Stretch run starts in the Big Apple

By By Tony Pizza

By Tony Pizza

Real Salt Lake takes the longest winning streak in club history into the Big Apple this weekend for a match against the New York Red Bulls.

RSL has reeled off four straight wins during the stretch, which began with RSL handing D.C. United only its second loss of the season back on July 29. RSL then went on the road to win two straight games in convincing fashion by routing Colorado 4-1 and then squeaking out a 2-1 victory in the final minutes against lowly Columbus.

Last week, the team came home and took care of business by beating Houston, which holds the second-best record in the Western Conference, 3-1, in convincing fashion.

The winning streak is not the only streak RSL players have going for them. For the past three weeks, the MLS Player of the Week has come from a player wearing an RSL jersey. Jeff Cunningham took the honors the first two weeks by combining to score three goals and two assists in the first week, and then scoring two goals and assisting one in the second week. Chris Klein took RSL’s third-straight Player of the Week honors by scoring a goal in each of RSL’s two matches last week.

But to keep the streak alive, RSL will have to win the game without starting goalkeeper Scott Garlick. Garlick picked up his fifth yellow card of the season late in the game against Houston for stalling, earning him a suspension, and should be replaced by backup keeper Jay Nolly.

Without Garlick, RSL may face a stern test from the Red Bulls, who have found success of their own in the team’s last six matches. New York had a five-game unbeaten streak until dropping a disappointing game to the Columbus Crew last week. During its unbeaten streak, New York won three games and tied two, including a 0-0 draw against its 1-95 rival D.C. United, a game in which Bruce Arena returned to the MLS. Arena returned to coach the Red Bulls after an eight-year hiatus in which he coached the U.S. National Team in two World Cups.

Arena is no stranger to success in Major League Soccer. He led D.C. United to the first two MLS cups and he also led D.C. United in capturing the U.S. Open Cup during MLS’ 1996 inaugural season.

RSL should be better rested than New York as it goes into Saturday’s match at Giants Stadium. Unlike the Red Bulls, who are still in U.S. Open Cup contention, RSL bowed out of the tournament against the Colorado Rapids just before the All-Star break. As a result, New York had to play a cup match Wednesday against D.C. United, which will undoubtedly leave the team tired for an important match between two teams jockeying for playoff spots.

RSL’s recent strong play has left it on Colorado’s and Chivas’ heels for the third or fourth playoff spot in the Western Conference. RSL currently sits just two points back of fourth-place Chivas and a mere three points behind third-place Colorado.

Similarly, New York has rebounded from an early slow start to get back into a playoff hunt of its own. The Red Bulls currently sit one point out of a playoff spot, barely trailing fourth-place Kansas City. Besides the first seed that is all but locked up by D.C. United, the final three playoff spots in the East remain up for grabs. Only five points separate second-place Chicago from last-place Columbus, making every match an opportunity to shake up the standings.

RSL should have extra incentive to beat New York. As of two weeks ago, there were three teams RSL hadn’t beaten in its short existence, but after RSL scratched Houston and Columbus off that list in consecutive victories, New York remains the lone club yet to fall to Real Salt Lake.