Shield Hosts Cup: Red Bulls Start Stretch Run Against SKC

The New York Red Bulls (7-8-10), defending Supporter Shield champs, host the defending MLS Cup champions Sporting KC (12-9-6) at Red Bull Arena on Saturday night on NBS Sports. Both clubs seem to have hit a downward spiral, with the Red Bulls losing two of their last three matches and SKC on a three game skid. In the previous meeting between the two clubs, the two leading goal scorer’s in the league exchanged goals in each half.

The Red Bulls start their September gauntlet with seven matches in 22 days and trips to Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and CCL matches in Montreal and at CD FAS. Mike Petke has come out in the media and said the time for talk was over and now is the time of action. With international absences and injuries, Petke will have to carefully manage his roster over the next three weeks, starting against SKC.

SKC comes into this match giving up three goals in each of its last three matches, including against New England on Wednesday. Head coach Peter Vermes changed more than half of his squad that lost to Houston for the NE match. The biggest drop was veteran defender Aurellin Collin for Lawerence Olum. Collin normally matches up against NY’s Tim Cahill when the two sides play as he can match him in physicality and aerial ability on set pieces. However, with Cahill on duty with Australia, Collin may ride the bench once again. Vermes will be able to select Benny Feilhaber and Dom Dwyer after both were suspended against NE for yellow card accumulation.

The Red Bulls come into the match riding an away loss to rivals DC United. Both of DC’s goals came in the second half off of extremely bad defensive miscues. The Red Bulls had some stellar chances but either couldn’t finish them or Bill Hamid saved them. With no Oyongo or Cahill, I expect Petke to have Eric Alexander out wide left with Peguy Luyindula in the middle alongside Dax McCarty. Peguy is the perfect player to have play against this struggling SKC backline right now. Even though they are struggling, Vermes will still play a high line of pressure and if Peguy can find Lloyd Sam or BWP on some clever passing, the Red Bulls may open this game wide up. The only other difficutly choice for Petke is who plays alongside center back Jamison Olave; Ibrahim Sekagaya or Damien Perinelle? Matt Miazga is off with the US U-20 team ad Sekagaya was involved in both of NY’s bad goals at DC. Perinelle has great recovery speed and could match with Dwyer well. The only downside is how much time Olave and Perinelle have actually had alongside each other in a competitive match: 0 minutes.

It’s a tough stretch ahead for the Red Bulls but the majority of their league matches remain at home. The Red Bulls in the past down the stretch made Red Bull Arena a fortress and they need to continue to do so or their run to MLS Cup will end before Halloween for the first time since 2009.

(image courtesy of Tim Clayton/Corbis)