MLS tonight: No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the East, a.k.a. a “dandy”

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Stop us if you’ve heard this before: the Red Bulls will be less than full strength for tonight’s major Eastern Conference clash in Houston. New York sits first in the standings; Houston is tied for second.

Alas, the Red Bulls will be a few bulls short of a full stockade down in Texas – not that such a state is anything new for Hans Backe’s team.

Tonight Dax McCarty is out due to yellow card accumulation. In this case, the team did catch a break in the recent return of Teemu Tainio, who had the position originally in 2012, although McCarty has been exceptional over the last couple of months.

Right back Brandon Barklage is out with a hamstring strain and defender Heath Pearce continues to be listed as questionable while his hamstring remains on the mend.

In all honesty, this is healthier than New York has been most of the season, which makes the 11-6-5 mark that much more remarkable.

Tonight’s match on NBC Sports Network also marks Tim Cahill’s introduction to league play. (What says “Welcome!” like a two-plus hour flight that descends into temperatures in the 90s and humidity around 50 percent?) Cahill played centrally in Tuesday’s friendly against Tottenham, on top of holding man Tainio.

Cahill (pictured) looks like a perfect fit for the Red Bulls, a hard worker who can better connect (and then support) balls out of the back with Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper.

(MORE: Where Ricardo Clark may play once he’s in place for the Orange)

Houston isn’t at full strength either; striker Will Bruin is doubtful with a calf contusion, which probably means a start for Brian Ching – and that’s not a terrible option at all.

Seeing as several New York starters opposed Tottenham on Tuesday, considering the travel and the heat, I’d expect a pretty conservative approach from Backe’s team. One goal may be enough for either side in this one.