BULLS RUN: RED BULLS SET HIGH STANDARD

When an opposing coach calls you “the gold standard in the East,” you know you’ve done something quite impressive.

Those were the words DC United coach Ben Olsen used to describe the Red Bulls after New York’s 3-0 resounding win Sunday at Red Bull Arena. The Red Bulls rebounded after their midweek slip-up in Chicago, as they annihilated the team currently sitting in first place in the Eastern Conference from start to finish. The victory moved the home side into second place in the East and two points behind DC with three games in hand.

“We put our foot on the gas pedal and went out to get [DC United] from the first minute,” Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestansaid after the game. “We created a ton of chances. Probably had the most dominating performance we’ve had this season so it felt really good, but I think the key was just good mentality. [We] stuck to our game plan and really put them under pressure.”

Sacha Kljestan talks about how the Red Bulls overcame Wednesday's disappointing loss to Chicago to defeat DC United, the top team in the conference.

Coming out of the block with their typical high-pressing, up-tempo game, the Red Bulls put DC United on its back foot early. Were it not for Bill Hamid’s heroics in the DC net, the Red Bulls would have blown the match wide open in the first 15 minutes, as they sent shot after shot towards Hamid.

But it wasn’t until the 33rd minute when they finally breached DC United’s defense. A deft little through ball from Bradley Wright-Phillips found an onrushing Lloyd Sam open on the right. The winger got New York on the board with a deft little chip over an extended Hamid and opened the floodgates for an evening both sides will long remember.

“It was so important to get [the goal],” Sam said after tallying his seventh goal this season and his third against DC United in 2015. “It settled us down and we went on to get more. Sometimes it just takes that first one to go in.”

Wright-Phillips would get his name on the scoresheet just nine minutes later. Mike Grella would set up BWP for his 12th of the season after taking a long Felipe pass down and firing a pass on the volley to Wright-Phillips. BWP then fired a rocket on the volley into the top corner past a helpless Hamid.

Wright-Phillips would later put the finishing touches on the match by adding his second goal of the night in the 64th minute.

While Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch was thrilled with the effort, he cautioned the media not to get too far ahead of itself. There will be no talk of Supporters’ Shield or first place just yet.

“It was another step forward,” Marsch said in his post-match press conference. “There’s a lot to play for at this moment and if we stop for a second, then we could slip. We’re going to keep our pedal on the floor.”

Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch discusses the team's 3-0 triumph over DC United, how the team has come together this season and the play of Bradley Wright-Phillips.

Perrinelle Solid in Return

After serving a two-match suspension, Damien Perrinelle was re-inserted in the starting lineup alongside Matt Miazga in central defense.

The 31-year-old French defender has struck up a solid partnership with the young American and the two players complement each other well. Miazga’s athleticism is harassed effectively alongside Perrinelle’s veteran savvy, something Miazga doesn’t take for granted.

“Obviously, Damien is an experienced player,” Miazga said. “For the majority of the season, we’ve been together and I think he covers me really well.”

BWP: Better in 2015?

Bradley Wright-Phillips may have set a Red Bulls franchise record by scoring 27 times last season, but his coach thinks he might be even more dangerous in 2015.

“He’s dynamic,” Marsch said. “I think he’s shown what a complete player he is. I would argue that he’s been much better this year than he was last year.”

Skeptics questioned whether Wright-Phillips could repeat his exploits without Thierry Henry by his side, but the Englishmen has thrived this season, tallying 13 goals and adding seven assists. The 31-year-old agreed with his coach’s assessment and said that assists were the biggest reason why.

“I’m coming off the pitch a lot happier than I was last season,” he said. “I feel like contributing to the team even if I’m not scoring. I feel like I’m trying to link up play and getting involved in the game more.”

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Clyde’s New York Interactive Map

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BULLS RUN: MIAZGA EXCELS IN STARTING ROLE

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One of the biggest quandaries Jesse Marsch had to answer when he took over as head coach was what he was going to do with his starting center backs.

After trading away Jamison Olave and waiving Armando, the Red Bulls were left with new signings Ronald Zubar and Damien Perrinelle, veterans of foreign leagues, but untested in MLS. They also had young Matt Miazga, a talented but raw 20-year-old who only had eight first-team appearances to his name before the 2015 season.

Marsch was forced to throw Miazga into the fire after a hamstring injury to Zubar forced the Dutch defender to the sidelines in the season opener against Sporting KC. With little choice, Marsch had to keep faith in the Clifton, NJ native.

The results have been better than anyone could have expected. Miazga has been a standout for the Red Bulls during the 2015 season and is garnering worldwide attention. His latest performance against NYCFC striker David Villa was one of sheer class. Miazga and Perrinelle managed to subdue Villa and kept him off the scoresheet.

The challenge of going up against a top-class forward like Villa was one Miazga thoroughly enjoyed.

“It’s a great experience, obviously,” he said after the Red Bulls’ 2-0 win over their local rivals Sunday, August 9. “[Villa is] a world-renowned player. You have to be aware of him at all times. Every time [I face] a new forward from MLS, it’s a goal of mine to shut them down.”

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He’s been shutting down plenty of forwards this season and has been critical to the Red Bulls’ success. His absence due to his involvement with the US Under-21 National Team at the World Youth Cup coincided with the Red Bulls’ season-long, four-game losing streak. Since his return from international duty, the Red Bulls are 6-1-1 and find themselves well positioned to make a run for the Supporters’ Shield.

Advanced statistics showcase Miazga’s strengths as well. According to Whoscored.com, the 6-foot-3 center back leads all players in average defensive clearances per game with 7.7. His aerial prowess makes him such a vital cog for the Red Bulls’ defense and he rarely loses a duel with an opposing striker when the ball is in the air.

His athletic ability, coupled with his game intelligence that is well beyond his years, has even made him a target for European clubs. Earlier this year, Premier League club Swansea City was rumored to be interested in a swap for the defender in exchange for veteran midfielder Leon Britton. While nothing materialized, Miazga is certainly on the radar for some of Europe’s top teams.

While a move to Europe might be in his future, Miazga is just concerned about doing his best for the Red Bulls at the moment.

“We’re moving up the table and we’re [targeting] first place,” he said. “I think that’s the goal. We’re looking at first place and we have a few games in hand. Hopefully we get a few more wins and take first place.”

A LOOK AHEAD: RED BULLS VS. TORONTO FC SATURDAY

Red Bulls Toronto FC
10-6-6 (36 Points) Record 9-9-4 (31 Points)
W-1
Streak L-1
6-2-2 (Home) Home/Road Record 4-3-6 (Road)
2nd Conference Position 4th
35 Goals 37
1.59 Goals Per Game 1.68
25 Goals Allowed 38
1.13 Goals Allowed Per Game 1.72
Bradley Wright-Phillips (10) Top Goal Scorer Sebastian Giovinco (16)
Bradley Wright-Phillips (6) Assists Sebastian Giovinco (11)

The Red Bulls face another star-laden roster Saturday, as they take on Toronto FC at Red Bull Arena. Live coverage gets under way at 6:30 PM on MSG.

There’s always hesitation to praise star signings from Europe when they come over to MLS, but Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco is one that no one can argue with. The former Juventus star has taken the league by storm and ranks second in goals (16) and third in assists (11). Diminutive but tenacious, the 5-foot-4 Giovinco has thrived in a forward role alongside former Red Bull Jozy Altidore and is a candidate for MLS’ MVP award this season.

“Giovinco is just a different type of beast,” Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty said after practice Thursday. “He’s a guy that can score a goal in so many different ways. He’s such a small guy, he’s so shifty, nifty and quick. I don’t think there’s a tougher player to guard one-on-one in the league right now.”

The key battle will be in midfield where McCarty will be face to face against US Men’s National Team star Michael Bradley. Strong, athletic and skilled in all areas, Bradley will provide a tough test for the Red Bulls as well.

“Michael does so many little things to help their team in terms of how he closes the ball the down,” Marsch said. “How he wins the ball back, the ground he covers, the kind of passer he is, how he distributes the ball, the joining in late in the box. He’s dangerous, sharp and good defensively.”

Still, the Red Bulls remain highly confident going into Saturday’s match. As long as they keep it tight at the back, they believe they’ll leave the pitch with three points.

“We’re in a good moment right now,” McCarty said. “The way we defend, the way we attack, we want to make teams adjust to us. We’re definitely going to be aware of their dangerous players and make sure defensively that we’re sound because I think that’s the starting point for us.”

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Complete Red Bulls Coverage
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Home Runs, Kobe’s Farewell And More In Knicks 2015-16 Schedule

We know the Knicks will be in Milwaukee on opening night and we know they’ll be home watching the games with the rest of us on Christmas and we know they’ll be in Indiana for their final regular season matchup.

The question is: When this schedule is over, where will they be?

After a busy offseason of rebuilding by Phil Jackson and Steve Mills, the new-look Knicks, with a healthy Carmelo Anthony, begin the season on Oct. 28 against the Bucks in Milwaukee. Since so many of you ask, let’s take an early guess at the opening night starting lineup:

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Two positions are variable: Point guard (rookie Jerian Grant could push Jose Calderon if the veteran struggles on defense) and power forward (Derrick Williams and Kyle O’Quinn are other options if the Knicks don’t want to push Kris Porzingis into a starting role too quickly).

Opening night at The Garden comes on a back-to-back, as the Knicks will host the Atlanta Hawks — fresh off a 60-win season as the No. 1 team in the East — on Oct. 29.

Here’s the good news: Seven of the first 11 games are on The Garden court. However, five of those games are against playoff teams, like the Hawks, Spurs, Bucks, Cavaliers and Pelicans.

Also in that mix is a rare Sunday afternoon game in the fall: Nov. 8 against the Lakers at 3:30 p.m. This could be Kobe Bryant’s final game at Madison Square Garden, his favorite stage and the place where he once set The Garden scoring record with 61 points against the Knicks in 2009. Melo later broke that record with 62 points against Charlotte in 2014.

Bryant hasn’t officially announced anything yet, but is hinting to it.

“Could this be the last [season]?” he recently told Yahoo! Sports. “Absolutely.”

Overall, the schedule is a bit kinder to the Knicks in regards to rest, but that is the case for most of the NBA as commissioner Adam Silver kept his word on a promise to limit clustering games. The Knicks this season will play just 17 back-to-backs, after having 20 last season, and don’t have one stretch of four games in five nights, which had become a notorious trait in the NBA schedule.

The Knicks won’t be part of the Christmas Day lineup for the first time in seven years. In fact, they may not even be home for Christmas, as the team will be in Cleveland on Dec. 23 and then Atlanta on Dec. 26.

While that holiday tradition will stop this year, the Knicks will again be part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day lineup for the 17th straight season. They’ll host the 76ers on Jan. 18 at The Garden.

The longest road trip of the season comes in March, which is traditionally when the Knicks take to the road because of the Big East Tournament and other college basketball events. The Knicks will play six straight games on the road, including a five-game West Coast trip that Jackson is sure to enjoy. In the midst of the trip, the schedule keeps the Knicks in Los Angeles for a long weekend from March 10-14, with games against the Clippers and Lakers.

The season ends sort of like it begins, with a lot of home games. Four of the final six games are at The Garden. The regular season ends against the Pacers in Indiana on April 12.

Will the Knicks be part of the playoff schedule after that?

One guarantee is that we will have all the coverage on MSG Network, from six preseason games (to be announced soon) to opening night, to Game 82 and, hopefully beyond.

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BULLS RUN: RED BULLS SHUT DOWN NYCFC STARS

MLS: New York City FC at New York Red Bulls

On a night where NYCFC was supposed seize the soccer spotlight, it was the Red Bulls who stole the show.

The Red Bulls’ noisy neighbors fielded their three designated players in the starting lineup for the very first time Sunday, but it was the home side who took home the plaudits and the three points. The Red Bulls swept the three-game season series from NYCFC after a 2-0 win and found a way to neuter the heralded NYCFC trio of David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo.

“We were excited about the matchup to be honest,” Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan said post-match. “We had been watching them for the past couple of weeks and we felt that we could exploit them.”

Despite playing their third match in eight days, the hosts looked like the more energetic and vibrant team. The Red Bulls’ vaunted high-pressing game gave the NYCFC midfield fits, as Kljestan, Dax McCarty and Felipe targeted and harassed Lampard and Pirlo throughout the match. According to Whoscored.com, Kljestan and McCarty were tied for second on the team with four tackles during the match.

“We wanted to make sure that those two [Lampard and Pirlo] didn’t have an easy day,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said during his post-match press conference. “Credit to, again, Sacha, Dax, and Felipe in middle of the field, with heavy legs. I think they took it as a personal challenge to play against great players like that.”

Jesse Marsch discusses the Red Bulls' season sweep over rival NYCFC, the team's effort in the match, how they were able to limit Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo, and Felipe's stellar performance.

The key to Marsch’s plan was to limit the amount of open room for Pirlo to operate in central midfield. The Italian legend is notorious for being able to play dangerous long passes from a deep-lying position in midfield, but with Kljestan shadowing Pirlo’s every move, the former Juventus man became less effective.

“When teams give [Pirlo] time and space to spray the ball where ever he wants, it’s killer,” McCarty said. “I thought Sacha put in a great shift defensively. He really didn’t give him a lot of time and space.”

Lampard’s night was made hapless thanks to McCarty and Felipe. The former Chelsea icon had one open look in the second minute after making a trademark run into the penalty box, but steered his shot wide of goal. It was the one highlight for the 37-year-old Englishmen, who failed to make an impact in his first start in MLS competition.

“I thought Felipe and I were all over Lampard,” McCarty said. “He didn’t get too many runs out on top of the [penalty] box.”

More known for his defensive exploits, Felipe was able contribute in attack as well. His 85th-minute shot snaked past NYCFC goalie Josh Saunders to put the match away. Bradley Wright-Phillips tallied his 10th goal of the season and fourth Hudson River Derby goal of the season with a tap-in in the 21st minute. It was a complete performance from Marsch’s team and one that the boss said he would cherish.

“I think our guys wanted to prove a point and go in there and play against world-class players [and] show they’re up for the task. The way we play and how we play and who we are is still going to make us successful.”

 

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Remembering Hall of Famer Frank Gifford

 

New York Giants legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Frank Gifford passed away on Sunday, August 9, one week before his 85th birthday.

Gifford was a versatile offensive weapon for the legendary Giants teams of the 1950s and 60s, amassing 3,609 career rushing yards and 5,434 receiving yards, as well as 34 rushing TDs and 43 receiving TDs. He also had 823 passing yards and threw 14 touchdown passes in his career. If that wasn’t enough, Gifford also played defensive back and kicker.

After his playing career, Gifford was a celebrated broadcaster, most notably as a play-by-play announcer and analyst for Monday Night Football.

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  • Frank Gifford was drafted in the first round, 11th overall by the New York Giants during the 1952 NFL Draft.
  • Spent his entire football career with the New York Giants (1952-1960; 1962-1964).
  • His best year in New York was during the 1956 season, where he won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award after recording 819 yards rushing, 603 yards receiving and nine touchdowns over 12 games.
  • In 1956, he also led the New York Giants to the franchise’s fourth championship, beating the Chicago Bears, 47-7.
  • He would go on to play in four other NFL Championship games, including “The Greatest Game Ever Played” in 1958 against the Baltimore Colts.
  • In November of 1960, he suffered what was thought to be a career-ending injury after being hit by Eagles linebacker, Chuck Bednarik. The injury resulted in a 10-day hospital stay and Gifford did not return to the lineup until 1962.
  • Gifford was selected to eight Pro Bowls at three different positions (defensive back, half back and wide receiver): 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959 and 1963, and he was the 1958 Pro Bowl MVP
  • He was a four-time First-Team All-Pro selection: 1955, 1956, 1957 and 1959.
  • Scored a Giants franchise-record 78 total touchdowns: 43 receiving, 34 rushing and one on an interception return (not including passing TDs).
  • Made the transition from the football field to the broadcasting booth after his playing career, first for CBS and then in 1971 when he started a 27-year stint with ABC’s Monday Night Football.
  • On July 30, 1977, Gifford was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  • His No. 16 was retired by the Giants in 2000.
  • He held the franchise record for receiving for 39 years (5,434 yards), which was broken by Amani Toomer in 2003.

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**MORE ON GIFFORD’S PASSING COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK GIANTS**

FAMILY STATEMENT
“It is with the deepest sadness that we announce the sudden passing of our beloved husband, father and friend, Frank Gifford. Frank died suddenly this beautiful Sunday morning of natural causes at his Connecticut home. We rejoice in the extraordinary life he was privileged to live, and we feel grateful and blessed to have been loved by such an amazing human being. We ask that our privacy be respected at this difficult time and we thank you for your prayers.”

JOHN MARA, GIANTS PRESIDENT
“Frank Gifford was the ultimate Giant. He was the face of our franchise for so many years.  More importantly, he was a treasured member of our family. My father loved him like a son and was proud to act as his presenter for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a favor Frank returned years later by presenting my father in Canton. For my siblings and me, Frank was like a revered older brother whom we looked up to and admired. We loved him and will miss him terribly.”

STEVE TISHCH, GIANTS CHAIRMAN
“Not only was Frank a member of the Giants family from the time he left USC, and will be forever, but because Frank, my father (Bob) and Pete Rozelle were so close in the ’60s, I felt like he was a member of my family. I always loved seeing Frank on our sideline before our games. He had the handshake of a 25-year old, and he looked you right in the eye with his big blue eyes. He was such a strong person in every way. He will be missed and will always be remembered as a Giants’ Giant.”

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