Sunday, March 20, 2011

Red Bulls 1 Sounders 0: Agudelo the Assassin

The Red Bulls got the result they needed last night in Harrison, thanks to a marvelous piece of work by new signing Teemu Tainio and Juan Agudelo. Desperately hunting for a goal after squandering a penalty and allowing Seattle several dangerous chances at the end of the first half, Agudelo latched onto Tainio's perfectly weighted pass over the top, showed great strength to shrug off Leo Gonzalez, and finished magnificently with his right boot to beat Kasey Keller. It was his first ever goal in MLS and hopefully the first of many. The youngster was also responsible for winning the first half penalty, which Thierry Henry failed to convert. All in all, it was a great night at the office for Agudelo.

It was no less than he (and the Red Bulls) deserved. On balance they played far more cohesively than Seattle, moved the ball effectively from side to side, and were much sharper than we had seen them in any of their preseason encounters. Tim Ream had a fantastic game at the back, consistently clearing away any danger, as did his central defensive partner Rafa Marquez. Seattle was limited to attacks from the right flank, where Roy Miller had problems containing Fredy Montero, especially in the closing minutes of the first half. Greg Sutton, who started in place of Bouna Condoul, had a good showing between the sticks and made a few key saves.

Hans Backe elected to start Tainio as his central defensive midfielder, with Mehdi Ballouchy advanced. While Tainio had a tidy game, the same can't be said of Ballouchy, who was subbed off in favor of Tony Tchani immediately before the Agudelo goal. Shifting Lindpere over to central midfield and putting Tchani out on the left proved to be an excellent move. In the absence of a true #10 type player, Lindpere is probably Backe's best option at that position right now when he has a full squad to work with. Tchani carved out a few decent chances for the Red Bulls after the Agudelo goal. First against Atlas and now against Seattle, Tchani is starting to look like a good option on the wing for a team overloaded with central midfielders.

Now... about Henry. My Talking Bull colleague Ben Schneider makes the point in his Once a Metro match report that Henry tended to over-elaborate when attacking, and we certainly saw that at times last night. His penalty, while not exactly struck with venom, was well-saved by Kasey Keller, so I won't slaughter him for it (though I'm sure others will). Let's just say that for this team to perform to its full capabilities we are going to have to see more from the Frenchman than we saw last night. It was troubling to see him clutching his hamstring in the second half. Hopefully this is not the first sign of another injury plagued season.

In the end, this was a big, big win. An away trip to Columbus without as many as six regulars missing now looms, which should be a good test of squad depth.

Finally, a few notes about the experience at the Arena last night.

First, the problems that we saw last season at the concession stands around the stadium do not appear to be a thing of the past. More than anything, it seems to be a matter of proper training and speed of service. Many Delaware North employees seem to be unable or unwilling to learn how to use the cashless member card system. At other locations I heard reports of beer taps not functioning and cold food. If the Red Bulls cannot get these issues sorted out soon, I'd suggest that they find a better food service partner. The problems we are seeing are inexcusable after an entire year in Harrison.

It was a bitterly cold and windy night, which may have kept some fans away, but the attendance that we saw (just over 20,000 announced with a few thousand less than that in actual attendance) is probably what you should expect to see when you do no preseason marketing whatsoever. From where I stood in 132 the atmosphere was still magnificent. As supporters we certainly have a role to play in bringing friends and family to matches, but we shouldn't be asked to answer for Red Bull not living up to its half of the bargain, as ESPN's Jeff Bradley suggests.
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