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Crossing the Touchline: New York Red Bulls at Columbus Crew SC

It’s the first meeting of the year between the two clubs so we need some help figuring things out.

Last week, Columbus Crew SC returned from the Major League Soccer international break with a boring 0-0 draw with the Montreal Impact at home. The Black & Gold played with a depleted lineup, as center back Gaston Sauro and midfielder Federico Higuain were both out and Ola Kamara was not fit enough to start.

Things are slightly better this week. Kamara is no longer on the injury report and said last week he will be good to start for this match. That’s about as good as the news gets.

In come the New York Red Bulls, who currently sit in second place in the Eastern Conference despite a very poor start to the season. As head coach Gregg Berhalter said earlier this week, they’ve dealt with the slow start to the year better than Columbus has and that’s why they’ve climbed up the table.

As has become the norm for the Red Bulls, Bradley Wright-Phillips leads the team, and is tied for third in MLS, with eight goals on the year. Sacha Kljestan sits atop the MLS charts in assists with 10 on the year, four on game-winning goals. Goalkeeper Luis Robles is tied for second in the league with five shutouts on the year.

With this being the first of two meetings between the two clubs on the season, we turned to our friends at Once a Metro to get a better idea of what we might see from New York on Saturday. Steve Toto (likely no connection to fans favorite song, "Africa") answering your questions.

Questions for Once a Metro

Massive Report: A 1-6 start to the season obviously wasn’t what fans expected from last year’s Supporter’s Shield winners. What was going on at the beginning of the season and how have the Red Bulls turned things around to climb back to second in the East?

Once a Metro: The beginning of the season was maddening. The only starters the New York Red Bulls lost from 2015 were Matt Miazga to Chelsea FC and Damien Perrinelle due to ACL surgery. Granted they are both CBs, a team of this caliber was returning nine of their starting XI.

Besides a fairly large gap at CB, I don’t think any fan has an answer to why the team struggled so much to open 2016. There seemed to be ZERO chemistry. The offense didn’t score in five of their first six games. The defense let up 17 goals in the first eight games (2-6-0). Fans were highly confused. Then out of thin air, RBNY made a trade after losing to the Colorado Rapids. They picked up Aurelien Collin from Orlando City.

Collin seems to be the missing link at the moment. He has almost single-handedly turned the season around. Including the U.S. Open Cup, the team only gave up three goals in eight games. And they didn’t conceded AT ALL in five straight. Not to be outdone, the offense finally woke up as well. They scored 22 in nine games. Even though seven [were] scored against New York City FC in one game. Sorry… had to get my jab in there.

RBNY will face the Crew without Collin, as he earned a red card Wednesday against Real Salt Lake. Editor’s Note: As of Friday afternoon, there’s been no word about Red Bulls’ appeal of Collin’s read card but he is not listed as suspended on the MLS Disciplinary page.

MR: 27 goals two years ago. 17 last season. Bradley Wright-Phillips already has eight in 2016. What makes this guy so special and such a lethal finisher? How important is he for RBNY?

OaM: BWP is pretty special. He is deceivingly quick, so if he times it correctly, he can make a back line look silly on through balls from Sacha Kljestan or the other midfielders. He’s like Messi (HOLD THE TOMATOES) in the sense that he doesn’t need to rip the net off the posts in order to score. He’s perfectly fine with the ball dribbling into the net. For him, it just has to get over the line.

He is a huge part of RBNY’s offense. Since he loves to hang right in line with the last defender, it creates that extra bit of space for the midfield to operate and distribute. And he is good in open space beating defenders one-on- one, but also at finding seams in the opposing penalty area to create scoring chances on the doorstep.

MR: After last year’s 2-1 aggregate Eastern Conference Finals loss to Crew SC, how is this game being viewed in New York? First, from the fans but also from the players and the team?

OaM: Of course fans want to win every game. But personally, I like winning the best when we beat the opponent’s best players. The Crew lost Kei Kimara to the New England Revolution and Federico Higuaín is out with an injury. They are also in ninth place only above lowly Chicago. It doesn’t seem to have the same spark as last season, but we did just lose to RSL, so it would be good to get back to the form they’ve experienced the last month.

For the players, I bet they want to show Columbus that winning the series was a fluke. They only face the Crew twice this season. They’d like to get all six points if possible.

To see Massive Report's answers to Once a Metro's questions, head on over to their site and give it a look..