ahead of Sporting Kansas City’s Dom Dwyer and Chivas’ Erick Torres.
The English striker had looked like he would go two straight games without a goal for the first time since April 16th until a last-gasp volleyed equalizer at home against Toronto FC on June 27. He has been the league’s hottest striker for over two months now, scoring in eight of the team’s last 10 league matches, tallying 13 goals over that span.
2. FOUR-MATCH UNBEATEN STREAK
After going through a frustrating three-game losing streak in mid-May, the club has turned around their fortunes in convincing fashion. The Red Bulls are currently on a four-game unbeaten stretch that dates back to their road draw against then-league leaders, Sporting KC, on May 27. New York, featuring a backline that included three rookies, romped to a 2-0 win in New England 10 days later.
Head coach Mike Petke has continued with his youth-infused starting line-up since and it has worked. Two straight 2-2 draws have followed and the Red Bulls will seek to continue that momentum over a very busy seven days.
3. REGAIN HOME FORM
The Red Bulls are 2-2-3 this season in Harrison. They have struggled recently at home and haven’t won since a 4-0 thrashing of Houston on April 23. Typically, New York has thrived at home. The past two seasons, the team has had identical 11-2-4 records at Red Bull Arena and since 2004, they have only had one season in which they had more than three home defeats. The Red Bulls’ road form this season has helped keep them in the playoff picture but they must regain their top home form of seasons past to make a push in the second half. They must also make an impression this weekend against the visiting Crew because Columbus returns to Harrison for the second-to-last regular season game on October 19.
4. WHAT HAS COLUMBUS DONE LATELY?
The Red Bulls and the Crew have been tied with each other for fifth place for a month and they could very well still be tied come Sunday. The Crew has drawn its’ last four matches and is winless since a 2-0 home victory over Chicago on May 24. Columbus started the season with three straight wins but has gone 1-5-8 since.
They, too, have three matches to play over the next seven days, with the following two matches at Crew Stadium against Kansas City and Montreal. Argentinean Federico Higuaín leads the club with six goals and five assists.
5. OPPOSING PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: FEDERICO HIGUAIN
Higuaín became both the Crews’ third-ever designated player and most expensive signing on July 27, 2012. He made his debut just three weeks later as a substitute and provided the assist on the go-ahead goal by Eddie Gaven. He has since become one of the most exciting and all-around talents in Major League Soccer.
He was voted 2012 Newcomer of the Year after finishing with five goals and seven assists in just 13 appearances. Overall, Higuaín has compiled 22 goals and 21 assists in his 56 appearances with Columbus. The Crew’s captain was named team MVP after the 2013 season and continues to lead them in the box score and beyond.