Red Bulls Notebook: Defense starting to click

UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Head coach Hans Backe knows that if his Red Bulls can work their way into the playoffs, they’ll be a dangerous foe.

And if Saturday’s 1-0 win over FC Dallas is of any indication, they’ll be a difficult team to break down, too.

In the match against their Western Conference counterparts, New York conceded possession and space to their opponents, choosing instead to clamp down in the final third. The decision to focus their defensive efforts and intensity near goal resulted in a tight, compact backline. The Red Bulls dared FCD to break them down, something the Texas side was unable to do.

“All four of us along the backline were on the same page, which is comforting for everybody,” center back Tim Ream said. “We knew if one guy got beat, there would always be one other person to help you out. … Getting a win and a shutout coming down the stretch is a good sign for us.”

An encore performance might be in store for Wednesday when Real Salt Lake visit Red Bull Arena (8 pm ET, watch LIVE online). Even though New York are at home, RSL are among the best possession teams in the league, and focusing on limiting their efforts in front of goal will be key for Backe’s men.

When the two sides met for the first time this season on August 6 at Rio Tinto, Real Salt Lake dominated in a 3-0 rout. The New York penalty area was constantly under pressure and Backe wasn’t too pleased with his team’s shape.

“[RSL] are very good and they’ve hammered us twice when we play away,” Backe said. “We’ve been very poor and I can say they’ve been very good. We just need to do some things a little different when we play them because we can’t play them the same way we did in the away games.”

The striker outlook

Having recovered from a heel injury he suffered more than two months ago, Luke Rodgers made his first start since July 6 in the win over FCD.

The forward went 45 minutes and scored the game’s lone goal. His health – along with that of strike partner Thierry Henry, who missed the last game with a flare-up of his Achilles – is a major focal point for the RSL game.

“I would be very happy if we can get 60 [minutes from each forward],” said Backe. “Luke said he was a little sore in the day after against Dallas but feels top now. With Thierry, I think perhaps that with the Achilles is always a problem, but I think now with the pitch getting wet, it’s softer. That helps his Achilles also.”

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