THE FIVER: Story-lines to watch ahead of RBNY vs. Houston

The Red Bulls have now gone three league matches unbeaten since their three-game losing skid in mid-May. Prior to the league-wide World Cup break, New York earned four points against top Eastern Conference rivals, Sporting Kansas City and New England. They continued that momentum in a thrilling 2-2 draw at Red Bull Arena on June 27. Peguy Luyindula opened the scoring in the 36th minute before the visitors took the lead with two second-half goals. Tim Cahill returned to the squad as a late substitute following his country’s exit from the World Cup and promptly assisted on Bradley Wright-Phillips’ last-gasp equalizer in the 93rd minute, his league-leading 12th of the campaign.

Here are five stories to keep an eye on this week as the Red Bulls travel to Houston to take on the Dynamo on July 4. Kick-off is scheduled for 8:30 pm and will be broadcast nationally on NBC Sports Network.

1. Bradley Wright-Phillips again alone atop MLS Golden Boot standings

The English striker has just bagged his 12th league goal of the season in just the 16th game of the season. Wright-Phillips has tallied 11 of those over his previous nine games, including two hat-tricks, and his latest effort was of the dramatic, last-gasp variety. 18-year-old rookie center back Matt Miazga sent a long ball into the box which returning substitute Tim Cahill headed deeper into the box and onto the foot of the onrushing Wright-Phillips who snatched a point at the death.

The goal moves the striker past Kansas City’s Dom Dwyer yet again and back along atop the summit for MLS goal-scorers. It’s entirely conceivable, with 18 games still remaining on the schedule, that Juan Pablo Angel’s club record 19 goals in a single season, set in 2007, will be surpassed and the Red Bulls may have their first 20+ scorer in team history.

2. Red Bulls seek to extend three-game unbeaten streak

New York have experienced an up-and-down season thus far. It took until the team’s seventh league game to earn its’ first three points. That sparked a run of three wins and one draw over a three-week period. A three-game losing streak immediately followed. Three days after the third loss, 2-1 at home to Portland, the team snatched a hard-earned point in Kansas City thanks to Wright-Phillips’ 11th goal. A 2-0 victory over then-East leaders New England in Foxborough followed that and, despite the two-week World Cup break, the Red Bulls carried the momentum into their clash with Toronto, earning a draw at the death thanks to Wright-Phillips, again.

New York will look to continue their recent run of form against Houston, Columbus, Philadelphia, and San Jose in the coming weeks. All are below the Red Bulls in the standings.

3. The return of Tim Cahill

Australia’s all-time leading goal-scorer added two more to his résumé at the World Cup, two of three scored in the group stages, including a goal-of-the-tournament candidate against the Netherlands. Cahill returned from Brazil shortly before the game against Toronto and was included in the 18-man roster. The Aussie was brought on in the 78th minute with the team trailing by one and, 15 minutes later, provided a headed assist for Bradley Wright-Phillips’ equalizing goal.

It was Cahill’s first assist of the season and couldn’t have come at a better time. With a full week of training in, look for Cahill to be included in Friday night’s starting line-up.

4. The kids are alright

Mike Petke recently explained the recent injection of youth into the starting eleven over the last month. With typical starters away for international duty, out with injury, or inactive due to field conditions, there were plenty of spots up from grabs against New England and Toronto. Rookie right back Chris Duvall first came on as a substitute on May 17 against Toronto and impressed during his first career appearance. Since, he has established himself in the starting line-up while starting the last four league games.

18-year-old Matt Miazga was handed his first-ever start against the high-flying Revolution on June 8 and played a large part in shutting them out. He was rewarded with a second start against Toronto and provided an assist on the last-minute equalizer. 23-year-old Cameroonian left back Ambroise Oyongo made his first start for his new club in the U.S. Open Cup loss to the New York Cosmos but impressed enough that he started against Toronto as well. Oyongo also tallied his first assist in that game, providing the cross for Luyindula’s headed goal in the 36th minute. The rookies have so far taken their opportunities with aplomb.

5. Recent Red Bulls regular season dominance against Houston

New York hosted the Dynamo earlier this season, on April 23, and defeated them, 4-0, thanks to a Bradley Wright-Phillips hat-trick and impressive team play. The win is New York’s fifth in a row dating back to August 10, 2012. Over that span, the Red Bulls have scored 15 goals while conceding just one. Despite that regular season dominance, the Red Bulls will be looking for even more revenge after being eliminated from the MLS playoffs by the Dynamo in the fall. Houston are coming into this game on a five-game losing streak in which they have been shut out in all five matches. However, only one of those games was played at BBVA Compass Stadium, where the Red Bulls hold a 2-1 all-time record. The last Dynamo home win was a 1-0 victory over the Galaxy on May 17.