[MLS] Injuries, those confirmed and others perhaps exaggerated, dog the Red Bulls as they prepare to host San Jose in the second leg of their conference semifinal series Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2/Deportes). Thierry Henry has been hobbled by a hamstring strain and will probably miss the match, although the squad has been strengthened by the return to fitness of others. Midfielder Tony Tchani and forward Salou Ibrahim also sat out the first leg -- a 1-0 New York win. in their absences, Joel Lindpere and Rafael Marquez put the squeeze on Quakes’ catalysts Geovanni and Bobby Convey, and 17-year-old Red Bull forward Juan Agudelo looked confident and dangerous in his first professional start.
“It’s great to see him [Agudelo] play so well,” said defender Tim Ream, who as a wizened rookie himself is six years older. “I’ve been there a lot this year, and to see him the huddle and everybody wishing him luck, it was great to see. He’s a special player and went out there and played the full 90, his first full 90, in a playoff game. You don’t get bigger pressure than that and he stepped in and did an incredible job for us.”
The temptation may be to hurry Henry back into the lineup, yet it’s only been five days since he was ruled out of the first leg, and with a 1-0 edge and playing at home, New York can be somewhat confident of advancing past San Jose without him. Agudelo and Ibrahim and Mehdi Ballouchy are all available to take the burden off Juan Pablo Angel, who hasn’t scored a goal from the run of play in more than three months, since a 2-2 tie at Houston in which Angel tallied twice on assists from Henry. Midfielder Dane Richards has scored all five of his goals this season in the past 10 games and is particularly dangerous on his home field.
The Red Bulls must be wary of Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski, Geovanni, Convey and Eduardo, for all the Quakes need to tie up the series is score first. When they do, this season they are 12-0-2. Yet San Jose scored the fewest goals, 34, of any playoff team, though they did net exactly one-half of them on the road. They have also scored the fewest first-half goals, 13, of the playoff octet.
“We have to go for a win,” said Red Bulls coach Hans Backe after the victory Saturday. “In Europe I’ve had some nightmare games and we win away, and if you play solid and just try to hold the ball, you don’t move, and suddenly you have one against and two against and it’s too late. We have to just forget this game and say, ‘OK, we are at home, so we have to go for win. Don’t even think about sitting back and wait for breaks.’
“I think we are strong enough to dictate the game as well.”
A groin strain forced goalscorer Joel Lindpere out of the game in the 82nd minute; he’d aggravated an injury suffered in the season finale against New England, but Backe insisted he’d be fine, joking, “He has to play. Estonian guys, they are a little bit complaining too much. He will be ready for Thursday.”
Quakes coach Frank Yallop has benched burly central midfielder Khari Stephenson, acquired Aug. 11, because of ankle injuries and other problems, so forward Scott Sealy has started in the middle the past two games with Geovanni pushed wide right. Sealy and Tchani could wage a memorable battle if they square off in the middle of the park. Both are quick and strong: Tchani has youth (21) on his side, and started 17 of his 27 games; Sealy is a veteran of five MLS seasons and one year in Israel, during which he played mostly in midfield rather than on the front line.
“In the last little bit [of the regular season], he’s showed some good tenacity in the middle of the field,” Yallop said of Sealy on mlssoccer.com. “I think he’s very strong at holding the ball, doesn’t give it away. And he’s got an eye for the goal. I think that Khari has just dropped down a level, and I’m trying to go with players that are in form.”