Thursday, February 24, 2011

Red Bulls Begin Florida Leg of Preseason

After returning from Mexico for a few days of rest and recuperation in New Jersey, the Red Bulls left for Florida this week to begin the second leg of their preseason training. After one session in Ft. Lauderdale, the first order of business was back to back friendlies against the Chicago Fire - the first involving reserve squads and the second featuring first XIs.  Both games were streamed live on the club website, but apart from the first half hour of the second game, neither made for comfortable viewing. 

The "baby bulls" (augmented with a few fringe players, such as Salou Ibrahim and Carlos Mendes) got absolutely walloped in the early game, dropping a 4-2 decision to Chicago that should have been even more lopsided, if not for a penalty save by second half sub goalkeeper Alex Horwath. Chicago trialist Orr Barrouch ran the show, netting all four Fire goals, the first after being chopped down in the penalty box by Matt Kassel, who had a forgettable game. In fact, it's hard to think of a RBNY player who did himself any favors here, with the possible exceptions of John Rooney, who scored from a magnificent, curling free kick, and Corey Hertzog, who coolly converted a second half penalty.  Stephen Keel looked like a fish out of water on the right, while Salou Ibrahim was again slow and disinterested.

Hans Backe blamed the performance on fatigue, and that certainly showed, as the Red Bulls failed to move the ball with any authority and were easily beaten in 50/50 challenges. It's far too early to draw major conclusions about any of these players and their ability to contribute during the regular season, but what is clear is that Hans Backe has some work to do before we can call this the deepest RBNY squad ever.

The second match began much more brightly, with the Red Bulls first team zipping the ball around the pitch decisively and looking confident in their play.  Joel Lindpere (pictured above, apparently preparing to Hulk smash a Chicago player) opened the scoring with a well placed laser into the lower corner that was just out of the reach of Chicago keeper Sean Johnson, and for the first half hour the Red Bulls were totally dominant.  The last hour of the match was another story. Slowly, errors began to creep into the Red Bulls game and Chicago found their feet. Finally, the insertion of Marco Pappa into the Fire lineup and some slack defending resulted in a goal and it was 1-1. Only a penalty save from Bouna Condoul prevented the Red Bulls from collapsing, as they did in Guadalajara.

In the end, there was a lot to like in the first 30 minutes of the afternoon game. If RBNY can manage to keep possession and move the ball as they did in that half hour, it could be an excellent season. If they play as they did in the final 60 minutes, however, fans could be in for a lot of frustration.

Finally, a quick word about Thierry Henry. He looked fresh and lively against Chicago, but still has a tendency to drop far too deep to collect the ball, as Juan Pablo Angel did during his last few years in New York.  Having TH14 exchange passes with Danleigh Borman near the half-way line isn't really what fans would like to see from him.  One of the problems is that Mehdi Ballouchy, whose responsibility it is to provide the crucial link between the defenders and strikers, does not seem to want the ball as much as a true #10 should.  He was totally anonymous against Chicago. Backe needs to find that player in the middle of the pitch who wants to run the show, and quick. It might require an additional purchase or DP signing.
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