Sunday, April 10, 2011

Union 1 Red Bulls 0: Sucker Punch!

Several hundred Red Bulls fans made the trip down to scenic Chester, Pa. on Saturday, and for the second consecutive year they returned home with absolutely nothing to show for it. But the 2011 loss was perhaps more stinging than the fairly meaningless end of the season defeat in 2010. Then, the Red Bulls were headed to playoffs and didn't have very much on the line. This time around, they arrived at PPL Park with a lineup that was (by MLS standards) studded with stars. And whereas RBNY was generally outplayed by the Union last season, on Saturday they enjoyed the lion's share of possession, carved out several excellent chances, hit two posts and were generally the "better team" on the night.

As they say, however, football's a funny old game and the "better team" does not always win. The team that prevails is the one that makes its chances count. Despite having very few good looks at the Red Bulls goal, the Union were able to capitalize on Tim Ream's single mistake in what was otherwise an immaculate performance. Piotr Nowak's additions of Roger Torres and Danny Mwanga off the subs bench paid off, and just like that the Red Bulls were behind in a match they had more or less dominated. Try as they might, the Bulls were not able to find a way back into the game after going behind and that was all she wrote.

The game was proof - if any more was needed - that possession in soccer is meaningless if the finishing is not there. The Red Bulls' buildup play was crisp and their tackling generally excellent (Teemu Tainio had a whale of a game), but the final pass or on-target shot was always missing. Jan Gunnar Solli also made several nice runs down the right side and caused problems.  On the flip side of the coin, Dwayne De Rosario had a poor game and Roy Miller was again burned for a rare Philly opportunity that Condoul tipped over the crossbar.

For RBNY that's a paltry return of two goals over four league matches. Unless they find a way to make all their possession and fluid build-up play count for something this season could end up being the ultimate case of blue balls. The less said about Thierry Henry the better. Instead of trying the simple play or taking a crack himself, he seems content to play fancy balls that are, more often that not, either misplaced or misread by teammates. Unless he does something soon, things could get ugly at Red Bull Arena. There was plenty of grumbling after the draw against Houston last week, and that will only intensify if his drought continues and the team drops more points. That's what your DP salary gets you, Thierry!

For the Red Bulls fans who made the trip, hats off for once again bringing the noise and giving the players all the support they could. For Hans Backe and his coaching staff, there's a lot to contemplate before Saturday's kickoff against San Jose. For the person who took a piss two rows behind me and my son, thanks a lot! Barf last year and piss this year. I shudder to think what we'll get next season.
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