Sunday, April 25, 2010

New York Red Bulls 2 Philadelphia Union 1 - A Look Back

In the first meeting of what should be many more heated contests, the Red Bulls prevailed against Philadelphia Union yesterday thanks to a second half penalty by Juan Pablo Angel.  Despite having yet to produce a performance to match their pre-season thumping of Toronto FC or their 3-1 friendly win against Santos FC in the Red Bull Arena curtain raiser, RBNY now sits atop the Eastern Conference on 12 points. For a team that logged a paltry 21 points and just five wins from the entirety of last season, four victories and a dozen points before May represents massive progress.

The Red Bulls were roundly criticized for their poor performance last week, not least by Hans Backe, but they seemed fresher and better organized against a Philadelphia team intent on making a statement early in this rivalry.  Even so, the first half failed to produce many clear-cut chances - the best being a Juan Pablo Angel shot from inside the box that was well saved by Chris Seitz.

It was Seitz who may have been most at fault for the Red Bulls opening goal in the second half.  Salou Ibrahim, who looked livelier in this contest than he had against Dallas, laid a pass off to Jeremy Hall and drove to the goal.  When Hall returned a beautiful cross, Seitz was left in no man's land and the giant striker powered a header into the back of the net.  Philly answered quickly, with Red Bulls nemesis (remember MLS Cup 2008?) Alejandro Moreno losing Roy Miller and slipping a ball across the six yard box that Sebastian Le Toux slid past a helpless Bouna Condoul

As has been the case in the early part of the season, however, the Red Bulls got a huge slice of luck to grab all three points, when Michael Orozco handled the ball in the penalty area.  Referee Kevin Stott had no doubt about the incident and pointed to the penalty spot.  Angel ripped an unstoppable penalty low to the left corner, and though Seitz guessed correctly, he could do nothing about it.  Riding their luck, the Red Bulls managed a couple of nervy moments in the last 20 minutes, and very easily could have conceded the equalizer when Philly substitute Jack McInerny put the ball wide on an open header.

After the misery that was last season, it seems a little ridiculous to complain about where things stand for the Red Bulls right now.  Only the Galaxy, who easily look like the best team in the league, have collected more points than RBNY.  Hans Backe and Erik Solér have methodically gone about addressing the team's biggest problem areas, and the additions of players such as Miller and the midfield bulldog Joel Lindpere seem very astute.  The jury is still out on Salou and new addition Brian Nielsen, but the Dane seemed fast, sharp and composed in his 60+ minute appearance on Saturday, despite having trained with the squad just once.

More than anything, it was just great to get this rivalry off on the right foot.  After years of enduring the taunts of DC United fans about "RFK North," the last thing the Red Bulls wanted was to let Philly walk into RBA and bring something home.  In the end, the 1,000 or so Union fans went home with nothing to show for their first visit to the Cathedral of Football.  At least some of them should be back on Tuesday as the same teams do battle in the US Open Cup.

Now a brief word about attendance, a topic I am frankly exhausted talking about.  15,000 attendance on a beautiful spring day with a future rival visiting for the first time is a disappointment for those of us who follow the club passionately and try to make it to every game we can.  On the other hand, I think some people forget about the depths to which the Red Bulls had sunk last season, when you could throw a rock in Giants Stadium and not hit another fan.  Yes it's a new era, but building 20,000+ crowds week in week out will take time.  The project is underway and we now seem to have competent people in charge, so give it time, people.  For bandwagoners who need to see star power before they'll come out and support the local team, the wait shouldn't be long.  The rest of us were there before and will be there after any single player you might want to name. 

Finally, a few other notes from Saturday:
  • Once again, we'd like to thank our friends at Chamber Images for the image from Saturday's match.  A gallery of additional shots from Saturday can be found at their excellent blog.
  • Kudos to the club for a well-organized Meet the Team Day event following Saturday's victory.  My son was ecstatic about getting the signatures of nearly a dozen RBNY players on his new shirt. The players couldn't have been friendlier, even an exhausted looking Brian Nielsen, who must be wondering if he's expected to spend an hour and a half signing autographs after each game.
  • If you are ever walking back to Newark after a match and are tempted to pop into the Burger King, don't!!  "Service generally fast???" I don't think so.  As Homebrew said, if this were the first ever Burger King, they would never have become a chain.  We probably should have grabbed some of the local BBQ instead.  Lesson learned.
So now on to Tuesday!  Viper should have some video clips from Saturday either later today or Monday.
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