The New York Red Bulls have the talent to test the hell out of Joe Cannon, or at least they do when healthy.
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The biggest story surrounding this game is, of course, the 8 PM kickoff time. I know it's for television, since TSN grabbed this game as part of a double-header: casual fans want to be able to sit at home in awe of all the great New York Red Bulls players that are also sitting at home watching television. But I work downtown, I get off at 5 PM, and that means I have, like, two hours to do nothing but sit at a pub and drink booze. Okay, when I put it that way it doesn't sound so bad but it's a scandal.
I suppose there's also the plethora of Red Bulls not making the trip to Canada. Thierry Henry is injured (again), as is Rafa Marquez (but he's so washed-up I wish he was playing). Mehdi Ballouchy still can't cross international borders because of visa problems. Wilman Conde is getting the week off. Even Hans Backe won't appear, as he's taking a personal day.
The fact that Henry dares to be injured is news in Vancouver, pathetically. If you're a Whitecaps fan and you're sad that our opponents will be missing their best player tonight, please go stick your head in the ocean until you stop moving. That's all I'm going to say about that.
Besides, without Henry the Red Bulls still have punch. The Red Bulls are probably the league's most talented offensive team.
Put the Red Bulls offense in perspective. You'll notice that name up top next to "leading scorer" isn't Henry's. It's Kenny Cooper, who leads all of Major League Soccer with more goals than Sebastien Le Toux, Camilo Sanvezzo, and Darren Mattocks combined (by the way, let's all take a moment to laugh at the Portland Timbers for trading away Cooper for a draft pick and some allocation money, then spending $1.5 million on what's left of Kris Boyd until his next temper tantrum). Obviously Cooper and Henry do most of the work, but New York also gets more-than-respectable offense out of its midfield from Dax McCarty, Joel Lindpere, and Dane Richards.
So with slugging like that, how are the Red Bulls still in third? Because they defend like a drunk lawyer caught with the judge's daughter. With 21 goals conceded through 14 matches, their defense is the worst in the league among anybody with playoff pretensions and is down there with the Montreal Impact and FC Dallas for shitness (but not quite Toronto FC territory; not yet). And that's playing in the weaker Eastern Conference; as we've seen, teams like Sporting Kansas City look good on the east coast but don't exactly put the fear of God into the Pacific.
Henry is the straw that stirs the drink but he's not the drink. With him out, the Red Bulls have been doing all right: they put three past the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park back in May and got a pair in Montreal. That said, there've been some warts as well: an ugly US Open Cup extra time loss to Bilal Duckett and the Harrisburg City Islanders, or their most recent 3-1 road loss in Chicago. Against the by-no-means-defensively-overwhelming Fire, the Red Bulls got one goal through Dax McCarty but put only four shots on target and didn't do a lot of damage to goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
So yeah, New York is vulnerable. Too many injuries, which both deprive them of star players and deprive their lesser lights of rest. A cross-continental road trip after a weekend game, while the Whitecaps have enjoyed home cooking. Vancouver's without Darren Mattocks due to suspension but none of their players are injured except for the ones who always are (plus Matt Watson, whose ankle is still acting up). It all adds up to a real advantage.
You remember on the weekend, when I said of the Colorado Rapids that the Whitecaps were "making a habit of beating teams they ought to beat"? This is a bit of a different situation. The Red Bulls are a strong team that's off-balance. I don't think we could really feel too ashamed if Cooper nods in a goal or two and New York beats us, even at home. That's soccer for you. But at the same time, we really have an opportunity tonight to grab an MLS Cup contender by the balls and squeeze.
This game doesn't mean too much for Vancouver's playoff hopes, and beating a team in New York's fragile state wouldn't prove anything. It's just three more points. Yet, morally, there'd be something deeply satisfying in owning a team on New York's level. The Red Bulls are good but they get press disproportionate to their actual ability; it would be a boost to both team and fans.