The New York Red Bulls closed out regular season meetings against the Los Angeles Galaxy with a slight edge, finishing 1-0-1 in matches played on May 7 (2-2 draw) and Oct. 4 (2-0 win). Although the most recent match ended with the Red Bulls blanking LA, Coach Hans Backe and company are certainly aware of what the west coast club brings to town this Sunday at 3 ET (ESPN2/Deportes).
“They’ve been outstanding, picking up 67 points, doing well in the Champions League, they have absolutely the best roster in the league,” Backe said during a conference call with the media Friday afternoon. “Every game so far - the four games we’ve played against Los Angeles – (over the past two seasons) have been quality games.”
But unlike the past two seasons, this match has an increased sense of purpose. After defeating FC Dallas 2-0 Wednesday night, New York will look to maintain momentum and continue its run through the postseason. Opening the next round at home in Red Bull Arena could very well provide the Red Bulls with a strong surge when they head west for Thursday’s Game 2, but regardless of where the match is played Backe believes the team as a whole is experienced enough to be prepared for any opponent this weekend.
“I think we have a lot of guys that have been involved in big games in big leagues in Europe,” said Backe. “And I think when they have their backs on the wall, they just mentally lift the game, and so when they can smell playoffs, important games - playing L.A. is a little bit different - I think mentally you raise your game.”
The game against LA will not be without a staffing adjustment. Jan Gunnar Solli, serving a one-game suspension for a red card received in the wild card match against Dallas, will be replaced on the back line by long-serving Red Bull Carlos Mendes. Backe believes the switch might actual give a boost to the team’s defensive group that helped post a clean sheet in three of the last five October matches.
“It will be probably be a better defense,” Backe said. “Jan is more of an attacking player, Carlos is more of a holding right fullback, so we will be different and we will have probably not the same attacking game from Carlos Mendes.”
Defender Tim Ream chalks up the team’s recent string of success to the comfort zone that has developed from playing alongside one another all season long.
“I think the biggest thing is just the four guys in the back being a lot more comfortable, and at the same time we’re defending as a team now,” he said. “It’s not just a bunch of individuals trying to defend one-on-one situations, we have pressure and cover all over the field and we’ve set two really solid blocks with the midfielders and defenders.”
Backe also said he expects Dax McCarty (ankle) and Luke Rodgers (knee) to play.