The New York Red Bulls took a 1-0 lead out of their Eastern Conference semifinal first leg against the San Jose Earthquakes at Buck Shaw Stadium, but they will now play hosts in the second leg at Red Bull Arena in a must-win game for the visitors (Thursday, 8 pm ET, ESPN2/Deportes). For San Jose, anything less than a win will send them out of the MLS Cup Playoffs and New York within one game of the MLS Cup final.
Four things to watch in Thursday night’s game:
At least we know the Red Bulls will come out in a 4-4-2. But with the return to health of central midfielder Tony Tchani, forward Salou Ibrahim and possibly Thierry Henry, head coach Hans Backe has some decisions to make. How much will Backe tinker with a lineup that dominated for much of Saturday’s road win?
If Ibrahim or Henry get the start up top alongside Juan Pablo Ángel, then rookie Juan Agudelo – who impressed last week in his first MLS start – will be relegated to the bench. If Tchani slides back into central midfield alongside Rafa Márquez, then either red-hot Dane Richards, recent goalscorer Joel Lindpere or the creative Mehdi Ballouchy has to sit.
These are good problems for Backe to have, and don’t expect the players' egos to get in the way of his decisions.
“To be honest, at the moment, it’s all about the team,” Henry said.
Ream’s statement game
Following Wednesday's news that D.C. United phenom Andy Najar beat out Tim Ream for Rookie of the Year, expect the center back to step up with a statement match before a national television audience. Ream was the team’s most consistent defender and played every minute of league action. He's also a lock for national team training camp in January and he deserved the award. Look for him to bring a little extra to the field on Thursday night.
[inline_node:322261]Lindpere to start
Just about two weeks ago, midfielder Joel Lindpere hurt his groin in training in an injury akin to a sports hernia. Despite the injury, Lindpere played nearly the full match on Saturday and scored the decisive goal. The decision to come out late in the match, he said, was his and his alone.
“We were leading 1-0 away and I was feeling pain,” Lindpere said. “I was thinking it was smart to take me out. Even in the last 10 minutes, I could hurt myself more.”
He has been rehabbing and treating the pain to get ready for Thursday.
“If I am going to play, I am going to start for sure,” Lindpere said.
Going for the win
Red Bulls need just a draw on Thursday in order to advance, but Backe thinks that kind of outlook can be dangerous. As a coach in Europe, Backe has endured “nightmare” second legs after seeing his team perform well in the first encounter.
“We will try definitely for a win,” Backe said.
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012
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