The Blue Testament asks Once a Metro...
1) How different will the Red Bulls' lineup look with Henry in there as opposed to this past Sunday's?
The lineup for the Red Bulls' won't be much different than the one that took the field in Kansas City on Sunday. The only change should be Thierry Henry coming back from resting due to an achilles injury flare up. I would probably start Peguy Luyindula over Tim Cahill as Cahill has not played well for most of the year, but Mike Petke will go with the DP because he can turn it on.
2) New York has done so well against Sporting KC this year with two wins and a draw. How would Sporting be able to sneak a win in this match?
I don't want to say this as it could come back to haunt me, but I don't know if they can sneak a win. This isn't a slight against Sporting, it just seems like the Red Bulls have their number this year. The way to beat them though is to score early and force the team to press more than Petke wants to. It'll open up the Red Bulls to the counter, which they are susceptible too because their left & right backs like to get up and help in the attack.
3) If you're looking for one unexpected player on NYRB to step up and be a big factor in this game, who would it be?
Richard Eckersley. It sounds crazy because he's been a mediocre defender for the last few years, and he was benched for most of the year. He's been somewhat of a revelation recently, but still has issues. Most of the other guys in the starting XI are solid players, but Eckersley is the guy to look out for. If he isn't mentioned a lot, then he'll have had a good game.
Once a Metro asks The Blue Testament...
1) Sporting KC has had a rough time the last few months, only managing 3 MLS wins since the beginning of August. What's been the biggest reason for the slide?
To me, the biggest reason has been all of the injuries and exhaustion finally catching up to Sporting, particularly on defense. Matt Besler and Seth Sinovic have essentially had three weeks off of soccer in the past year, getting called into USMNT camp right after MLS Cup, plus the losses of Chance Myers and Ike Opara for the year takes away a lot of defensive depth. Losing Uri Rosell on a transfer hurts because his defensive abilities to cover the whole in the middle have not been able to be replicated from Jorge Claros or Lawrence Olum. I firmly believe most of the problems are defensive, considering that Dom Dwyer is still scoring goals and the attack is basically on the same track it's been on all season. But a team won't win when they give up multiple goals against a decent defense.
2) Sporting had the best defense in the Eastern Conference (41 goals against) but let the Red Bulls score 5 against them. What do they need to do to improve the defense?
Honestly, get these guys into offseason rest. As mentioned in question one, two of the normally staunch defenders have had about three weeks off of soccer in the past year. This is essentially the same personnel as the past few years and 2015 will bring back Chance Myers to complete the fearsome foursome that has been so good since 2011. Specifically for this game, Jorge Claros needs to step up and cover the hole in the middle and stop attacks before they get to the back line. It would also be nice if the wing backs could shut down the flanks and not allow NYRB to attack down the sides.
3) How big of a factor will it be for Sporting to have to go on the road for the play-in game after the Red Bulls win on Sunday?
Strangely enough, it may be beneficial to Sporting to have to go on the road. They're 8-1-8 on the road compared to 6-6-5 at home, so going to Red Bull Arena may help Sporting KC just based on the way the season has gone. I will say that the Red Bulls win in what could be the final home match at Sporting Park in 2014 when Sporting had a chance to completely miss the play-in game was a gut punch but the ability to play the same team four days later could end up helping SKC. We'll see what kind of fire they come out with and if they can sustain that for 90 or possibly 120 minutes.