DAX INCREDIBLE! MIDFIELDER HEADS RED BULLS PAST REAL SALT LAKE

Dax McCarty just couldn’t help himself.

After scoring a dramatic stoppage-time winner last Saturday against Real Salt Lake, the Red Bulls’ midfielder lost himself in celebration. McCarty took off his shirt and went sprinting toward the South Ward before being mobbed by his jubilant teammates. He had just picked up a yellow card for excessive celebration, but it was worth it. After all, the Red Bulls had just come back to stun the league leaders with two goals in the final five minutes of the match — beating RSL, 4-3.

“I never heard Red Bull Arena that loud before,” McCarty said after the match. “It was unbelievable, what a great feeling … [a game like this] only happens once every couple of years in MLS.

Ironically, the game-winning goal was scored with McCarty disobeying instructions from his head coach. He said that Mike Petke had told him to stay back and protect the point, instead of risk a goal going the other way on the counterattack. Instead of playing back, McCarty decided to dart into the penalty box and was in perfect position to head home an inch-perfect cross fromBrandon Barklage into the back of the net, sending the stadium into delirium.

“Mike’s probably really happy with me right now, but I don’t think he [was] too happy when I was running into the box,” the former US international said. “He said ‘Listen, I know we’re at home, but sit in front of the back four, we can’t give up another goal’ … I saw Eric Alexander sitting back a little bit when the ball was kind of getting worked out wide, I thought, ‘I’ll give it a go.’”

For Petke, the hope is that McCarty rediscovers the form the central mid had in 2012 when he was proven to be MLS’s most efficient passer. After being rewarded with a new contract in the offseason, the 26-year-old’s performances in 2013 have dipped slightly due to recovery from a quad injury. But the head coach says he can see signs of the old Dax coming slowly.

“I think Dax is still coming back,” Petke said in his post-match press conference. “I think we had a couple of conversations over the last couple of weeks. He’s not satisfied exactly where he’s at; neither am I because I expect so much from him. Having said that, he’s not playing terrible. I think once Dax embraces exactly what I want from him and can put that in week in, week out, that’s when you might see him getting to the next level because we have high hopes for Dax.”

That bit of tough love has been appreciated by McCarty. He says he appreciates Petke’s frankness and candor and believes it’ll be the boost he needs to get back to his absolute best.

“Mike’s given me a lot of confidence,” McCarty said. “He knows that I’ve been struggling a little bit mentally because I expect myself to be at a very high standard every single game. He just wants me to stay positive. He knows that I’ll get back to the player that I can be. I just have to take it step by step, it’s not perfect.”

For now, McCarty said he was just going to savor scoring the game winner and more importantly, feel good about getting a vital three points against one of MLS’s traditional powers.

“This result can do a lot for our team,” he said. “This can define a season. With this resilience, this character that we have, we came back against the best team in the league from a goal down with seven, eight minutes to play. It’s a result that can kind of galvanize you and a result that you really realize that we can do special things this year.”

CAHILL INJURED

The Red Bulls learned Tuesday that they’ll be without Tim Cahill for three to four weeks after the Australian international had his PCL injured by a reckless challenge from Real Salt Lake’s Yordany Alvarez.

Despite suffering the injury, Cahill went on to play for most of the match and even scored the game-opening goal.  The midfielder said no injury was going to stop him from playing a part in last Saturday’s game.

“Honestly, I don’t even know how I got up. But you know, adrenaline rushes through your body,” he said. “Such a big game, so much importance and it happens.”

With the loss of Cahill and the release of Juninho, New York will be lacking in center midfield depth. An option Petke is to moveEric Alexander, a natural center mid, into the middle of the field and use Lloyd Sam as the Red Bulls’ starting right winger.

UP NEXT: SPORTING KANSAS CITY

New York heads back on the road this Saturday with an opportunity to take first place in the Eastern Conference when they visit Sporting Kansas City.

A win over Sporting would vault New York into sole possession of first in the East. Despite the team’s inconsistent road play, the Red Bulls are confident that they can get a result.

“We know we’re playing well,” Thierry Henry said. “No disrespect to Toronto, but it’s a place you expect us to win and we didn’t. It’s another tough opponent, especially at their place. They don’t concede a lot of goals and they can hurt you at any time. We’re going to have to play well.”

McCarty says he hopes to ride the momentum from the victory over Real Salt Lake and use it as a springboard in the match against Sporting, but he knows the Red Bulls have their work cut out for them.

“Going on the road in this league is not easy,” he said. “Teams really try to take the upper hand and give it to you on the road and sometimes you have to play a little more defensive. For us, it’s trying to find the right balance on how we replicate our home form, but also making sure that we’re solid. [Kansas City] is one of the best teams in the East and has been for a long time now. It’s another big game for us.”

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WILL NEW SIGNING MAKE RED BULLS KINGS OF THE ‘CA-HILL’?

Erik Soler strikes again.

His penchant for wheeling and dealing players this season continued Monday, with reports coming out of England that the Red Bulls had agreed on a roughly $1.5 million transfer fee for Everton midfielder Tim Cahill, which was later confirmed on Everton’s official website.

The Red Bulls officially confirmed the transfer Thursday, with Cahill effusive in his praise of the Red Bulls’ project.

“I am very happy to start a new chapter of my career with the New York Red Bulls,” Cahill said. “As we have seen over the past few years, MLS has developed into a very competitive league with many talented players. I am impressed with what the Red Bulls are trying to accomplish in MLS and within American soccer and I am looking forward to this new challenge. I will do everything I can to help bring New York its first MLS Cup.”

This is a move that Soler has kept well hidden from the media on both sides of the Atlantic. There was wild speculation on what the Red Bulls would do during the transfer window, with the list of targets ranging from Alessandro Del Piero to Guti to even Kaka. Signing Cahill as a designated player comes as a complete shock and one that will no doubt add more intrigue to this season.

In the end, the Red Bulls’ sporting director may have found the central attacking midfielder New York has been craving ever since Soler and coach Hans Backe arrived in New York. Cahill isn’t the biggest or faster player on the pitch. At 5-foot-10, the Aussie isn’t going to wow you with his ability on the ball. But what he does have is the ability most soccer players would kill for: Putting the ball in the back of the net.

Despite his somewhat small stature, Cahill is an unbelievably good header of the ball. Armed with an impressive leap and the knack to guide the ball on goal, the 32-year-old is an asset for a team on set pieces and one with good crossers of the ball from the wings. The majority of his 56 goals for Everton came from scorer headers, which Backe will try to put to use against opposing defenses.

Like a poor man’s Frank Lampard, Cahill likes to creep into the box with a late run from midfield to put away goal-scoring opportunities. His game intelligence is excellent. In this video, notice how many times he gets into dangerous areas in order to score goals.

https://youtu.be/uDhn5vlmHI4

The addition of Cahill to the Red Bulls’ fold gives New York strength in depth and a talented first team. With Backe employing a 4-4-2 diamond formation, the Red Bulls’ projected starting XI would look something like this:

It’s an attacking formation with main defensive responsibilities falling heavily on Dax McCarty. It does, however, allow Joel Lindpere to shift back to a more left-sided midfield role, something that would accommodate Cahill perfectly. The thought of Thierry HenryKenny Cooper, Sebastien Le Toux and Cahill linking up together in attack is a mouthwatering prospect and one that should strike fear into opposing defenses … on paper, of course.

There is a worry with Cahill that he’s already past his sell-by date. He scored just two goals with the Blues last season and looked spent as if the pace and power of the English Premier League had taken its toll on him. What the Red Bulls are banking on is that Cahill can be rejuvenated by new surroundings and hope that the switch to MLS will prove beneficial for both parties. Whatever happens going forward, it should make for interesting watching.

Henry’s ‘Bro’-Mance

There have been many contributors to the Red Bulls’ first-place standing this season, but one player sticks out for Thierry Henry.

“[Connor Lade] has been the man of the season for me, by a distance” the Red Bulls’ captain declared after his team’s 2-0 win over the Philadelphia Union Saturday. “I don’t know what else I can say.”

There’s a good reason for Henry’s praise. The diminutive left full back-turned-left-midfielder turned in a Man of the Match performance against the Union, providing energy and pace along the wings, along with a never-say-die attitude that has made him a darling of the Red Bull Arena crowd. Every time Lade touched the ball Saturday, an audible cheer arose from the fans.

Lade’s willingness to put it all on the line has won him a fan in Henry, who said that he loves Lade … as a teammate, of course.

“He fights for every ball, you can see his desire,” Henry said. “He wants to win, he has everything you want to see in a player, plus the ability.”

No one would have ever thought Lade would have made the impact he has in his first year in MLS. Listed generously at 5-foot-7, the Livingston, New Jersey native is taking his early success in stride and enjoys his role as the scrappy underdog come good.

“I’m a small guy, I’ve been fighting my whole life with bigger guys,” Lade said. “I try to work hard every day — if it [ticks] people off, they’re just going to have to deal with it.”

Scoop on Coop: Back in a Goal Scoring Groove

For someone who has been as prolific as Kenny Cooper has been this season, it was somewhat surprising that the big striker had gone six games without a goal and hadn’t scored since May 23.

But Cooper put an end to the drought with a two headed goals in the win against the Union and hopes to get back to being a regular goal scorer quickly. Still, Cooper said he remained confident during the dry run and felt rewarded for his persistence.

“It’s important to stay positive and just believing,” he said. “ I think you can be confident in the team in that you know we’re going to create chances. Fortunately, I got on the end of them [Saturday].”

Henry said that his strike partner never once changed his demeanor in training and did what every good striker does: keep shooting until the ball finds the net.

“[Kenny] will never put his head down, he will always try to score … hopefully he’s going to go on a run of scoring till the end of the season, we wouldn’t mind that.”

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PETKE SEEKS CONSISTENCY AFTER DRAW IN TORONTO

To say that Mike Petke was not thrilled with the Red Bulls’ 0-0 draw with Toronto FC last Saturday would be putting it mildly.

“I’m dumbfounded right now to be honest with you,” he bluntly told MSG Network’s Tina Cervasio in his post-match interview. “Part of me feels fortunate we got out of here with a point. Part of me says, ‘how the heck did we not get out of here with three points?’ But the way we played shows it. [Toronto FC] came out with heart and determination … and they took it to us.”

In the sweltering summer heat at Toronto, the Red Bulls couldn’t create enough quality scoring chances, managing a single shot on goal. Combined with a very dry pitch at BMO Field and lack of penetration in the final attacking third, the Red Bulls’ passing suffered and the team was unable to conjure decisive opportunities to breakthrough TFC’s stout defense. The tough conditions played to Toronto’s advantage, something Red Bulls center back Markus Holgersson alluded to Tina Cervasio in his post-match interview.

“[Toronto FC is] a hard-working team,” he said. “They played long balls behind us all the time and stretched us out.  Especially in the second half, we had a really bad passing game and we didn’t move enough.”

For Petke, the result was disappointing, especially after seeing his team record a resounding season-best 4-0 victory over the Montreal Impact in their previous match.

“The passing wasn’t crisp at all. The effort, at times, was lacking. The organization wasn’t there,” Petke lamented.  “And to come from a Montreal game last week when we were firing on all cylinders to this – you can understand maybe there was a bit of a downplay because you’re on the road, but not that much. It’s baffling.”

With matches against MLS-leading Real Salt Lake and East-leading Sporting Kansas City coming up, Petke sent a clear-cut message to his players: Shape up or the team will not reach its targeted final destination for this season.

“I need consistency,” he said. “To play like this [against Toronto FC], we’re not going to win a championship. We’re not going to accomplish what we want to accomplish. We’re going to be a midtable team that sneaks into the playoffs unless things change. These are games that you should win.”

UP NEXT: REAL SALT LAKE

The best team in Major League Soccer visits Harrison, NJ Saturday night as the Red Bulls host Real Salt Lake (complete coverage is on MSG beginning at 6:30 PM).

It may appear now is a good time for New York to play RSL since two main cogs for the league leaders – Nick Rimundo and team captain Kyle Beckerman – are away on international duty with the US Gold Cup squad. This presents a golden opportunity for the Red Bulls to get back on track and pick up a victory over an under-strength Salt Lake squad.

But RSL will be no pushovers, despite their loss in manpower. Led by head coach Jason Kreis, Salt Lake have been one of MLS’s most consistent teams. Playing a brand of soccer more akin to the pass-happy Latin American style, Kreis has built a force to be reckoned with year in and year out in Utah.

Kreis normally deploys his team in a 4-4-2 diamond formation, employing midfielder Javier Morales in the “No. 10 role,” the central attacking midfielder whose job is to link midfield with the attack. Morales leads the team in goals and assists and you can be sure that Petke will try to utilize his midfielders – mainly Dax McCarty – to seek out and neutralize Morales anyway they can.

Morales isn’t the only weapon Kreis can call upon to stir up a potent RSL attack. Robbie Findley, a former US international striker is a dangerous front man and will test Holgersson, and Jamison Olave with his speed. Off the bench, Kreis can summon young Olmes Garcia, a 20-year-old Columbian who’s scored five this season.

OLD FACES IN NEW PLACES

For Olave and Red Bulls forward Fabian Espindola, Saturday’s match has even more meaning. The Red Bulls acquired both players on Dec. 3 in an offseason trade last year with Real Salt Lake and the pair will undoubtedly be looking to make an impression on their former team.

A two-time MLS All-Star and MLS Defender of the Year in 2010, Olave has been a stabilizing force at the back for the Red Bulls. He’s struck a reliable partnership with Holgersson and his intimidating 6-foot-3 frame has been an asset for the Red Bulls.

The transition from West to East has been slower for Espindola. The Argentinean front man has only started to find his form and looks to have seized the starting striker position alongside Thierry Henry over Peguy Luyindula. There would be no better way to endear himself to his new team than to score a few goals past his old one for Espindola this week.

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RED BULLS MAKE HUGE IMPACT VS. MONTREAL

After coming up short on July 4 against the Rapids, the Red Bulls took out their frustration on the then East-leading Montreal Impact last Saturday.

The goals came early and often for New York, as they blitzed Montreal and waltzed their way to an easy 4-0 win. The Red Bulls pushed forward on the pitch, pressing the Impact into their own half and played the game on the front foot throughout the entire night. From Eric Alexander‘s wonder strike in the 10th minute to Peguy Luyindula‘s penalty-kick goal in the 88th, New York owned the match from start to finish.

“We wanted to go out there [Saturday] and when relevant to get after them and press them,” Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke said in his postgame press conference. “Not like crazy men, not to run 40 yards to pressure the ball. But when put ourselves in good situations, it’s our home field; we wanted to be the dominant side [Saturday].”

Alexander was the catalyst for the Red Bulls on this night, probing down the right wing and torturing Impact left back Jeb Brovsky all through the night. The midfielder opened the scoring in the 10th minute with a fantastic individual effort, dribbling past three defenders before side-footing a shot past Montreal goalie Troy Perkins for the first of the night. New York would continue to rampage down the Impact’s left wing throughout the match, a weakness that the Red Bulls targeted in scouting the Impact.

“We really emphasized on some key things Montreal does in pregame and especially Eric Alexander on the first goal is an exact product of what we pointed out to him, to go after Brovsky one-on-one when the situation called for it,” Petke said.

Alexander’s explanation for his wonder goal was simple: he was just taking whatever Montreal was giving him.

“I don’t really remember too much, I haven’t seen the replay of the goal,” Alexander said. [I] just remember getting a final touch on the inside and was able to slot slide it home. There was a lot of space in the game … when the game opens up like that, there’s a lot of space on the wing. I was getting good balls from my teammates and they were making good off-the-ball runs just to give me one-on-one situations.”

Thierry Henry would get in on the act just sixth minutes later, tallying his seventh goal of the season with a skillful volley past Perkins on a cross from Fabian Espindola in the 16th minute. It was Henry’s first goal since May 26 and his seventh goal in four career matches against the Impact. The captain busted out with a huge individual game – a goal and two assists – but was more pleased with the team showing to bounce back after their last match.

“We had a bad day at the office against Colorado,” he said after the game. “Maybe the same thing happened to Montreal tonight. We all know how it feels because we were in the same situation last week, but we bounced back. The most important thing is to try to be consistent.”

Tim Cahill and Luyindula would goals in the second half to complete the rout.

Up Next: Toronto FC

The Red Bulls’ game against Toronto FC Saturday comes at the right time, as New York sits just two points behind Sporting Kansas City for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. With Toronto being 2-10-7 this season, the Red Bulls have a golden opportunity to gain a valuable three points.

Toronto has been a happy hunting ground for New York, especially in recent visits. New York has an eight-game unbeaten streak north of the border and, in the Red Bulls’ last visit to Toronto on April 27, Cahill would prove to be the hero, scoring the game-winning goal in stoppage time.

While the Red Bulls had their midweek friendly against Olympique Lyonnais Tuesday, Toronto will be even more inconvenienced after playing a league match Wednesday against Chivas USA in LA, losing 1-0. Flying from one coast to the other midweek is not ideal and New York will obviously be targeting this fixture as a win.

Toronto has scored the second-fewest goals in MLS this season, but they do have dangerous attacking players. Robert Earnshaw leads Toronto with six goals this season and Bobby Convey is a former US international who can be a threat on the left wing.

Still, anything less than a victory would be considered a disappointment for the Red Bulls.

 

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OLYMPIQUE LYONNAIS SUCCEEDS WITH ITS OWN VERSION OF MONEYBALL

Olympique Lyonnais isn’t the most well-known club in the world. It doesn’t have the history of the traditional European powers like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United or Liverpool have. Nor does it have the bottomless pockets of the noveau riche,such as Manchester City or Chelsea.

But if you’re looking to become a keen a fan of the Beautiful Game, this is a club you should pay very close attention to. It is a club that has carved its own niche into the consciousnesses of European soccer by being patient, prudent and just plain smarter than everyone else.

OL has seen some of the best stars past through its door, using the seven-time Ligue 1 champions as a springboard to bigger clubs. Current Premier League players such as Hugo Lloris, Hatem Ben Afra and Michael Essien once called the Stade Gerland home and earned big-ticket moves to England while at Lyon. Real Madrid’s top striker, Karim Benzema, matured into a top-flight center forward with Les Gones (The Kids) before his transfer to the Spanish capital.

With all the players that come and go, you would naturally think it would be difficult to keep Lyon competitive in European soccer. Most of Europe’s big boys, the likes of Chelsea, Real Madrid and Barcelona have cherry-picked Lyon’s top players whenever they’ve seen fit. Remarkably, Lyon has still managed to be a major force and stayed a contender for top honors in Europe’s premier club competitions, staying contention for both the Champions and Europa Leagues.

A lot of that has to do with the way the club is run under the stewardship of chairman Jean-Michel Aulas. Aulas makes no bones about how he runs Lyon; he treats OL strictly as a business and, while success on the field is extremely important, the bottom line is making profit for Aulas. The plan under Aulas has been simple: Find promising young players, develop them into world-class talent and sell them at their peak for huge transfer fees.  The result is huge sums of cash for Lyon. During the 2011-12 season, Lyon accumulated approximately $172 million in total revenue, good for 17th on this year’s prestigious Deloitte Football Money League List and the top French club on the list.

For Aulas and OL, developing youth isn’t something that they want to do. It’s absolutely necessary for the club’s survival.

“The youth academy has had the same strategy for 25 years and it’s still working,” Aulas said in an interview with the team’s official channel at the end of the 2012-13 season. “We count on that academy. We had 19 players from the academy out of 35 used in the first team [during the 2012-13 season] … Reducing the wage bill doesn’t mean weakening the club.”

What Aulas has done is similar to what the Oakland A’s did under general manager Billy Beane during the early 2000s, using the “Moneyball” strategy. Find an undervalued asset, exploit the asset for all its worth and then cash in when the situation is most advantageous. In fact, Aulas and Olympique Lyonnais have a chapter dedicated to the club’s transfer strategy in the book,Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski.  In the book, the authors go in depth in how Lyon try to use transfer market to their advantage and lessen the risk of making big-money mistakes. Unlike Chelsea or Manchester City, Lyon cannot afford an error in making transfer decisions and spend their way out of a hole.

There is one major difference between OL and the A’s, however, is that Lyon won seven titles in a row from 2002-07, a record of dominance that was simply staggering in the world soccer.

But Lyon’s grip at the top of France’s premier soccer league is no more. Taken over by multi-billion dollar owners, both Paris Saint-Germain and AS Monaco have changed the landscape of Ligue 1, spending obscene amounts on top soccer stars. Once the hunted, Lyon joined the pack of hunters looking to chase down PSG, the defending league champions. It won’t be easy and the financial advantage the two other sides have is overwhelming. Still, Aulas trust that his approach will be successful and that OL will be able to compete against the big spenders. Lyon finished third last season in Ligue 1, good enough to qualify for next year’s Champions League competition in a “rebuilding” season.

“OL will construct a team around this golden generation of young players. We will do everything possible to keep these players at Lyon,” he said. “Our strategy is to build around these kids. It is a strategy that is already paying off.”

A couple of the young players that have begun their ascension to stardom are Clement Grenier and Maxime Gonalons, two of the guys that could be in the lineup for Lyon’s friendly match Tuesday vs. the Red Bulls. (Complete coverage is on MSG starting at 7:30 PM). Grenier is a classy central midfielder who has caught the eye of Arsenal, although the 22-year-old has signed a new contract with OL recently.

Gonalons is Lyon’s captain, a defensive midfielder who has been already capped by France’s national team and also been rumored to be off to North London to play with the Gunners. If you get the chance to watch Tuesday, keep an eye on these two.

As Lyon gets ready for another Ligue 1 campaign, the club, while not as dominant, still remains a force to be reckoned with. It is the model soccer club, an example most teams wish they could follow. But watch carefully. OL’s best players of today will be the stars of tomorrow on even grander stages.

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CAN RED BULLS FIND THEIR GOALSCORING GROOVE AGAIN?

It looked promising for the Red Bulls after their first-half performance last Thursday against the Rapids.

New York played Colorado evenly after the first 45 minutes, creating offensive movement, and was on course to at least get a point from their midweek match.

But things began to unravel quickly in the second half.

An early Rapids goal from Nathan Sturgis completely altered the outlook of the match and sent the Red Bulls on a downward spiral that they couldn’t recover from. Plagued by fatigue from altitude, heat and a long flight, New York’s play suffered dramatically. Thierry Henry was forced to play higher up the field to get more of the ball, moving him further away from the goal. Meanwhile, the rest of the Red Bulls were unable to string passes together to create clear-cut chances.

The Red Bulls need their top talent to find the back of the net as Henry has yet to tally a goal since scoring on May 26 against Columbus, and Tim Cahill has not scored since May 19 vs. the Galaxy. Fabian Espindola suffered from a two-month goal drought before finally finding the back of the net in the team’s July 1 win against the Dynamo.

New York needs to get back into a goal-scoring groove sooner rather than later, especially with tough slate fixtures ahead, facing MLS’s conference leaders in two out of its next three games.

SO LONG, JUNINHO

The Juninho experiment is officially over.

After just 13 games, the Brazilian midfielder had his contract cancelled by mutual consent last Wednesday. Despite leading the team in assists, Juninho was unable to produce some of his famed set-piece magic he displayed when he was playing with the Olympique Lyonnais.

“We are very disappointed that Juninho has decided to return to Brazil because he is a great professional and a very talented footballer,” said Roxburgh in a press release. “We wish him all of the best and thank him for his valuable contributions during the first half of the 2013 MLS campaign.”

The loss of Juninho could potentially be a damper to the Red Bulls’ center midfield depth. Petke has been employing mostly a 4-4-2 formation this season, with Dax McCarty and Tim Cahill and his preferred options in the center of the park. But any injuries or suspensions to the two incumbents will leave New York short.

GAME PREVIEW: RED BULLS VS. IMPACT

It may just be past the midpoint of the season, but the Red Bulls’ match against the Montreal Impact Saturday could decide New York’s conference championship hopes. For full coverage of the match, tune into MSG beginning at 6:30.

The Red Bulls are three points behind the Impact, but Montreal has two games in hand. With Saturday being the final time the clubs will meet in regular-season play – the teams have split the prior two meetings – the Red Bulls know that a win would be massive and help get them back in the race for the Eastern-Conference lead.

There is a pronounced Italian influence on the Impact, with stars like Marco Di Vaio and Alessandro Nesta leading the way. Di Vaio is currently tied for the lead for top goal scorer in MLS with 11 goals, while Nesta is still one of the most elegant defenders in world soccer, even at the age of 37.

Stopping Di Vaio is the No. 1 goal for Red Bulls defender Markus Holgersson.

“We have to play tight, blocks. We want to play close to him and not give him the space,” the Swede said in a Q&A with the Red Bulls on the team’s official site.

This might be the perfect time for the Red Bulls to break out of their slump with the Impact are winless in their last three matches. Montreal has been porous defensively during their barren run, surrendering eight goals to the opposition.

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RED BULLS FIND THEIR WINGS

It took over a month for the Red Bulls to record a victory in league play, but after their 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo Sunday, it appears the team has finally gotten its wings. In this case, the left and right wings.

Unheralded at the start of the 2013 season, both Jonny Steele and Eric Alexander have solidified places in New York’s starting 11 as the wide midfielders. Industrious and – most importantly – creative, the two formerly unknown players are now becoming undroppable members of Coach Mike Petke’s squad.

“If you had told me when we picked Jonny and Eric up that they were going to be bona fide starters at this point of the season, I probably would have said, ‘probably not,'” Petke said.”They’re workmanlike; in a league like this, outworking and outhustling the other bit of quality is key. They epitomize that.”

Acquired in an offseason trade with FC Dallas, the 25-year-old Alexander has seized the right midfield role for himself. His running and hard work are the key to his impact on the field, with his work rate duplicated on the other side by Steele. The 27-year-old Northern Irishman has finally found his home after being part of 12 teams prior to joining the Red Bulls, including stints playing indoor soccer and a litany of stops in the lower divisions of organized American soccer.

Both midfielders made their mark during the Red Bulls’ victory, playing key roles in New York’s two goals. Alexander’s inch-perfect pass set up a sprinting Fabian Espindola for the game-opening goal in the 60th minute, while Steele got on the score sheet after a well-worked team goal, blasting a rocket of a shot past Dynamo keeper, Tally Hall in the 88th minute.

Steele was humble about scoring his first goal of the season and explained that the tally was important but more for what it meant – sealing a Red Bulls win.

“Everything I do is for the team; that goal I don’t look at is as me getting a goal, I see it as us winning the game,” Steele said. “It gave us a cushion up 2-0 with 10 minutes left, it gave us a little bit of breathing space.”

While their contributions were more noticeable on Sunday, the stars of the Red Bulls said their understated yet solid play hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“(Those) two players are vital to our team,” said Tim Cahill after the game. “Jonny’s been an exceptional player that exceeds all expectations of a footballer for where he’s at … they’re players that work for the team and not for themselves and in the end, they get their reward.”

The team captain agreed with Cahill’s assessment but gave special kudos to Alexander for the shift he put in out wide.

“For me, the key [Sunday] was Eric Alexander,” Thierry Henry said. “He turned [forward] every time he had the ball. That is the key in football; if you play the ball back or play the ball sideways, you’re not going to go anywhere. But [against the Dynamo], every time he got the ball and turned forward … I could only tell him, ‘well done’ every single time. We told him during the week, ‘you’re a creative midfielder, you have to create.’ And he did it. We all have faith in him that he can do it.”

HAPPY RETURNS

After a tremendous first season for Connor Lade, it’s been tough sledding for the local boy from Livingston, NJ.

The 23-year-old made 22 starts last season for the Red Bulls, but had only made two appearances so far in 2013 and hadn’t started in a league game until Sunday’s match.

The left back received another opportunity to reclaim his starting place after Roy Miller was selected for Costa Rica’s Gold Cup squad and Heath Pearce was declared out for the season after undergoing hip surgery. He didn’t disappoint, playing very well and delighting coach Petke with his performance. Petke admitted it hasn’t been easy for Lade and the coach wanted to see a rise in standards in the left back’s play.

“When [Connor] came back from the national into the preseason camp, he was obviously not sharp by his own admission. It was a lot that he went through. Though he earned it, he was given a lot very soon. I had a long talk with him and I was very blunt with him because I know I care about him. I want to him succeed, but at the end of the day, I’m not going to play him because he’s a homegrown player or that he’s a local boy … he has to earn it.”

While Lade admitted he was rusty and was lacking fitness, the youngster was settled into the game and played well against Houston. The defender stated he hopes to build off of the performance and make a claim to be the first choice again.

“I’m not one to make excuses,” he said after the game. “I think every time you come back [to the lineup], you got to be prepared. Maybe I was a step behind, but I’m just working at it and I’ll try to reclaim my form and get back in the starting spot.”

UP NEXT: COLORADO RAPIDS

It’s a short turnaround for the Red Bulls, as they embark on a July 4 match against the Colorado Rapids.

Sitting sixth in the Western Conference, the Rapids are on a high after a dramatic 4-3 win against the Montreal Impact Saturday, scoring the go-ahead goal in second-half stoppage time. New York hasn’t recorded a road win since May 4 against Columbus and the Red Bulls know they’ll have to be on top of their game to get a result on the road.

“It’s always difficult to win away from home in this league, but we’re going to have to try and do it,” Henry said. “We all know [Colorado] isn’t an easy place to go, the altitude and trying to deal with the heat. It won’t be easy, but we’re going to have to try and get some points away from home.”

“Colorado is a team that’s on form right now,” added Dax McCarty. “They’re a team that’s dangerous. We traditionally haven’t done very well there. We need to go in there with the mindset we had [Sunday]. We just have to match their intensity.”

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