ROME (AP) – Last year's playoff series between the New York Red Bulls and Los Angeles Galaxy was a star-studded affair.
While Los Angeles' high-profile names will be in the lineup for the teams' first meeting since then, New York will be missing two of its top players.
The Red Bulls will play for the first time without Thierry Henry on Saturday night when they visit a Galaxy team that should be boosted by the returns of fellow international superstars David Beckham and Robbie Keane.
Los Angeles (3-4-1) eliminated New York 3-1 on aggregate in last year's playoffs en route to winning the MLS Cup. Henry assisted on the Red Bulls' goal while Beckham assisted on two goals by Mike Magee in a series that also featured Keane, New York's Rafa Marquez and Galaxy captain Landon Donovan.
Henry is second in the league with nine goals and tied for third with five assists, but he'll miss up to four weeks with a strained right hamstring suffered in a 1-0 home win over New England last Saturday.
"The way he has started as a goal scorer and assists, it's a huge loss for us, both on and off the pitch," coach Hans Backe told the Red Bulls' official website.
Marquez is also out for New York (4-3-1), as he'll serve the final game of a three-game ban for breaking the collarbone of San Jose midfielder Shea Salinas on April 14.
Beckham and Keane will be back after they did not travel for a 2-0 loss at Seattle on Wednesday. Coach Bruce Arena didn't want to risk injury to his aging stars on the artificial turf at CenturyLink Field.
"It's a difficult week with travel and playing on this surface. We wanted to keep some players fresh for Saturday,'' Arena said. "That's a decision I made. Whether it makes sense or not remains to be seen when we play on Saturday."
Los Angeles scored six times during a 2-0-1 stretch before being shut out for the second time Wednesday.
"We can't keep saying it's early," Donovan said. "We've gotten better, there's no question, but we have to keep improving. While we're improving, we have to start getting points."
Magee could be back in the lineup as he entered as a substitute Wednesday after starting the previous four games.
Goalkeeper Josh Saunders has missed the last two matches due to personal matters. Bill Gaudette, familiar to New York fans from his college days at St. John's, has filled in.
Henry is not the only player missing for New York. Midfielder Teemu Tainio, defenders Wilman Conde, Roy Miller and Stephen Keel and forward Jose Angulo won't make the trip due to injuries.
Jan Gunnar Solli is set to return to the Red Bulls' injury-plagued back line. The Norwegian defender practiced Thursday after missing the New England game with a calf injury.
"I feel 100 percent," Solli said. "It is up to the coach how much he wants to use me. If I step out there, there are no brakes. It's 100 percent, so I'm really looking forward to that."