UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — Despite the fact that first place is on the line come Saturday night and that he faces the defending MLS Cup champions Real Salt Lake, New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Greg Sutton isn’t too terribly intimidated by this weekend’s match. With Bouna Coundoul away representing Senegal, Sutton, who has served as the number two goalkeeper all season, will get the nod on Saturday night.
Surprisingly, he admits the early season US Open Cup matches were perhaps more nerve-wracking than the prospect of Saturday night's match with Real Salt Lake, one of the best teams in the league.
“I think those early games when I wasn’t playing as regularly, those were perhaps more difficult,” Sutton told MLSSoccer.com. “But now that I have seen more action recently, there is more of a rhythm if you will to my game. Now, it’s not really an issue.”
Sutton, in fact, has had a solid season, including backstopping a big home win over his former club, Toronto FC. He boasts a 3-1-0 mark in US Open Cup play. His strong play might be lining him up for a starting position with expansion clubs Portland or Vancouver next year; however, he is remaining focused on this season.
“My job is to prepare and push myself and be ready because you’ll never know when you’ll be called upon,” Sutton said. “So when opportunities like Saturday come around, I’ll be able to help the team win.”
Last month, Sutton was on the wrong end of a 1-0 result to Real Salt Lake. The Red Bulls were largely outplayed, and in the match, Sutton was forced into action often. He pulled off a Save of the Year candidate against Robbie Findley, reacting to a point-blank shot midway through the first half. New York were without several regulars in the match, including Rafa Márquez.
“Having a world-class player like Rafa out there can make a big difference,” Sutton said. “His ability to hit players with his passes and calm things down is a great help to the team.”
The pressure is building for the Red Bulls. They moved into first place in the Eastern Conference with their win over Kansas City last week. They now lead the Columbus Crew by one point. The KC win came largely to Coundoul's heroics in goal.
“Bouna had a great game, he went out there and made several big saves for us, winning the game,” Sutton said, adding, “no pressure, no pressure on me at all.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012.