Monday, May 9, 2011

Red Bulls and Galaxy Give MLS Fans a Reason to Smile

After a Slow Start, the Goals are Flowing for TH14
The most hyped match of the still-young 2011 MLS season mostly lived up to its billing. For a second consecutive year the Red Bulls made the long road trip to the Home Depot Center and gave a good account of themselves. It was the kind of game the league sorely needed after several weeks that have seen the focus more on nasty tackles than quality soccer.

An early Thierry Henry goal, scored from a very tight angle via a Dane Richards pass, put RBNY in control early, but the Galaxy players eventually found their footing and equalized before halftime though a Landon Donovan header.  Both sides had numerous other opportunities to score, but a combination of excellent defending, good goalkeeping and luck kept the score level though 90 minutes. All in all, it was a highly entertaining match and a good advertisement for what MLS can be at its best. I think fans would have loved to see something half as entertaining at last year's MLS Cup final in Toronto.

A few additional takeaways:
  • Roy Miller had another poor game. Donovan, in his post-game remarks, took a few shots at the Red Bulls defending and aerial ability, but the main culprit on the night was Miller. Most of the dangerous LA attacks came down his side, and he stood like a marble statue on the Galaxy goal. Getting a draw in LA against the Western Conference leaders was no small feat, but you get the sense that RBNY could have gotten more out of the game if not for some sloppy defending.
  • Landon Donovan seemed intent on getting under the Red Bulls' players skin and spent most of the evening yapping at the ref. This brought about an amusing reaction from Luke Rodgers, who is cementing his place as a fan favorite with each passing week.
  • The much talked about showdown between Juan Pablo Angel and his former team didn't really end up being that much of a storyline. Angel, who has struggled to score since his arrival in LA, had a headed "goal" correctly disallowed for offside and another header that went directly at Bouna Coundoul. The Angel of 2011 is not the Angel of 2007 or 2008.  The decision Erik Solér made to cut ties with JPA, though painful at the time, is looking like a genius move in retrospect. RBNY has been able to shore up its roster with talent like Jan Gunnar Solli and Teemu Tainio, and the combination of Luke Rodgers and Juan Agudelo, alongside a healthy Thierry Henry, has done an admirable job of carrying the scoring load after a slow start.
  • Tim Ream continues to demonstrate why last year's Rookie of the Year voting was such a sham. While Andy Najar has spent much of the season riding the pine in DC, Ream has been steady as a rock at the heart of the RBNY defense. His goal-saving clearance was a thing of beauty. As a Chelsea fan I'd say it was Terry-esque.
  • The loss of Tainio was felt in the Red Bulls' inability to dictate the pace of the game, particularly as the first half drew to a close, but I'm not going to join in the chorus of fans slamming Mehdi Ballouchy on Twitter. As MLS Analyst and former ESC trumpeter Matthew Doyle points out on Metrofanatic, Ballouchy's pass completion numbers were fairly respectable. What do you expect from an MLS sub anyway?
  • The very late start made it difficult for some East Coast fans to stay awake throughout the match. Thanks to a dose of caffeine after dinner I made it to the end (barely), but I hope MLS keeps the 11:15PM ET kickoffs to minimum.
The Red Bulls now start gearing up for the visit of LA's other team, Chivas USA, on Sunday night.
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