BY Stanley Holmes 03:58PM 03/18/2011

Red Bulls aim to quiet the Sounders

Thierry Henry & company are expected to win everything this season.

The Sounders face French superstar Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls on Saturday / New York Red Bulls

Major League Soccer didn’t cut the Seattle Sounders FC any scheduling breaks early in the season — the team goes from losing to LA Galaxy at Qwest Field Tuesday to traveling across the country to face the new and ever-improved New York Red Bulls.

The LA Galaxy are one of the favorites to capture the Western Conference crown but the Red Bulls are expected to win the easier Eastern Conference, the Supporter’s Shield for best overall record and the MLS Cup.

Such are the heightened expectations for a team that carries French superstar Thierry Henry and Mexican international Rafael Marquez on its roster as two of the most expensive designated players in the league.

The two former Barcelona players (among other Euro club stops) are not the only reasons why observers pick the Red Bulls to go all the way, however.

The Red Bulls completed a worst-to-first turnaround in the 2010 regular season, but were then stunned on their home pitch in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, losing to the San Jose Earthquakes. The Red Bulls finished on top in the East in the regular season with 51 points and a 15-9-6 record — the third-best in MLS.

But the team that Red Bulls coach Hans Backe has assembled for 2011 is even stronger in all positions. Part of that is the fact Henry and Marquez have had a full preseason with the team. The younger players are more experienced, and Backe has balanced talented younger players with battle-tested veterans.

Marquez, for example, will be partnering with young American Tim Ream, in the center of the defense. Ream is a rising star for the U.S. National Team. Joel Lindpere pulls the strings in midfield with excellent passing vision and an appetite to score goals. Dane Richards is similar to Steve Zakuani — he is one of the fastest wingers in the league. Henry is likely partnering with the new U.S. striking sensation Juan Agedelo, who at 18 has been called up to the U.S. Men’s National team.

That’s just for starters. The rest of the squad is filled with experienced MLS role players — American and foreign. About the only question is who will start in goal. Bouna Coundoul and Greg Sutton continue to jockey for the No. 1 spot. Coundoul was among the top five goalkeepers in the league last season statistically, making 27 starts and enjoying perhaps his finest of his five years in the league. But Sutton has made a push for the top spot and Backe is expected to make the decision late Friday.

Seattle coach Sigi Schmid is aware of the dangers that the Red Bulls now bring to the league.

“Obviously, Dane Richards is always a guy you got to worry about because of his pace,”  Schmid said. “Thierry Henry has now been there for a preseason so he’s acclimated to the league. (Joel) Lindpere was a very good player for them last year. He’s a guy you have got to be aware of because he’s got a major shot and he’s got a way of sneaking into the box.”

The Red Bulls, Schmid said, are also a solid passing team, and with Marquez playing central defender, it makes them a “very good build-up team.”

But all eyes will be on Henry. The former Arsenal, Barcelona and French National team star is expected to control the fortunes of the New York club. You might say “so goes Henry, so goes the Red Bulls.”

Henry, 33, joined the New York team in the middle of last season, scored two goals and sat out more games than played due to injuries. Now fresh, revitalized and ready to play an influential role, Henry could prove to be a compelling story line this season. While most experts say he needs to score goals for the Red Bulls to win the MLS Cup, Henry is looking at his role slightly differently.

He wants to be more of the creator than the finisher. That certainly might raise eyebrows since he is Arsenal’s all-time leading goal scorer and led the London club in scoring for seven consecutive seasons. What’s more, he won the EPL Golden Boot award three times and the European Golden Boot three times. In his prime at Arsenal, there was no better finisher in the EPL if not in all of Europe.

But Henry said he is no longer thinking about the number of goals he wants to score. He now claims it’s about making his teammates better.

“You reach a time in your career where you want to make the guys around you play better,” Henry said recently on the Red Bulls web site. “We have Juan Agudelo and Dane Richards. Dane Richards is our go-to player. He always makes things happen on the field. We have guys with pace, so I don’t mind playing a bit more in the middle and trying to fit people in.”

Henry, never shy to express himself, is offering his opinions about the MLS. So far he seems impressed with the growing qualities of a professional American soccer league that is still, well, developing and shaping its identity.

“MLS reminds me of a young version of the English premiership,” Henry said. “Guys are athletic here. They get into you, there’s a fast pace. But I was more than happy, too, to see a lot of teams want to play real football here. Dallas, Salt Lake, Galaxy, they pass the ball on the ground.”

Seattle is another team that likes to pass the ball on the ground and keep possession. The club signed Argentine midfielder Mauro Rosales on Friday. He is a playmaker and a passer who is expected to enhance the Sounders’ emerging style of possession soccer. It’s unclear whether he will play on Saturday.

But it is clear to Zakuani what Seattle needs to achieve at Red Bull Arena — secure three points — particularly after suffering the loss to the Galaxy. The Red Bulls will be fresh since it’s their opening game but Zakuani said the Sounders need to enter the field confident, positive and expect to win the game.

“This is a perfect game to come back to,” Zakuani said. “It’s a game for us to go over there and spoil their party a little bit.”


YourThoughts

  • Nebstorm

     I was at the game last year in Washington and the fans up there where just great to us also. Go Big Red!

  • Henchman222

    Nice article.  For you Husky fans coming here bring your ponchos as there is a chance of rain.  If you have time try a nice meal at Misty’s or Lazlos in Lincoln.  You will love the game day atmosphere.  Here’s to your safe travel both ways, a great game and a great time.  I’ll understand if you still want to have Wahington as your favorite team, but after your experience maybe you will undesrtand why there is No Place Like Nebraska.  Not the victory but the action; Not the goal but the game; In the deed the glory”

    • Henchman222

      Sorry for the typos, dang smartphones.

    • Anonymous

      As a Lincoln resident, I will second everything said above.  The prime rib at Misty’s can be a religious experience for someone not raised on Nebraska beef, and I love the microbrews at Lazlo’s with their ribs.  Also – if you are a fan of buffalo wings, it’s hard to beat the grilled wings at the Watering Hole on O Street.

      Husky fans, have fun, enjoy yourselves (spend lots of money) and know that win or lose, we’ll gladly shake your hand or offer you a beer – as long as you’re not acting like jerks (i.e. your new conference mates from Boulder).

      Safe travels and good luck on Saturday!

      • Anonymous

        By the way – in addition to being overly passionate about the football team (Saturday will be consecutive sellout #314) we also have a tendency for taking over message boards.  Sorry!

  • TGK

    Two great programs.  Very nice article.  I have to say, after growing up in eastern NE, there are a few more Husker fans these days who do not know how to act all of the time.  Please remember there are good and bad fans everywhere.  For the most part though, all said above is true.  Husker fans will welcome you and have fun tailgating with you.  Just put your hand out to shake hands and you should have a good time.  What most Husker fans understand is that football is a game – a sport – and not life or death.  Sure, we win and lose with much passion but at the end of the day, we are all on this planet together and let’s treat each other like the brothers and sisters we are suppose to be.  Have fun UW fans – win or lose.   AND GO BIG RED!

  • KJP

    Nice piece.  It’s true, people in Lincoln are generally nice and honestly pleased that people would come visit.  Not to mention that it’s a great town with nice people, and a low crime rate.  If anyone isn’t nice to you, just tell another Husker fan, and the rude offenders will be berated and treated like the pretenders that they are.
    Also, while you’re in Lincoln, don’t forget to check out the nightlife at 14th and O Streets.  Lots of fun bars, and a super fun gameday scene (any night really).  It’s also the home of Duffy’s Tavern, which is a famous gameday venue with a big outdoor area, but an even better known music venue.  Nirvana (among others) played there, and it was rated as the best college bar in America by Complex.com earlier this year.  Everyone there is super nice.  Have fun in Lincoln.

  • HuskerT

    I was fortunate enough to treated to similar hospitality at Husky stadium in 97. I had people of all ages congradulate me after the Huskers won. Art, I grew up in central Nebraska on the edge of the Sand Hills. I would be glad to give you a tour of our hills.

  • Husker in Land o’ Lakes

    Very nice article. As a Husker fan, I look forward to the game and hopefully a win. I have always considered UWas a class program.Good fans, not a bunch of cheaters like SC or Oregon. Good hard nosed coaches and players. And that view from the campus and stadium is pretty darn impressive. I rate it way above Boulder. And your fans are one heck of alot better mannered.If you fly into Omaha and rent a car to Lincoln, Check out the downtowns a little bit. Lots going on. I live in the Twin Cities but I like what I see going on in Omaha and Lincoln.

  • huska

    One of my favorite memories of all time came after a devastating victory by Texas over Nebraska in Lincoln in 1998.  As recalled by Mack Brown….

    “The highlight of my sports life in sportsmanship was in ’98, when … (Texas’) Ricky Williams gained 150 yards,” he said. He recalled telling Williams to wear his helmet out on the Memorial Stadium field for postgame interviews, only to hear Nebraska fans start chanting, “Heisman, Heisman, Heisman” for Williams

    I hope that Husker fans don’t do anything to diminish that reputation this weekend or anytime for the rest of my life.  Have fun in Lincoln, U-Dub.  GBR.