New York head into their postseason opener on the road against San Jose on Saturday as favorites the first time since 2000, when the franchise was just a match away from MLS Cup.
However, the Red Bulls, who finished first in the Eastern Conference, face a daunting task against the Earthquakes, who have shown they can consistently earn a result.
Here are four things to look for in Saturday night’s game:
The charging of the Bulls
At the beginning of the year, head coach Hans Backe said the Red Bulls didn’t have the proper mentality to win on the road as they still were in the same mindset as in 2009, when they finished without a single road win.
After a few results on the road this year, the Red Bulls are confident they can play well in their road colors.
“We’re going down to win the game,” Backe said.
[inline_node:322051]A definite 4-4-2 … or not
So, with Thierry Henry and Salou Ibrahim sidelined with injuries, who will partner Juan Pablo Ángel up top? Backe said that teenager Juan Agudelo could get his first MLS start in Saturday’s playoff game, but he may choose to play Mehdi Ballouchy there, too.
Backe said that whoever starts up top, it will look like “a normal 4-4-2.” The second striker will be asked to make runs in order to free up space for Ángel. He'll also have to pester San Jose’s backline.
“I’m willing to do that — I’m willing to do the dirty work,” Agudelo said.
The Wondo factor
This year the Red Bulls have had a tight, resilient backline that has limited the opposition's chances. But the defense will be tested by Chris Wondolowski, who led the league with 18 goals this season. The Red Bulls will most likely start their usual backline, who will need to stop Wondolowski from turning and finding space with the ball.
There is no denying the fact that Dane Richards, who has scored all five of his league goals this season since the summer signing of Thierry Henry, has carried this club the past two months.
In training on Monday, Richards showed up sporting a Mohawk reminiscent of his look during the 2008 playoffs when he dominated the series against Houston.
Richards said the style is “just something new” after he tried to grow his hair out.
"That shows some confidence when you start off like that,” Backe said.
Midfielder Rafa Marquez, who has seen his fair share of hairstyles while with Barcelona, wasn’t sure what to make of it, though.
“As long as he keeps scoring and we keep winning, he can do whatever he wants to his hair,” Marquez said, shaking his head and laughing.
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012
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