Saturday, March 26, 2011

Patchwork Red Bulls Make a Point

A Red Bulls team missing 7 players went in to Columbus and snagged a well-earned point, playing the Columbus Crew to a 0-0 draw. The team was decimated by international call-ups and injuries to key players, but reverted to classic, fundamental road tactics, concentrating on defensive responsibility and positioning to frustrate a Columbus team struggling to find their identity after a turbulent off-season.

Columbus had their moments in each half where they created chaos in front of the Red Bulls goal but 3rd-string goal keeper, Alex Horwath looked composed and played well, earning a clean sheet on his MLS debut. He made some daring plays off his line and made a couple of key saves. His play was not always perfect, but he was well covered by Stephen Keel and captain, Carlos Mendes, who both made key plays when needed. Keel, in particular, took care of business. I would even say his yellow card, earned while holding up Andres Mendoza who would have otherwise been clear on goal, was a wise and calculated decision as it may well have saved a goal.

This game also saw the debut of forward, Luke Rodgers. Still recovering from injuries incurred in a car crash this off-season, Coach Backe said as late as this morning that Rodgers would only be available for 30 to 35 minutes, but he went 84 minutes before being subbed out for rookie, Corey Hertzog. After the match, Rodgers did admit that, "the last 10-15 minutes my legs felt like jelly." Great to see him play through it for the team. (Just watch those hamstrings, Luke!)

Not everything was perfect for the Red Bulls, of course. Tony Tchani was excellent taking away the ball from Columbus, but made poor decisions in the attacking third. And then, of course, there's Medhi Ballouchy. Although the Red Bulls were theoretically playing a 4-4-2, Ballouchy completely lacked the discipline to stay forward, frequently chasing the ball where ever it went on the pitch as if he were playing in a U-6 match. He single-handedly turned the formation into a 4-5-1, and played a part in taking Rodgers out of the match. Maybe Coach Backe intended for him to play withdrawn, but his play was just plain undisciplined. We can also thank the poor finishing of Crew forward, Andres Mendoza, who looked like he was recreating the 2010 Angel/Henry blooper reel at times.

The Red Bulls offensive opportunities were few and far between, the best chance coming off the left foot of Joel Lindpere in stoppage time of the second half, a hard, low 18-yarder that was denied by Columbus keeper, William Hesmer.

Still, not enough can be said about the tough, compact defensive play of this crazy-quilt Red Bull squad tonight. They were able to turn a potentially very negative situation and instead turn it into a galvanizing force for the team; increasing our players', coaches', and fans' confidence in the depth and discipline of this team. Coach Backe has emphasized defensive shape and positioning in each of his two pre-seasons here, and when he had to cobble a team of reserves together this week, they were all able to get on the same page and draw upon that training, and earn a deserved point in a tough situation.

Now, let's get everyone home and healthy and put the hammer down on Houston at the Cathedral next week!
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