The 2011 MLS Cup playoffs get underway Wednesday night with the first of two Wild Card games. The underachieving New York Red Bulls will travel to Pizza Hut Park to take on FC Dallas. A win for the Red Bulls would mean a two leg contest with the Los Angeles Galaxy starting over the weekend. But, the Red Bulls are hardly guaranteed a win in Frisco.
After stumbling through the 2011 season with far more ties (16) than wins (10), it remains to be seen if the Red Bulls can win when it counts. They have to rely on the players who have let them down so often this summer. Who can figure out Thierry Henry’s red card against Sporting Kansas City? Without their star Designated Player, the Red Bulls had to win to be assured of a playoff spot. They did so, but will not want their star to leave them in the lurch again.
Speaking of star players who let the team down, Rafael Marquez had to move to midfield because he was such a disaster as Tim Ream’s partner in central defense. The two didn’t really mesh and neither had a particularly good season. Then Marquez had the nerve to criticize his teammates in the media, causing more unrest and earning the Mexican a one match suspension from the club. Stephen Keel stepped into defense and the chemistry was better.
Goalkeeping remains a question mark for the Red Bulls, too. Frank Rost took over this year after Bouna Condoul and Greg Sutton had started as the two goalkeepers. None of the three will go down as the top goalkeeper in MLS. Each has shown himself to be capable of terrific saves and colossal blunders.
If the Red Bulls arrive in Dallas as a motivated group that plays to their potential, they should win. FC Dallas has been hurt badly by the absence of David Ferreira this year. The star playmaker never recovered from a serious injury. The addition of six CONCACAF Champions League games further drained the resources of the 2010 MLS Cup runners-up.
The Hoops do have Brek Shea bombing down the left wing. He is force that will cause some concern for the Red Bulls defense. He finished either first or second in goals (11), assists (4), shots on goal (75), shots (23), and even yellow cards (6) for FC Dallas in 2011. However, he has shown signs of fatigue as national team appearances have been added to his responsibilities. After Shea, it’s offense by committee with Honduran Marvin Chavez the next most productive player.
George John’s failed transfer to Blackburn Rovers was a blessing for FC Dallas as the long season took its toll. He will have to raise his game again to the standard that has apparently attracted some other European sides in order to fend off Henry, Dane Richards, and Luke Rodgers. Behind the back line, Kevin Hartman has given the home team the kind of consistent goalkeeping the Red Bulls lacked all season.
Both teams have more attacking instincts, leading me to believe this will be an open game. Will anybody turn out to see it though? FC Dallas has never had huge support and with the Texas Rangers playing in the baseball World Series, what little attendance the club could expect will likely be cut down even more. We can hope that the lack of atmosphere in the stands won’t spill over onto the field as the teams recognize that this is a one-off match with no second leg to offer the chance of redemption.