One week after getting a quality point at Columbus while missing six regulars due to injuries and international call-ups, the New York Red Bulls will be close to full strength for Saturday night’s game against Houston (7:30, MSG, DirectKick, MatchDay Live).
Juan Agudelo (U.S.), Tim Ream (U.S.), Dane Richards (Jamaica), and Rafa Marquez (Mexico) all return to the lineup, along with Thierry Henry (hamstring).
Greg Sutton, the starting keeper on opening day, will not be available due to a concussion suffered during midweek training. Bouna Coundoul, last year’s No. 1, is expected to start in goal. If that happens, New York will have used three different goalkeepers for their three games so far in 2011—Sutton, emergency signing Alex Horwath, and Coundoul.
Sutton and Horwath produced shutouts in their games, so Coundoul will have a standard to maintain between the pipes.
The conventional wisdom of the numerous MLS power rankings this week is that the unbeaten and unscored-upon Red Bulls are among the league’s elite—they’ve generally been placed third, behind Real Salt Lake and the defending champion Colorado Rapids (both of which opened the season with two victories).
Saturday night’s game, then, will either confirm or (to quote the Big Lebowski’s Brandt) disconfirm that status.
New York fans have legitimate reasons for optimism: New signings Teemu Tainio and Jan Gunnar Solli both looked very assured in last week’s visit to Columbus, and Ream and Agudelo are fresh off successful appearances with the U.S. national team. Marquez earned his 100th cap with Mexico during last week’s international fixtures, and Joel Lindpere, well, continues to be Joel Lindpere—the team’s most consistently effective player.
Add the expectation of a fully fit (right?*) Henry lining up alongside the rising Agudelo—who scored for the U.S. against Argentina and was a handful against Paraguay—and Red Bull fans have a lot to look forward to.
There’s been talk this week of the need to protect the 18-year-old Agudelo from the hype machine his performances have created. He’s scored two goals and drawn a penalty in four appearances for the U.S., and he scored his first MLS goal—the game-winner—with authority in the Red Bulls opener against Seattle on March 19.
While we completely agree that the kid must be brought along slowly, we can’t help but amplify the hype just a little by posting this clip:
Houston, which has been relocated to the Eastern Conference this season, is coming off a somewhat flattering 1-1 tie against Seattle last weekend, after opening with a surprising home loss to Philadelphia.
Against, Seattle, they were outplayed and outshot, yet nearly grabbed all three points, as Seattle only tied it up in the final minutes, through Steve Zakuani. Goalkeeper Tally Hall was spectacular, keeping Houston in the game with seven saves.
The Dynamo backline has been shaky in 2011, but its midfield, featuring Brad Davis, Geoff Cameron and Lovel Palmer, has been solid and should get better as the season progresses.
Look for veteran striker Brian Ching to come back from injury and join the starting lineup on Saturday, possibly partnering with rookie Will Bruin to give Houston a physically imposing top two.
*Henry, who has been nagged by injuries throughout his brief Red Bulls career, sat out the Columbus game with a hamstring strain, and appeared to blame the team’s fitness coach. He also flashed a little petulance when asked if his age had anything to do with his injury woes, snapping: “That is a stupid question.” Read more about it here, and … stay tuned. We say it doesn’t bode well.