Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cross-Atlantic Correspondence: Backe Baffles, Crew Concerns

Ex-Spur Teemu Tainio impressed in his league debut for New York
Welcome, Viper's Nest readers, to a new regular feature of mine. Each week I'll be offering my very English perspective on everything related to New York Red Bulls. It seems MLS fans in America appreciate and respect the views of British football supporters, so hopefully I can offer a different outlook on the Big Apple's number one soccer team.

Where to start? I guess with First Kick, in which we hosted Seattle Sounders at Red Bull Arena. Sigi Schmid's side are my darkhorses for the MLS Cup this season, and so I was prepared to be satisfied with an entertaining and hard-fought draw. What I didn't expect was a wounded Sounders, fresh off an opening-day defeat to LA Galaxy, to limp into Harrison and roll over.

New York dominated the game, and apart from a few decent Seattle chances, we throughly deserved victory. Juan Agudelo's goal was wonderfully taken, and showed that he has the natural instinct to find the back of the net from just about anywhere. A less confident and talented player wouldn't have attempted the shot so early, but thank the footballing gods he did; I was beginning to wonder where a goal was coming from. 

Thierry Henry's penalty miss was unfortunate. I really felt it was a chance for the Frenchman to put last year's sluggish start to his MLS career behind him and kick on in 2011. It was more of a case of a brilliant Kasey Keller stop than a poor Henry strike, but it hasn't helped curb the growing frustration about the former Arsenal player's contribution. His latest injury, ruling him out of this weekend's visit to Columbus, won't do him any favours either.

I was pleased with the three points, and delighted with how comfortable we were on the ball. Rafael Marquez and Tim Ream looked confident and assured at the back, defending well and calmly playing the ball out of defence. Teemu Tainio was signed as a right-back and I hoped he'd play there, but his influence on the midfield was clear to see - that ball over the top to Agudelo was perfect. It's a shame to see Tony Tchani drop to the bench having done very little wrong in his debut season, but hopefully he can work his way back into the starting line-up soon.

I've supported Mehdi Ballouchy, liking the glimpses of genius I saw from him last year. I'll always appreciate how he single-handedly kept a poor Red Bulls display ticking over to earn a draw against ten-man FC Dallas on his debut. I stood up for him against his doubters, including our very own Matt Conroy. But boy, was he terrible against Seattle. Wasteful, lost and broke down many attacks, which is the opposite reason why he was in the team. It seems he'll be rewarded for his poor performance by being pushed up top against Crew, and I'm desperately hoping he'll thrive in a striking role.

That leads me nicely onto the next fixture. Columbus Crew, away. Hard enough, being that they were our nearest rivals in the Eastern Conference last year. But without our excellent centre-back duo of Ream and Rafa, as well as the deadly Dane Richards and goal hero Agudelo (and, of course, the hamstrung Henry), it's hard to have any positivity about this fixture.

It wouldn't be so bad if Hans Backe wasn't so backwards with his decision-making. Needing to fill two centre-back vacancies, he has understandably turned to Carlos Mendes, and less understandably... Roy Miller. Yes, the full-back who has been criticised week after week for his poor defending. We've got two young defenders in camp, more natural fits in the centre - Tyler Lassiter and Teddy Schneider. Sure they're rookies, but so was Ream. What happened to Lassiter being better at this stage than Ream was? I just can't get my head around it.

Then there's the striking dilemma. No Henry, no Agudelo, Salou and Angel gone, Rodgers doubtful. That leaves first-pick Corey Hertzog to fill in. Right? Wrong. Hans has strangely declared he's not an option. Really? Because to me he's the only option. Inexperienced or not, it makes more sense than playing a poorly-performing midfielder Ballouchy up top.

Here's hoping Greg Sutton puts in another excellent shift in goal. There were doubts about Backe's head-scratching decision to drop the improving Bouna Coundoul, but Sutton was on top form against Seattle. He'll need to be this weekend, because if we're going to emerge with anything more than a several-goal defeat, it's going to be down to the Canadian between the sticks.

In the future I'll be covering a range of topics other than fixtures, such as what it's like to be a New York Red Bulls fan in England and the joys and difficulties of supporting an MLS team from thousands of miles away. But in the mean time, please feel free to respond to this column in the comments section below, or on Twitter at @UK_MLS.

(Glenn Williams also runs, spreading the word of MLS to his fellow countrymen as well as offering a British perspective of the league to American and Canadian fans).

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