Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mid-week Musings, and a Fans' Call to Arms

This has been one wild week for fans of the New York Red Bulls.

It started with the uninspired 2-0 loss to Chivas USA. While our defense still performed well, Roy Miller and Tim Ream in particular, our lack of a healthy, true right back has now been exploited in two consecutive matches. Jeremy Hall (pictured) is admirably giving his all while being asked to play out of his true position as a winger. While I am a fan of seeing the overlapping runs of our outside backs, it just isn't working on the right side, for two reasons that I can see: One is that, because Hall is not naturally a defender, he gives too much when he starts his overlapping runs--he can't get back in time. But, a bigger part of the problem is Dane Richards. He doesn't ever see Hall when he overlaps, or, by the time he does, he's dribbled himself into two defenders and gives away possession. When Dane loses the ball, after Hall has run past him, we have a big hole that Petke and Stammler are left trying to fill while Hall runs back.

I think Jeremy Hall is actually playing OK at right back, and that he is often left vulnerable because of the poor vision and passing of Dane Richards. It's not all on Richards. Seattle's Steve Zakuani easily blew past Hall several times, telling me that Hall is going forward too far and too often. In Hall's defense, if he can't keep up with Zakuani, does anyone believe that Chris Albright would have? I don't. But I think he would have better positional sense. Again, though, I think any right back employing the overlapping counter-attacking style that Coach Hans Backe seems to prefer is going to be left hung out to dry so long as Dane Richards flounders around doing whatever it is that he's doing.

Bouna. Yeah, the own goal was ugly, but what really bothered me were those couple of seconds where he had relaxed and just sat there on the ground. He needed to react more quickly, then he might not have been floundering around reaching back for that ball. The own goal looks to have been the difference between a 0-0 draw and the 2-0 loss. We wouldn't have been in a 3-4-3 in the last minutes of the game, and would probably not have given up the second goal, if we weren't down 1-0 already.

Saturday's match also pointed a spotlight at the Red Bulls' struggle to create offensive chances. The first two 1-0 victories, especially the one in Seattle, let this subject sort of get a free pass. We did what we had to do to win, and we utilized what is emerging as our strength and our priority--namely, our defense--to hold our leads when we got them. Saturday, we saw an offensive style that was too reminiscent of last year's team for any fan's comfort. We struggled to provide service, our passing was poor, everyone looked exhausted--even Joel Lindpere, whose workrate has been tremendous, seemed to have lost a step. Coach Backe made it back to training three days after having gall bladder surgery, but it was the players who looked like they'd just had minor organs removed.

Now, I simply refuse to give in to the fear and sense of futility that have become familiar emotions to all Red Bull fans, though, I admit, the caution flags are up. I did see a few bright spots that I want to point out. For one, I liked the substitution pattern a lot more this week. I haven't had big problems with the lack of subs in the first two weeks. I understand that, when a team is playing and defending well, and holding onto a slim lead, that they might want to sub sparingly. So, Saturday, when we fell behind, I was glad to see more offensive players come on with enough time to try to make a difference. I liked Backe's willingness to shift to a 3-4-3, or did we send Kandji up top too for a 3-3-4?. Maybe I would have subbed out Hall instead of Miller when Connor Chinn came in, but I liked seeing the willingness, on the road, to push for a result.

Moving on from Saturday to the news of the week: one thing that must be said is that management and coaching see that our attacking game is weak, and rather than sitting on their hands and hoping to get by with more 1-0 victories and set-piece goals, they have been working frantically in the last few days to get some more offense on the team before the international transfer window closes tomorrow.

Details on English striker, Luke Rodgers, and Danish winger, Brian Nielsen, are still in flux. After reports that Rodgers' visa was denied because of some previous trouble with the law, we hear this morning that his visa has been neither denied, nor approved. We wait...

The Brian Nielsen signing looks to be a done deal. Exact details of the signing are still being ground through the rumor mill. It sounds as though he's actually being transferred to our sister club, Red Bull Salzburg, and then loaned to New York. This is made fuzzier still because the Austrian transfer window is not yet open, so for now, he would be loaned to us by his current team; Danish side, Vejle.

If these details prove to be true, and it all happens, this is a great step forward for the Red Bull Sporting Division. For RB Salzburg to be able to pay the transfer fee, then loan a young, up-and-coming player to RB New York, is a win-win for both teams. They get to develop a player for Salzburg; we get the advantage of having that player without paying a transfer fee. This kind of move is one that will hopefully bear fruit, and give the Red Bulls a resource that other teams in MLS don't have.

Also to note, if only one of these deals happens, then we don't have to cut anyone from the roster... yet. With Kevin Goldthwaite and Chris Albright on IR, we have one empty slot. If both the Nielsen and Rodgers deals get worked out, then one player will have to be cut as soon as the second deal is finalized. Then, as players come off the Injured list, more decisions will have to be made.

Alright, I've looked back at last week, and at the breaking news of today... let's set our sights on the near future. Man, I am looking forward to heading back to the Cathedral of Football, Red Bull Arena (built by Makita)--it's rrright there! (In Harrison, that is.) I was just getting to love my new Saturday routine and they had to go and play two away matches. Well, now they are back for three home games, including back-to-back tilts against the Philadelphia Union--first on April 24 in a league match, then three days later in U.S. Open Cup qualifying.

Something for fans, and the players, to wrap their heads around prior to Saturday's match: It's going to be our first game in our home that does not approach a sell-out. It's simply not going to. FC Dallas is not a fierce rivalry, like DC. I expect that not many partial season-ticket plan holders have chosen the Dallas game as part of their package. An additional factor is the forecast for a cool, drizzly evening. On the bright side, concession stands should be more manageable, as should parking and the post-game congestion at the Harrison PATH station. For the entire evening, though, prepare yourselves mentally for a slightly different atmosphere.

Remember that a magic wand didn't get waved over this franchise the day that our Cathedral opened. While it will go a long way toward helping to create the game-day experience necessary to build a fan base, the biggest factor will still be success on the pitch giving the fans something to cheer for. We fans have a responsibility to help create a great game-day experience for each other, too. It is the duty of every Red Bull fan to be louder, prouder, and more raucous than ever. Don't let fewer people make Red Bull Arena a less inspiring place for our beloved Red Bulls, nor a less intimidating place for our opponents.

This has been a crazy week for Red Bull fans--our first loss saw optimism confronted for the first time this season with the weaknesses of this team, and the fears of the all-too-familiar have started peering out of the cracks. As media, blog, and message board focus begins to turn away from last week, and towards this Saturday, it's time to regroup, focus, and get ready for game day. Make sure your jersey is clean and ready to be worn. Start thinking about the fun of pre-game beers and food with your fellow fans in the Ironbound. And remember that last week's match was the exception to this year's performances. Expect Coach Backe to get our great mix of veterans and youngsters back on track. Start getting fired up, boys and girls! Game day is coming, and the Red Bulls are home where they belong!
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