Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Red Bulls 1 Atlas 1: Some Positives, Many Question Marks

The Red Bulls finished off their slate of preseason friendlies last night in Glendale, Arizona, earning a 1-1 draw against Mexican club Atlas, thanks to a late Rafa Marquez penalty, which was struck with confidence. Joel Lindpere, who worked his socks off all night (as he tends to do), earned the penalty when he was fouled just inside the 18-yard box.

It was by no means a vintage performance by the Red Bulls, though there were a few positive signs (as well as a number of reasons for concern). Atlas opened the scoring in the 78th minute when an unfortunate deflection off Tim Ream's legs found its way to the back of Bouna Condoul's net. There was really nothing that Ream or Condoul could have done about it, and it was totally against the run of play in the second half, which was dominated by RBNY. The first half was another story. It was Atlas who created the better chances in the first 45, as the Red Bulls struggled to move the ball through midfield. The best RBNY chance of the first half fell to surprise starter Salou Ibrahim, whose touch let him down when he was in on goal. Ibrahim would later waste another golden chance after the break.

So what can we take from a game that didn't offer a lot of quality? Well, a few positives:
  • The Red Bulls were defensively solid. Ream and Marquez seem to be meshing nicely. They were able to work the offside trap to perfection and allowed Atlas very little in the way of quality chances.
  • Joel Lindpere looks as feisty as ever and put in a good shift on the left side, as did Dane Richards, who - in a bit of a surprise - started on the right.
  • Thierry Henry is displaying some positive signs of leadership. After getting hacked down in the second half by a dangerous scissors kick, he took his revenge with a nasty slide tackle that sent a message. He's still dropping far too deep for my liking.
Now, some question marks:
  • Salou Ibrahim. At some point RBNY needs to cut bait with the hulking striker. He has been awful throughout preseason, and last night was the cherry on the sundae. Presented with the best scoring opportunities of the night, he flubbed his lines both times. The less said about his performance in Monday's godawful 4-0 reserve team loss to FC Dallas the better.
  • The midfield needs work. With Juan Agudelo and Jan Gunnar Solli both out, Hans Backe was forced to use a lineup he might not have preferred. Still, Teemu Tainio, whose signing Backe confirmed in a Monday conference call, looked uncomfortable alongside Mehdi Ballouchy, who is still too passive for my taste. A Tainio/Ballouchy midfield pairing does not offer a lot in the way of aggressiveness, possession or passing quality. I'd much rather see Tainio at right back in place of the injured Chris Albright
  • It's hard to fathom why Tony Tchani was left out of the starting lineup on Tuesday. When he came on in the second half - inserted out of position on the right side of midfield when Richards shifted up front - Tchani looked lively and carved out some excellent chances. If Agudelo is not available for the home opener against Seattle, I'd much rather see Richards paired with Henry up top, with Tchani out right, than another Salou Ibrahim experiment.
  • Bouna vs. Sutton. While Condoul didn't have a lot to do on Wednesday, he looked like his old self when called upon - good reflexes, but suspect distribution. Backe has a decision to make here - the steady if unspectacular Sutton or the more erratic Condoul?
It hasn't exactly been the smoothest of preseasons for RBNY, with injuries rearing their ugly head, mysterious coach firings and some uneven performances.  Here's hoping Backe can pull everything together over the next week and half. He has his work cut out.
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