Monday, May 16, 2011

RBNY 2 Chivas 3: Bizarro Bulls

Don't say we weren't warned! Coming into the Red Bulls' home game against Chivas USA there was plenty of talk about this possibly being a trap game, about the Red Bulls' lack of proper preparation as a result of the meaningless exhibition match in Montreal, about Chivas' recent form under Robin Fraser. But did we listen? No. To a man, we all confidently predicted victory against an opponent that we should beat, especially at home, especially with the first choice starting XI at Hans Backe's disposal.

My only explanation for the poor display the Red Bulls put in on Sunday night is that we temporarily entered a parallel RBNY Bizarro World. First, the strange Sunday 7PM start. Then there was the ominous weather and the power outage that delayed the start of the match until after 7:30. I could also include the fact that we decided to break our routine and pre-game at a different location.  

Nah... what am I saying? None of that stuff is really to blame. It was simply a case of poor defending at critical times and a lack of sharpness in the passing game that doomed the Red Bulls. On Justin Braun's opener you could fault Jan Gunnar Solli for not staying close enough to the player who everyone knew was Chivas' main offensive threat. On their second, you could blame Solli (again) and Tim Ream for allowing Braun to get on the end of a ball that he should not have been able to touch. You could also ask questions of Bouna Coundoul, who should not be allowing an opposing player to score from that angle, regardless of the marking. Chivas' third, which completed Braun's hat trick, was again a case of players falling asleep. The Red Bulls defense, which had been so steady through the first weeks of the season, was suddenly a shambles. For 90 minutes they became the Bizarro Bulls.

Following an opening 25 minutes in which New York could hardly get out of their own half, they were finally able to find their feet. After Thierry Henry's leveler, from a trademark long pass by Rafa Marquez, you thought the Bulls would push on and power their way past the Goats, but Chivas stayed aggressive, managed to disrupt the Red Bulls passing game in midfield and never let RBNY get into a rhythm. Even after Dwayne DeRosario's penalty to make it 2-2 at the break, you never really felt that the boys in white had a grip on the game. Whoever got the first goal of the second half was probably going to walk away with the points, and so it proved.

Some additional observations:
  • Backe revealed in post-match comments that he uses a zonal marking approach on opponents' set pieces. This is something that requires good concentration and understanding from players, as well as a strong goalkeeper to keep things organized. Clearly it did not work to perfection on Sunday, so Hans is going to have to get the boys back on the training pitch quickly and sort things out.
  • Luke Rodgers once again worked his nuts off, and very well could have made it 3-3 at the death when he made another lung-bursting run. His work rate is simply phenomenal, and all those who questioned this acquisition can get in line for a serving of crow. His balls-to-the-wall style is a great complement to Henry and Agudelo's more languid approach and the he must be an absolute pain in the ass to play against. Rodgers' second-half bicycle kick, ruled offside, would have been a Goal of the Week lock. Shame it didn't count.
  • Mehdi Ballouchy came on late and managed to give the ball away almost immediately. I've gotten used to the idea of him as a sub off the bench, but if he's going to put in putrid performances like this, maybe John Rooney's a better option.
  • Rafa Marquez's set piece delivery is becoming a major issue. At one point in the second half, the Red Bulls won about a half dozen consecutive corners but never really troubled the goalkeeper. Too often, corners fail to get past the first defender or are floated beyond teammates. I'd like to see another player given the responsibility on set pieces, perhaps DeRo. Marquez has shown some aerial ability in the past. Wouldn't we be better off with him inside the 18-yard box?
  • Despite the late Sunday kickoff and the lousy weather, the atmosphere inside the Arena was excellent, helped a bit by the delay. You can't fault the South Ward for doing their part - the players simply didn't deliver.
Should we start freaking out that the Red Bulls are no longer undefeated at home? Of course not. A quick look at the MLS standings says that RBNY is still top of the Eastern Conference and in a good position through nine games. On the other hand, this is the kind of match they  cannot lose if they want to seriously pursue a Supporter's Shield. Hopefully a positive week of training and proper preparation will see the return of the Red Bulls we know and love next Saturday in Houston, and we can send the Bizarro Bulls back to the planet from whence they came.

Viper will be along later with his video report.
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