BULLS RUN: VETS SHINE IN RED BULLS’ CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WIN

Mike Petke wasn’t messing around in the Red Bulls’ first CONCACAF Champions League match since 2009.

The head coach picked a veteran starting XI Tuesday night for New York’s opening group-stage match against Club Deportivo Futbolistas Asociados Santanecos of El Salvador – better known as FAS – and the gamble paid off, as New York cruised to a 2-0 victory.

While Petke did omit Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave from of the matchday squad, he said that he wanted to make sure that the Red Bulls would take all three points in a competition some MLS teams have taken lightly in the past.

“I really wanted to put out an experienced and strong squad that I think we could win with and there was never a doubt that we could win with this squad,” he said in his post-match press conference. I do feel bad for the younger guys who I couldn’t get in because I think they deserve it, but at the end of the day you have to make tough decisions and I felt like we need to go with a bit more experience.”

Petke handed Red Bull Saer Sene his first start with his new team and the towering striker made the most of his opportunity in the 11th minute. Tim Cahill deftly headed a pinpoint cross from Ambroise Oyongo over to the Frenchman. He controlled the ball with his left foot, and, slammed home his first goal with a rocket left-foot strike past FAS goalie Adolfo Menendez.

The Red Bulls continued to create numerous chances, but they left were left frustrated by missed opportunities in front of goal. It wasn’t until the 70th minute when the home side finally felt safe, after Lloyd Sam put the game away with New York’s second goal, a well-taken strike after being played in on goal by Peguy Luyindula.

Cahill – who was the stand-in captain in place of Henry – lauded the attitude from his teammates and the effort from some of the squad players who called upon to play.

“It was a tricky game where we had to be disciplined,” the Australian international said to the media after the match.  “Basically we said we had to have a little pride in our performance. Some players were playing for a position [in the team] and it’s a good competition, so it’s not really a second team. … The most important thing was to try and make a statement, to continue to win games regardless of who’s playing.”

PERFECT PLANNING

It’s not easy to play against a team you know little about, but Petke and his coaching staff were able to take advantage of weaknesses in FAS’ formation through excellent scouting and video work.

The 17th-time champions of El Salvador’s first division lined up in a 3-5-2 formation, which played right into New York’s hands. The Red Bulls unleashed Sam and Oyongo down the flanks on the counterattack and the wingers obliterated FAS’ two wingbacks who were pushed way too high up the field.

“Our whole game plan [Tuesday] for them on the road here was to exploit the wings. That was 100 percent in scouting,” Petke said.  “For someone like Lloyd, this was a game designed for him and also Oyongo who’s very excitable out there.

FAS’ three defenders were all diminutive compared to the 6-foot-3 Sene and an aerial bombardment from the wide areas was always going to be the idea. With the aerial proficiency of Cahill alongside Sene, the strategy was destined to be a success.

“Everything seemed to work pretty well,” Sam said. “The game plan [was] to get wide and get crosses in. … I knew when I was out wide and just loft in there for [Sene and Cahill] and they seemed to win every ball.

SENE-SATIONAL

The Red Bulls were encouraged by the full debut of Saer Sene, as the Frenchman started in tandem with Cahill up front. Acquired in a trade with the New England Revolution on Aug. 14, Sene showed promise of what he could bring to the Red Bulls’ attack: a target man up with good ball skills and the ability to disrupt a defense with his physicality.

He scored his first goal against FAS early on, and, while he missed some gilt-edged opportunities that came to him later, he was still pleased with his first start.

“It’s just a great feeling as a striker, “Sene said. “For me, it’s been a long [time] that I didn’t play [because of injury] but to get back on the field, to play 90 [minutes], and score, it’s a great debut for me but it’s just the start.

Petke hopes to get Sene fully fit within a week and like the combination of Sene and Cahill up front.

“I think the more minutes he gets in a game and the more practice time he gets he’ll be more comfortable. I think at times you could tell he and Tim clicked [Tuesday], and at times you could tell they’ve never really played together before, but that’s going to take time and patience. For me, I’m excited to have Saer here, I was very happy, it was very important that he got a goal [Tuesday] and open that account here with us, but also to feel comfortable and feel confident.

A LOOK AHEAD: AT DC UNITED

The Red Bulls’ road to the playoffs heads down to the nation’s capital this weekend, as New York takes on East-leading DC United at RFK Stadium Sunday.

It’s a classic rivalry game and the Red Bulls know DC United will be up for it. The home side is 8-3-2 at RFK, while New York has been a rather pedestrian 2-6-5 away from Red Bull Arena . Former Red Bull Fabian Espindola leads DC United with nine goals and will no doubt want to prove something to his former side.

The Red Bulls currently sit in fifth place – the final playoff spot in the East – with a one-point lead over New England and Philadelphia.

 

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Islanders Announce New Ownership Structure

**COURTESY NEW YORK ISLANDERS**

(UNIONDALE, NY) – The New York Islanders announced today that a group led by former Washington Capitals co-owner Jon Ledecky and London based investor Scott Malkin has reached a definitive agreement, subject to NHL approval, to purchase a substantial minority interest in the team. Under the terms of the agreement, Charles Wang will continue as majority shareholder and Governor of the Islanders, with the Ledecky/Malkin group transitioning to majority owner in two years.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to become partners in the New York Islanders with Charles, and to pursue our shared dream of winning a fifth Stanley Cup for the greatest fans in the NHL,” Mr. Ledecky said.

“I’m thrilled that Jon and Scott have agreed to join me as we start the Islanders’ final year at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum,” Mr. Wang said. “I look forward to a long and successful partnership.”

There will be no further comment until the NHL completes its franchise ownership transfer process.

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The Knicks Fix: Analyzing The Knicks’ 2014-15 Schedule

The fact that the Knicks failed to make the playoffs last season for the first time in four years is not lost on anyone, but what often gets overlooked is that throughout all the issues of a 37-45 season, the team missed a postseason berth by one game.

One. Lousy. Game.

Mathematically, it was actually two games when you consider they did not have the tiebreaker against the Atlanta Hawks, who got in with a 38-44 record.

We could pour through the schedule to find that one game that might have cost the Knicks and it’s easy to point directly to their last game against the Hawks, a 107-98 defeat in Atlanta on Feb. 22. A game in which the Knicks held a big lead in the third quarter, but fumbled it away.

But I go farther back than just that one bad night, which came on a back-to-back after another defeat snatched from the jaws of victory 24 hours prior in Orlando (a 129-121 2OT loss to the Magic).

To me, the issues started at the beginning. The Knicks opened the season 3-13, thanks to a 9-game losing streak. It’s almost impossible to recover from that kind of a start. With a 16-5 finish, they almost did.

There are much lower expectations for the Knicks this coming season, which has the look and feel of a transition year as all that cap space — and the potential of what it can turn into — awaits next summer, as many early predictions suggest this team will not finish among the top-8 in the East.

Rookie head coach Derek Fisher

, however, already said he expects his team to be there at the end of the season.

“Even if nothing else changes,” Fisher said last month at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, “we’re good enough to be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference. But we have to go out and prove it.”

A good start will certainly help that mission.

The NBA released the 2014-15 schedule on Wednesday and at first glance, Fisher’s Knicks will be challenged from the get-go. Opening night is Oct. 29 at Madison Square Garden against Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol and the Chicago Bulls, the team Carmelo Anthony strongly considered as a free agent before he chose to return to New York.

“That’s a situation where I could have walked in now to an opportunity to compete for the next however-many years,” Melo told ESPN.com when discussing the Bulls.

But Melo always said his preference was to stay. He moved once and didn’t want to go through that transition again. So he took close to his max contract and put his faith in Phil Jackson

“I wanted to go somewhere where I can end my career,” he said.

So instead of joining the Bulls to create a championship contending duo with Rose, Melo remained in New York to try to beat Chicago. With the injury to Paul George in Indiana and LeBron James’ departure from Miami, the Bulls are now the team that stands in the way of Melo’s championship quest.

Speaking of LeBron, after the Knicks open the season with Chicago, they travel to Cleveland to participate in King James’ heralded return to the Cavaliers the very next night. The Cavs are basically replacing the Heat when it comes to the East’s superteam, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love (the trade is expected to be official in two weeks) playing the role of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh

So about that good start the Knicks need…

The schedule this season doesn’t have any abnormalities. The longest road trip is five games (the usual West Coast swing from Mar. 9-15) and the longest homestand is four (early on, from Nov. 10-16). They will play 20 back-to-backs, and 47 of the 82 games are on one day of rest.

The holiday schedule is loaded as usual, with a noon tip-off Christmas Day at The Garden against John Wall and the Washington Wizards. The Knicks host Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans on Martin Luther King Day (Jan. 19) with a 5:30 PM tip. And will we see the return of the green jerseys for when the defending champion San Antonio Spurs come to town on St. Patrick’s Day?

By the way, how about facing the Spurs in the first home game back, just a day after returning from a five-game West Coast trip?

Fun.

The Knicks also play on Easter Sunday evening (Apr. 5) at The Garden against the 76ers.

The Knicks travel will also include a jaunt across the pond to London on Jan. 15, where they will face Jason Kidd’s Milwaukee Bucks at O2 Arena as part of the NBA Global Games program.

And we can’t forget that New York will be the epicenter of the NBA for All-Star Weekend, Feb. 13-15, with Madison Square Garden as the stage for the game.

In a very competitive East, it may take winning the Atlantic Division to make the playoffs this season. The Knicks play the Brooklyn Nets Apr. 1, the last of their four games against their cross-town rivals, while their final meeting with their defending division champion Raptors is Mar. 22 in Toronto.

The final month of the season seems relatively light, but it’s impossible to judge strength of schedule that late in the season before any games are played. Here’s what matters most: The Knicks have to make sure those games have meaning.

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