Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Red Bulls Report Card - World Cup Break Edition

So here we are at the World Cup break, just a little more than a third of the way through the Red Bulls season.  With 12 games behind us, not only have the Red Bulls equaled their points haul for all of last season, but they have surpassed 2009's win total with 18 league games left to play.  Granted, bettering last year's horror show is no great feat.  The Red Bulls are also through the the US Open Cup proper after a mini-marathon of qualifying.  So there is a lot to feel positive about and a lot to look forward to as we all take a few weeks off to enjoy the spectacle in South Africa and before we start to turn our attention to the rest of the league schedule.

With the squad on vacation, either recovering from injuries and getting some much needed rest after a hectic May/June run of games, I thought it would be a good time to issue preliminary grades for the first part of the season.  So, with no further ado, here we go (grades from me only - I'm sure viper and Homebrew Tim have their own thoughts):

Bouna Condoul 
Bouna came up huge for the Red Bulls early, pulling off some stellar saves against Chicago, Philadelphia and Seattle that set a positive tone for the season.  Then of course there was that moment against Chivas - what could end up being the own goal of the year (Tim Ream may factor in the discussion as well).  The less said about Bouna's atrocious kicking the better.  Despite what I assume has been hard work in practice, his inability to execute this basic goalkeeper skill is putting the team under unnecessary pressure.  Hopefully Bouna is working with a kicking expert or psychiatrist over the break to sort things out.  If not, his job could be on the line.

Greg Sutton 
Sutton has been mostly steady between the pipes when called upon in friendlies and US Open Cup action.  He has yet to see minutes in a league game but that could change if Bouna continues his bad kicking clinic and throws a few more in his own net.  No complaints from me for a backup.

Andrew Boyens
The Kiwi, the current Red Bulls' sole representative at the World Cup, played well in his one US Open Cup appearance.  Otherwise, he has been a non-factor.

Carlos Mendes
The grade may seem harsh, since Mendes did an excellent job of leading the Red Bulls to victory over Juventus when he took the captain's armband and has been steady in his other appearances, but the two yellow cards in New England have to count against him.  Just when the Red Bulls looked poised to break their string of awful results at Gillette, Mendes killed our chances with a mistimed tackle.  One point - and possibly three - down the drain.

Luke Sassano
The signature moment of Sassano's season thus far is the boneheaded straight red card he received in his "homecoming" game in San Jose.  To make that challenge, on your own side of the halfway line, with that much time left to play is unforgivable.  Luckily for Sassano he has since emerged from Hans Backe's doghouse and made a few appearances, none especially memorable.

Mike Petke
When the Red Bulls were riding their 5-1 start early in the season, Petke seemed to be a player reborn.  He was developing a good understanding with Tim Ream and showing veteran leadership.  Unfortunately, Petke's form took a turn for the worse (some might blame tired legs) and the four game winless streak saw him gift the opposition nearly a goal a game.  Backe rested Petke against Chivas USA for the final game before the break - probably a wise decision.  A great guy and a great leader, but I am not convinced that he still has it in him to start week in week out.

Tim Ream
As with Petke, Ream's grade suffers from a few poor performances during May and early June.  His rocket header own golazo may rank as his biggest gaffe, but he also committed a few howlers in the home loss to Columbus and looked bad in San Jose.  The kid has some great skills, is a smooth passer and is über-cool on the ball.  I am convinced that he will eventually be one of the league's elite defenders and USMNT material, but let's hold off on the hyperbole for now, OK?

Danleigh Borman
The little South African always puts in a good day's work and can on occasion provide a killer cross, as he did in New England when he set up Angel's equalizer.  Versatile, tenacious and cheap, he's a guy I'm really happy we have in our squad.  One of RBNY's more underrated players.

Jeremy Hall
I'm beginning to wonder if Juan Carlos Osorio's tinkering with Hall's position out of college may have done permanent damage.  Even last year at Giants Stadium, you could see attackers exploiting Hall's slow reactions and lack of understanding with Dane Richards.  Backe has tried Hall at the back, where he has again been exploited, and slotted him in at right midfield, where he has been marginally better.  At the moment, Hall is a man without a position.  My advice to the Red Bulls - either find a place to play this guy where he can be an asset to the team or trade him before his value diminishes further.  What RBNY decide to do with Dane Richards could be a factor as well.

Roy Miller
After a strong start to the season, Miller has been burned a few times.  On the other hand, he has demonstrated the versatility to play in midfield, giving Backe another option there when injuries started to take their toll.  In one such appearance, in Foxboro, he got sent off for what I considered a fairly innocuous incident.  Good pace and a hard worker.

Chris Albright
Albright's recovery from his injuries seemed to take forever and a day, but since he has been in the team the seem to be a lot steadier at right back.  I hope Albright manages to impart some of his positional wisdom to Jeremy Hall - God knows he could use it.  viper mentioned that CA might end up being one of the steals of the off-season and he could have a point, if the veteran can stay healthy.

Kevin Goldthwaite
After another meeting with the scalpel, you have to wonder if Goldie will ever make it back.  Probably not this season.

Seth Stammler
If there was one player whose position with the team I thought was under threat when the season began it was Seth Stammler.  Jack of all trades, master of none as the saying goes.  I know Stammler has his champions and you can never question his work ethic, but his passing can be sloppy and his shooting is erratic at best.  Yes, he scored a lovely left foot rocket against Chivas and got a flukey goal in New England, but that's not really where Stammler's value lies.  With Carl Robinson fighting persistent knee issues, Stammler has done a creditable job, but depending on Robbo's recovery, Tchani's development and how Backe intends to integrate the new player(s), Stammler could again find himself on the outside of the first team looking in.

Carl Robinson
I was tempted to give Robbo an incomplete grade, since I don't think he has been truly healthy at any point this season.  When he has been in the team he has been tenacious and has battled hard, though he is naturally short on pace.  I'd like to see what he can do unhampered by injuries.

Tony Tchani
There were some negative rumblings earlier in the season and questions being asked about Tony Tchani's work ethic, but all of that seems to have died down now.  With a couple of stellar performances in the US Open Cup, several sub appearances and one MLS start under his belt I think it's safe to say that talent-wise Tchani was well worth the second overall pick in the MLS Superdraft.  The young midfielder is extremely hard to knock off the ball, is a tenacious tackler and tireless worker, and has the ability to create chances as well.  Backe said he envisioned Tchani as a box to box midfielder and you can see him developing nicely.  Very excited about this kid.

Austin Da Luz
Da Luz enjoyed a few minutes as a substitute in one of the Open Cup matches, but has not appeared since, as he continues to fight injuries.  Of this year's rookie class, he's the only one who has yet to show us anything.

Sinisa Ubiparipovic
I never thought I'd be giving Ubi an "A" rating, but there you go - he deserves it.  I'd argue that no player from the 2009 squad has raised his game more dramatically than Ubiparipovic (pictured above).  In fact, if there were an MLS Most Improved award, Ubi would be my nominee.  Sure, he is still prone to the occasional sloppy giveaway, but his fitness has improved, he works his socks off, and he seems to have much better positional sense and decision making.  Whether he has been on the right, the left, or in the center of the park, Ubi has played well when called upon, even in a substitute role when he won the decisive penalty against Dallas after a lackluster team performance.  Based on performance vs. expectation alone, I have to give this guy an "A".

Brian Nielsen
Another player I'm tempted to grade incomplete.  After featuring in a few league games and looking dangerous on the wing, the young Dane has disappeared into the trainer's room.  Is it a knee problem, the irregular pulse, or some other problem?  Who knows?  I am intrigued to see more of Nielsen, as I liked his pace and ability to run at defenders and cause them problems.

Irving Garcia
Little #99 has yet to play a minute of an MLS match, but is already emerging as a fan favorite.  After a stellar showing in the Juventus game and a few strong performances in the US Open Cup, I was hoping to see Garcia make his league debut against Chivas.  Alas, he was a late scratch.  Any time you can get value out of a late round MLS pick it's a huge bonus.  The grade is as much for value as it is for performance.

Joel Lindpere
When the Estonian was signed by Erik Solér there was a lot of skepticism, but he has proven to be an invaluable addition to the midfield.  Whether playing out left or centrally, Lindpere is a dogged tackler and has some creativity in his boots.  He's also not afraid to take a crack at goal, as we saw against Santos.  Backe has talked about moving Lindpere to the left or back of a midfield diamond once the new DP signing(s) arrive(s).  For a guy nobody on this side of the pond had ever heard of, Lindpere has been a crucial addition. And he's made the Red Bulls popular in Estonia, let's not forget that!

Dane Richards
OK here's where we bring the hammer down.  Coming out of pre-season training camp, there was talk of a new and better Dane Richards.  The rocket of a goal against Santos in the Red Bull Arena got our hopes up.  But they have since been dashed, as the poor decision making, turnovers and generally brainless play have come back to bite us in the ass.  Richards has also been pressed into service again as an emergency striker, but could not hit the broad side of a barn against Columbus.  Such a maddening player.  Please work a trade involving this guy, Solér.  The experiment is over.

Salou Ibrahim
Two goals in seven appearances and a lot of time on the trainer's table.  Salou is a big target and a handful for defenders, as we saw against Philadelphia, but he seems to be constantly beset buy injuries.  With a DP signing imminent, Salou's chance to show his stuff may have passed him by.  I'm also not crazy about Salou paired with Angel, as neither offers any pace to trouble defenders.  More often than not Salou looks like he's carrying a piano on his back.  Maybe it's the injuries.  Maybe he's just not that good.

Conor Chinn
Here's a guy I never expected to even make the opening day roster.  Credit to the kid for making the most of his chances and laughing off the Star Kick nonsense.  Of course if he had put away even half of the chances he got in US Open Cup and friendly games, Chinn might now be creeping up on double digits in goals.  Not the most elegant player, but I'd probably prefer him as a substitute over Salou.  Goals (and goal scoring chances) seem to follow him around.

Juan Agudelo
Again, incomplete was an option here. Used in US Open Cup play only before jetting off with the USMNT U20s, Agudelo is one for the future.  Hopefully he gets more of a run out after the break.

Giorgi Chirgadze
Out with an injury, his only appearance has been at Meet the Team Day.  Could end up being the answer to a trivia question and nothing more.

Macoumba Kandji
After a slow start that had people wondering if we were about to see a repeat of 2009 - lots of chances, few goals - Kandji secured a vital three points in Seattle with a clever finish from a corner kick.  Then he got injured.  Along with Salou, one of the Red Bulls two Men of Glass.  You have to wonder how many more chances he'll get when he comes off the IR - or if his days in New York might be numbered.

John Wolyniec
I keep wondering when we'll hear about Woly's retirement, then he scores a goal or two in a game or provides a key assist.  With all of the injuries up front lately, I suspect that Backe has been forced to play the Staten Island legend more than he'd probably like (and Woly did look exhausted against Chivas), but the grey haired assassin has continued to deliver the goods.  I was thinking that Woly's playing days might be over when we emerged from pre-season, but he's proven me wrong again.  I think the guy is part cockroach - and that's meant as a compliment.

Juan Pablo Angel
He knows he can play better.  We know he can play better.  OK, so you look at the stat sheet through 12 games and six goals seems respectable, but it very easily could have been closer to ten with a bit more sharpness.  Angel has lost whatever speed he once had and can sometimes be found drifting back to midfield to collect the ball, a habit that is helping no one, though is is not necessarily his fault.  Backe needs to find a way to get Angel is the position where he is most dangerous - in and around the box, not out wide or battling for high balls 40 yards from goal.  If (when) Henry arrives defenders are going to have a fit trying to deal with both Angel and TH14 and I suspect we may see the goals start to flow again more consistently.  One big positive so far this season - JPA seems to be healthy and happy playing on grass instead of turf (knock on wood).

Hans Backe
What can you say?  The Swede has steadied the ship in short order and has RBNY fighting at the top of the Eastern Conference table.  Backe seems unflappable under pressure, is great with the media and rarely makes tactical errors.  Unlike Osorio, he only puts players in unusual positions when it is absolutely necessary and has been able to get better performances out of 2009 holdovers than I thought possible by keeping things simple.  That's not to say that he's incapable of shaking things up.  I'd like to see Backe be a little more aggressive in integrating rookies into league games, but it's a minor quibble and how much can I really complain about a 7-5 record at the break after last season's debacle?  Well done Hans.  You're putting the "foreign manager can't make it in MLS" myth to bed for good.

What do you make of my grades?  Am I going too easy on Bouna?  Does Angel deserve a lower grade?  Does Richards deserve his "D"? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
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