IS 10 THE PERFECT NUMBER?

The deep-lying forward position that provides the link between midfield and attack has been described in a variety of different ways in world soccer. The Italians described the role as the trequartista or literally, the playmaker. Others still call a player playing in this role as the “No. 10″, the key man in charge of orchestrating attacks in the opposing half and shouldering the responsibility of creativity.

It might also be Thierry Henry’s role for the rest of the season.

Looking to spark more creativity and dynamism offensively, Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke moved his captain to a position closer to the center midfielders in New York’s 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire last Sunday. Still, being utilized in an advanced role, the defending Supporters’ Shield winners hope that Henry can be the creative outlet the Red Bulls have lacked in the first few matches of the season by being on the ball more. Henry completed 41 passes against Chicago, compared to just 18 passes the week before versus Colorado.

“It’s just a huge difference when [Henry] comes back and helps us possess the ball in [midfield],” Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty told MSG Networks after Sunday’s match against Chicago. “He’s still a guy that, in my opinion, is one of the best players in the league. He wants the ball. More times than not, he’s not going to lose it.”

Henry wasn’t the only Red Bull player that moved positions. McCarty was dropped deeper in midfield and played against Chicago in a holding duty. Tim Cahill, normally an orthodox box-to-box midfielder, was employed as a central striker. The midfield triangle of Henry, McCarty and Eric Alexander did better in keeping ownership of the ball against the Fire, with New York holding a 57-44 advantage in possession during the match.

While Petke admitted to making a slight alterations to the Red bulls’ formation, the second-year coach remained adamant that the basic structure of his side remains the same.

“We’re still a 4-4-2 team if you want to put a label on it,” he said in a conference call Tuesday. “It’s just that the freedom for certain players, for instance, Henry, to drop back and be creative, and then the discipline for certain players like Dax to read that and drop in the hole is key.”

However, there are drawbacks in playing Henry deeper. While the former Arsenal man will have more influence on the game, he is farther away from goal and makes less use of one of his biggest strengths, his finishing in the penalty area. Nevertheless, the results in the match against the Fire provided encouraging signs to Petke.

“I like what I saw from [Sunday’s match],” Petke told MSG Networks Sunday. “The combination play, the ball movement which we haven’t seen a lot of. I’m not saying we’re going to with it every game, but it’s definitely an option now. “

A LOOK AHEAD: CHIVAS USA

New York attempts to post its first win of the season Sunday when it hosts Chivas USA at Red Bull Arena in a match that pits last season’s best team against MLS’s worst.

It’s been a tumultuous offseason for Chivas USA, as the club ownership was taken over by Major League Soccer. The rojiblancoshope that the change in culture in the front office will lead to a little more success on the field.

Chivas is led by former US men’s national team captain Carlos Bocanegra and you can expect the center back to be matched up with either Cahill or Henry for most of the match.

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BANGED UP, BUT NOT BEATEN

A matter of a few inches denied the Red Bulls their first win of the season last Saturday.

After rallying to take a 2-1 lead against the Montreal Impact, New York had the opportunity to put the game to rest early in the second half. Bradley Wright-Phillips was fouled in the penalty box by Montreal’s Matteo Ferrari in the 47th minute and it wasPéguy Luyindula who stepped to take the spot kick to give the Red Bulls a two-goal lead.

Luyindula did everything correctly … expect hit the target. He struck the woodwork instead of the back of the net and the chance was gone. Just 12 minutes later, the Impact would knot the game at 2-2 through Felipe Martins’ equalizer. It was destined to be another frustrating draw for the Red Bulls, so close to their first win of the season, but denied by a bit of luck.

“Looking at that penalty kick, it’s unfortunate,” coach Mike Petke said in his postmatch press conference. “That would have put us in a very good position.”

Nevertheless, to get a point with a squad that was at less than full strength and without Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave, was still a good result. While New York had the lead heading into the halftime interval, they certainly didn’t control the game well as they liked and were bailed out countless times by goalie Luis Robles, who made a career-high nine saves.

“Anytime our goalkeeper makes saves like that, you’re always pleased with him,” Petke said. ”At the end of the day, I think that he possibly did bail us out a bit [Saturday]. They got behind us quite a bit, had some opportunities, but Luis did well.”

It would have been an impressive three points had New York pulled off the road victory, considering how ravaged the Red Bulls had been by injuries. Tim Cahill and Richard Eckersley were already out before the match against Montreal due to long-term knocks. Dax McCarty didn’t start the match due to a back injury, but was called upon to replace Roy Miller after the left back came off at halftime due to Achilles inflammation. If that wasn’t enough, Armando had to be taken off in the 84th minute due to hamstring tightness.

In spite of the roster reshuffling, the Red Bulls were able to gain a point, something they were happy to harp on afterwards.

“At the end of the day, there’s a point to take home,” Robles said postmatch. “And there were a lot of positives offensively. This was the first match we scored multiple goals and we had a lot of opportunities.”

A LOOK AHEAD: SATURDAY AT DC UNITED

It’s a renewal of an old rivalry Saturday as the Red Bulls head down to the nation’s capital to take on DC United.

The Red Bulls were winners of the Atlantic Cup (given to the winner of the head-to-head series between the two Eastern Conference rivals) last season, going to 2-0-1 against DC United.

New York’s starting XI will undoubtedly be boosted with Henry and Olave expected to make their returns after being spared the punishment of the artificial turf at the Olympic Stadium last week. Cahill is not expected to be available for the full 90 minutes Saturday, but could play a role off the bench should he come through this week’s training unscathed.

DC United is coming off its first win of the season last Saturday, after blanking the New England Revolution 2-0, snapping a 16-match league winless streak. In theory, the Black-and-Reds should have a fearsome attack. Former Red Bull Fabian Espindola and US international Eddie Johnson are the team’s two strikers, although only Espindola has found the back of the net this season.

 

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WINLESS RED BULLS NOT PANICKING … YET

The bad news first: The Red Bulls are winless to start the 2014 season.

They’re averaging just one goal per game in the first four matches of the season and were ravaged by injuries during their 1-1 draw with Chivas USA last Sunday. Both Tim Cahill and Richard Eckersley had to be subbed off during the match due to injury and are expected to be out for Saturday’s match in Montreal.

Here’s the good news: New York is unbeaten in its last three matches and has been much better defensively since their opening-match nightmare in Vancouver. They’ve shown grit and determination in the last two matches to come back from a goal down to gain a point. And they have a chance to put things right against the Impact this week.

Had it not been for the efforts of Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, the Red Bulls would have already wrapped up their first win. They dominated the statistical categories against Chivas – they tallied more shots and enjoyed the majority of possession – and were rewarded for their persistence with an injury-time equalizer by Péguy Luyindula.

“It’s a new scenario, a new week, it’s a road game, so of course we want to carry momentum,” Red Bulls head coach Mike Petketold the media Thursday. “We didn’t lose [to Chivas USA], we haven’t lost in three games, so that’s a positive for us. Now, it’s about going into Montreal and taking the mentality of a road game.”

The task facing the Red Bulls when they head into Olympic Stadium will be a daunting one. The game will be played on artificial turf and will probably mean that Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave will miss the game due to the wear and tear the unnatural surface causes their respective bodies. With Cahill and Eckersley already out due to injury, Saturday’s match will test the depth of the Red Bulls’ squad.

“It’s about adapting,” Petke said. “It’s about players stepping up in roles, it’s about figuring out who we do have and putting them in the best situations, and the best positions to succeed and that’s what we’ve been trying to do this week.

It doesn’t matter if we’re on grass, turf, concrete, sand, it doesn’t matter or at home or on the road. Every game is a new challenge for us and we prepare them they best we can. It’s on [the coaching staff] to prepare them, on [the players] to take that information and preparation, and put it to good use.”

A LOOK AHEAD: MONTREAL IMPACT

It will be a battle of winless teams Saturday in Montreal as both the Red Bulls and Impact continue their search for their first victory of the season.

Having lost their first three matches under new coach Frank Klopas, the Impact earned their first point of the new campaign with a 1-1 draw with the Union in Philadelphia last Saturday. Down to 10 men, Montreal found a way to equalize, via star striker Marco DiVaio, who tallied his first of the season last week.

A 20-goal scorer last season, DiVaio tallied 15 of his goals in home matches in 2013. Without Olave, the Red Bulls will have to be doubly vigilant in order to keep the Italian off the scoresheet.

 

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