It's the clubs' only meeting this year after battling each other down the stretch last year for the Supporters Shield.
Although FC Dallas is fourth in the Western Conference in points per game, Dallas is sitting on top of the standings having played more games. FCD's six-game undefeated run came to an abrupt halt in a disheartening 3-0 loss at the Vancouver Whitecaps. When the team loses, they lose big, with their only other time being shut out in the 5-0 loss at the Houston Dynamo.
Despite taking 18 shots, Dallas was denied by David Ousted, who came up huge with 5 saves. "It was one of those nights. When we wanted, we created chances. I thought the team looked good, but we were not fine in the last third." said Oscar Pareja. According to American Soccer Analysis' Expected Goals model, FC Dallas was unlucky to not score a goal, which can be attributed to several spectacular Ousted saves.
Of course, the Papi we know and love professes unyielding confidence in his players. "This group has been recognized as a team that has a lot of character and I have no doubt about that. We have a group of players that can bounce back. We have proved that."
The New York Red Bulls are in the opposite scenario as FC Dallas, having had a miserable beginning to their season but coming off a rousing 3-2 comeback against Orlando City. "I feel like we've been awakened now," said midfielder Mike Grella. RBNY has two wins this year, both coming at Red Bull Arena, where they've scored 7 of their 8 goals.
Lloyd Sam has been poor, with critics dismissively claiming he's lost a step. His first 2 assists this year came on Sunday. Bradley Wright-Phillips leads all of MLS in Expected Goals with 6.45, but only finally scored 2 goals this past weekend. Coach Jesse Marsch thinks that the performance against Orlando has put his team back on the right path. "I think it was Bradley's best game of the year, Sacha [Kljestan]'s best game of the year, Mike's best game of the year and Lloyd [Sam]'s best game of the year," Marsch said. "They really dictated how we did things in the attacking part of the field and they were dangerous all night and they all contributed to the goals. That was really good to see."
Mauro Diaz saw 19 minutes in Vancouver after missing 5 games. "I'm glad to see him back in the field," said Pareja. "I wanted to keep our plan with him and rehab him and have him 100 percent and Mauro came and he looks very good. I'm happy to have him back on the team in good form and we look forward to seeing him in the next one." Will Diaz start or be a substitute? His availability will dictate the decision between the 4-2-3-1 with Diaz the focal point and the 4-4-2 with Tesho Akindele, who has a goal in 3 of the 5 games where Diaz has been absent.
Atiba Harris took over at right back for Ryan Hollingshead. Was that permanent or temporary? Who will Papi line up across from Grella? Chris Seitz was merely adequate in Vancouver; will Pareja swing back to Jesse Gonzalez?
The Red Bulls have the highest level of possession in the league at a whopping 63.6%. Will this play into FC Dallas' counterattacking hands? Coach Jesse Marsch is clearly concerned about turnovers leading to quick Dallas counterattacks. "This could be a game where you possess the ball a lot and create some chances, but if we lose bad balls and those players are in free space, then that can cause you a lot of trouble."
Against Orlando, the Red Bulls started in a medium block defense, with the defensive line of confrontation beginning just in front of the center circle in the opponent's half. After the Cyle Larin goal in the 4th minute, which was precipitated by a Karl Ouimette error, Marsch directed his players to press Orlando. This began to generate turnovers in Orlando's half and led to more possession.
With Dax McCarty having an off night, Felipe and Sacha Kljestan took the attacking reins. This led to dangerous opportunities in the final third. The Red Bulls had 15 shots in the first half but were not able to score, which is a microcosm of their season.
But in this game they were persistent and their deep pressure paid off. Between the 65th and the 75th minute, New York rattled off three goals. For the first, Sacha Kljestan delivered a delicious through ball to Grella. Then, Grella dropped a dime at the back post for BWP to hammer home. Their third came from a Lloyd Sam whipped cross that found Wright-Phillips in the box.
New York is clearly suffering at center back from the loss of Matt Miazga and injuries to Damien Perrinelle and Gideon Baah. Ronald Zubar and Karl Ouimette, who will start against Dallas, struggle with pace and power. "We are facing a side that attacks well and defends well at the same time, they almost play like us and they also have four attackers that are very special," said Coach Jesse Marsch.
FC Dallas will win this game if they are able to absorb the Red Bulls' deep pressure and convert counterattacking chances. The New York Red Bulls will win if their suffocating pressure overwhelms FC Dallas' midfielders and defenders.
How to watch:
Kickoff: Friday, April 29th, 6:00pm central
Venue: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, NJ
TV: Unimás, MLS Live
Weather Forecast: 56 degrees and partly cloudy. 20-35% chance of showers. 8 mph wind out of the southeast.
Projected Starting Lineups:
New York Red Bulls