Jay Heaps

Heaps: "We don’t want it to be an open game" vs. NY

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The experts are predicting plenty of goals when the New England Revolution visits the New York Red Bulls on Saturday afternoon at Red Bull Arena.

The freewheeling Red Bulls lead the league in goals scored (17) by a wide margin, but they’ve been more than vulnerable at the other end of the field, conceding the second-most goals (14) behind only the expansion Montreal Impact. At least four total goals have been scored in each of New York’s last five matches.

“I’m expecting them to come out with a game plan where they want to attack us and put us on our heels,” said right back Kevin Alston. “We have to match it. We have to put them on their heels and we have to come out and play like we can.”

New York is led by the fearsome strike partnership of Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper, which has combined for 15 goals through just seven games. Henry is tied with San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski for the league lead in goals (8), while Cooper (7) isn’t far off the pace. In a three-game stretch from March 25 to April 7, New York became the first club in MLS history to win three straight games by three or more goals.

But the Red Bulls have been decimated by injuries to key figures on the backline. Defenders Roy Miller (L knee effusion), Wilman Conde (L groin strain) and Stephen Keel (back strain) have all been ruled out for this weekend’s game. One potential replacement for Conde in central defense, Rafa Marquez, is in the midst of a three-game suspension, while right back Jan Gunnar Solli is a question mark after suffering a calf injury.

The glut of absences leaves New York with an inexperienced defensive unit which was exposed in a 4-1 loss to D.C. United last weekend. New England’s talented attacking core of Benny Feilhaber, Shalrie Joseph, Jose Moreno, Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe and Saer Sène will be hoping for similar success in another critical Eastern Conference showdown.

“Their two target guys are super dangerous, so we really have to be aware of where they are at all times,” said center back Stephen McCarthy. “But on the other side of it I think we can definitely exploit the back because we have really good attackers, as well. It’s probably going to be an exciting game.”

New York’s potent attack and simultaneously leaky rearguard have many pundits agreeing with McCarthy’s assessment, but Saturday afternoon won’t turn into a shootout if Revs head coach Jay Heaps has his way. Heaps wants to give his side the attacking freedom to unlock the Red Bulls, but insists that defensive responsibilities remain a priority on the road against a conference rival.

“We want to be stronger defensively,” he said. “When we play an open game, we want it to be an attacking, open game, but we don’t want to expose ourselves. When we play well, we push the game, but at the same time we know that if we lose possession, we’re not exposing ourselves to open up that game.

“We don’t want it to be an open game,” Heaps continued. "We want it to be open when we want it to be open and pretty tight when we need it to be. Those are the challenges when good teams start playing well. They know how to open it up and close it as quickly as they do open it."