Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Visit of Colorado to RBA Bigger Than You Might Think

Is Backe's Main Objective Sliding Out of View?
It was Hans Backe's #1 goal coming in to the 2011 campaign. No, not MLS Cup. Our Viking leader wanted the Red Bulls to own the league's best record by season end and take home the Supporters' Shield as the franchise's first ever legitimate piece of silverware. So how are things looking nearly a third of the way through the season?

It's never easy to tell in MLS, because the league has a tendency to allow major disparities in games played to accommodate special situations and scheduling quirks. While the Galaxy, for example, have already logged a league high 13 games, both Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City have played only eight, largely a result of CONCACAF Champions League action for RSL and the mid-season opening of the new stadium in Kansas City.

The Red Bulls, after getting off to a respectable start, are just a point off the top of the Eastern Conference, behind Philadelphia Union, but just look at the massive number of clubs with point totals in the low to mid-teens.  DC United, who the Red Bulls took to the woodshed down in the Nation's Capital last month, are just four points off RBNY's pace on the same number of games played. Even the expansion Portland Timbers are also a point ahead of the Red Bulls pace and level on games. When you look at it this way, the Supporters' Shield hardly seems like a slam dunk. Achievable? Yes, but the Red Bulls needed to bank maximum points when they could, before the departure of a large chunk of the starting XI for the Gold Cup, and they haven't quite done that.

And that's where some doubt begins to creep in. A draw in LA against the Galaxy, followed by an exceptionally poor loss at home to Chivas and a desperate draw in Houston mean that the Red Bulls have earned just two of a possible nine points in their last three matches, even before Gold Cup departures and the long road trip in late June/early July.  It's hardly a great return and certainly not the kind of form that will win a team a Supporters' Shield. That's what makes Wednesday's home match against Colorado (and Saturday's first ever visit to Vancouver) so vitally important.

Colorado, after getting off to a fast start, have been sputtering of late. Omar Cummings and Caleb Folan, who accounted for so much of the Rapids' early season scoring, have both been sidelined with injuries and are unlikely to feature against the Red Bulls. Everything seems to be lined up for a comfortable home victory, but isn't that what we said prior to the Chivas match? With Thierry Henry back in the fold and rested, there's should be no excuses if the team comes out flat on Wednesday. Three points is a minimum requirement. Given Vancouver's league position - rock bottom of the Western Conference - you could even argue that the Red Bulls should get nothing less maximum points from the next two fixtures. 

In any other year, we might not be biting our nails ten matches in, but the Gold Cup has changed the game.

Do you think Backe made a miscalculation when he set the Supporters' Shield as his primary goal? Hit us up in the comments section and let us know what you think.
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