By IVES GALARCEP
UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J.– You wouldn’t expect Thierry Henry to remember specific details about last year’s MLS results, but the international star is known to be an MLS junkie who follows the league more closely than you would expect.
So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when he could remember so many details about his New York Red Bulls’ struggles with Sporting Kansas City, a team that came to Red Bull Arena twice last year and handed the Red Bulls two of only three road shutouts they suffered last season.
In fact, Henry went so far as to point out that the only goal New York scored against Sporting KC last year in three meetings was an own goal.
“We haven’t been able to even score a goal last year against them at home,” Henry said. “The only goal we scored against them was an own goal from Kei Kamara and he can’t do that for us again this time, so hopefully we can play better because we never actually gave them a good game.”
The Red Bulls will be looking for their first win against Sporting KC in almost two years when the team’s square off tonight at Red Bull Arena. New York has gone four straight meetings without a win against the Eastern Conference power and Thierry Henry has struggled even longer, having yet to score a goal against Sporting KC in six previous meetings.
Henry credits New York’s struggles, and his own, to Sporting KC’s dynamic centerback tandem of Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin, which serve as the centerpiece of the league’s stingiest defense.
“It goes without saying that Besler and Collin, for me, are, from what you see, the best partnership at the back in MLS by a distance,” Henry said. “But you have to give credit to their team. You can’t defend with only two men, and that’s what they do.
“They frustrate teams. If they have to make a professional foul, they will make a professional foul to make sure you can’t counter on them,” Henry said. “A very tough team, play hard in a good way, don’t get me wrong, but (Besler and Collin) obviously are the masterminds of that operation.
“You have to give credit to the whole squad with the way they’re defending, but obviously you can’t go without talking about Collin and Besler,” Henry said. “With their goalkeeper too, because Nielsen, every time you somehow manage to pass (the defense), then he pulls out some save that I don’t know how he does it.”
The Red Bulls will enter tonight’s match riding a wave of confidence instilled by their impressive 2-0 victory against D.C. United, but they are fully aware that Sporting KC will present a much tougher challenge.
“We have a game plan and if we choose to follow it and we buy into it, like we did against D.C. (United), then some good things can happen,” Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke said. “If we do not, if we go on our own in a way, some players, and we act like because we’re at home so we’re going to win, then they’re going to cause problems and they’ll definitely make you pay.”
The Red Bulls will be looking for their defense to put together another strong outing against a Sporting KC side that presents plenty of challenges. Argentine forward Claudio Bieler has been outstanding since joining KC, and will look to test a Red Bulls defense that has had its share of struggles this season.
“I had a chance to watch some videos and you can see he has ability and moves well in the area,” Red Bulls defender Jamison Olave said of Bieler. “When they’re attacking you have to make sure you’re keeping an eyes on him because he knows how to sneak by you and put himself in good positions.”
Olave has been doing just that for the Red Bulls, scoring three goals on the season to be the team’s surprising scoring leader. No stranger to scoring goals after recording 10 for Real Salt Lake over five seasons, Olave has already matched his MLS season high in just six matches.
“I’ve never scored three goals in six matches, let along goals in two straight matches, but even more than the goals I’m happy we are starting to get results,” Olave said.
While Olave and Markus Holgersson will be tasked with keeping Bieler under wraps, we could see Costa Rican left back Roy Miller in the starting lineup again after a steady showing against D.C. United. Tonight will present a much tougher challenge though, with Sporting KC playmaker Graham Zusi a good bet to be testing Miller’s side of the field, assuming Petke gives Miller the nod over Heath Pearce again.
Petke wouldn’t say whether Miller will definitely start, but did stress that Miller had shown well enough against D.C. United to deserve more playing time.
“Roy definitely did enough to get a second look,” Petke said. “Aside from the first five, six minutes in that game he did everything I asked of him. He was a little shaky in the beginning, could be because he hadn’t played in a while, but aside from that it was him limiting his mistakes and be a defender first.”