Red Bulls-Sporting Kansas City Preview

First-place Sporting Kansas City and the second-place New York

Red Bulls both have their sights set on winning the Eastern

Conference.

Sporting KC, though, could be feeling good about its chances of

creating some breathing room in the standings with Red Bulls

captain Thierry Henry ruled out for this weekend’s much-anticipated

heavyweight showdown, the first of three meetings between these

teams this season.

Sitting two points behind Sporting KC, New York (13-7-5) will be

without Henry – among the league leaders with 11 goals – on Sunday

night due to the birth of his son. While Henry’s absence could make

scoring on stingy Kansas City (14-7-4) all the more difficult,

coach Hans Backe is more concerned about the Red Bulls’ ability to

defend on the road.

“We have to defend better, if you look back for the probably

four or five last games on the road it hasn’t been good enough

defending-wise,” said Backe, whose club has been outscored 12-4

during an 0-4-2 stretch in opponents’ stadiums.

“When you play teams like (Sporting KC), it’s about good

defending … It will be a tough one, I mean they are two points in

front of us … but I think we definitely can raise our level and

performance.”

New York is coming off back-to-back home victories, beating

Houston 2-0 on Aug. 10 and Portland 3-2 last Sunday. The Timbers

took a 2-0 lead in that game before the Red Bulls came storming

back behind goals from Kenny Cooper, Tim Cahill and Heath

Pearce.

“When you go down two, you usually lose the game,” Backe said.

“It’s normally too much to recover from.”

New York likely can’t afford to fall behind versus Kansas City,

which has allowed a league-low 22 goals. Coach Peter Vermes’ team

has given up six goals during a 5-2-2 stretch and just one during

its three-game winning streak.

Sporting KC continued playing shutdown defense last Saturday

with a 1-0 road win over Toronto FC. Jimmy Nielsen posted his 11th

clean sheet and Kei Kamara provided the offense, scoring on a free

kick in the 83rd minute.

“We’re just feeling it,” said Kamara, who leads the team with

nine goals. “We’re top of the conference and we know if we keep

playing our game thing are going to go our way. We want to finish

the season being top of the league, and that’s a goal.”

Sporting KC, which had been outscored 5-0 during a three-game

losing streak in this series before beating New York 2-0 on Oct.

15, isn’t buying into the hype surrounding Sunday’s matchup.

“I think right now we’re kind of high on confidence, and for a

reason,” midfielder Graham Zusi told Sporting KC’s official

website. “We’ve got a great team and we’ve been consistent

throughout the year. This New York game is no different than any

other, in terms of us preparing for it and then trying to go out

and execute.”

Red Bulls rookie goalkeeper Ryan Meara is expected to miss the

rest of the season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery Thursday

to repair his left hip. He hasn’t played since July 8.