Saturday, June 11, 2011

Red Bulls 2 Revolution 1: ...and Exhale!

Greg Time?: Sutton Came Up Huge for the Red Bulls
The Red Bulls finally got a badly-needed 2-1 victory over New England Revolution last night at Red Bull Arena, but they sure didn't make it easy on themselves or their 21,000+ supporters in attendance. Wasteful early in the match and then again in the final 20 minutes, RBNY was nearly made to pay for their profligacy when the Revs appeared to have equaled the score 2-2 in the 87th minute. When the linesman's flag was (correctly) raised for offside, the massive sigh of relief around the ground was audible. Back in first place (for now), and with a vital three points in the bag ahead of their longest road trip of the season, things suddenly look a lot brighter for Hans Backe and his men.

Still, the euphoria over breaking the winless streak shouldn't mask this team's flaws. With the Red Bulls deprived of a handful of key players, maybe fans should just accept that June won't be smooth sailing, and take what they can get. Stephen Keel and Carlos Mendes are a serviceable enough pairing, but they lack Tim Ream and Rafa Marquez's ability to distribute out of the back with confidence. Opponents sense the nervousness and have been very aggressive, putting constant pressure on the two defenders. Those who might normally be sitting out with injuries, such as Jan Gunnar Solli and Luke Rodgers, have been forced to suck it up and soldier on, and there are times when their lack of full fitness has shown. Inexperienced players such as Corey Hertzog and Austin da Luz, pressed into service during the Gold Cup, haven't always done the best job of anticipating their teammates moves, but that's to be expected. Then there's the ongoing issue of finishing, with Mehdi Ballouchy's jaw-dropping miss last night's Exhibit A.

Given these less-than-ideal conditions, it's going to be incumbent on veterans such as Thierry Henry and Greg Sutton to come up with monster performances, and both of those I just named rose to the challenge last night. Henry played a major part in both RBNY goals, first putting Ryan Cochrane under pressure and forcing an opening own goal, and then turning the hapless Cochrane inside out before calmly tucking a second beyond the reach of Matt Reis. Yes, fitness is still an issue for Henry, but when he's in the lineup his class is undeniable. Those who questioned the wisdom of signing him as a designated player, including yours truly, are being forced to eat their words. Sutton, meanwhile, had arguably his best game as a Red Bull, first reacting superbly to beat away a first half Shalrie Joseph penalty and then saving RBNY's bacon again in the second half with several superb saves.

A few other observations and notes:
  • Red Bull Arena attendance, such a cause for concern and hand-wringing earlier in the season, appears to have picked up considerably. With the last two games boasting crowds of 20,000+ and the midweek game against Colorado bringing in more than 18,000, things are looking brighter. Of course with bigger crowds come more knuckleheads, including the idiot who threw a beer cup at my son's head and the increasingly large contingent of people seated in the South Ward who bitch about standing, flags and banners. Here's an idea - sit somewhere else if you don't like it.
  • Because of the Friday start I decided to skip pre-gaming in Newark and instead sampled the fantastic food at The Taco Truck outside RBA. The tacos themselves are small, but very very tasty. Highly recommended and I will be adding them to our dining guide ASAP.
  • The New York Times continues to struggle with its soccer coverage. Jack Bell has been waging a one-man battle over there for several years now, and he does what he can. But their latest effort is a bit of an embarrassment. Why are reporters so close-minded when it comes to the Beautiful Game? The game doesn't need to come to you - you need to come to the game and do at least a modicum of homework. I guess it's better than them ignoring the sport completely, but only marginally.
  • Shortly before Saturday's kickoff, the Red Bulls announced that Managing Director Erik Stover, who has been with the club since 2008, has handed in his resignation. His replacement is longtime NBA marketing executive Chris Heck. During his tenure with the Red Bulls, Stover oversaw the completion of Red Bull Arena. On the whole, despite some growing pains and a few notable failures (Delaware North anyone?), it's fair to say that Stover's tenure at RBNY was a positive one. With the club fully moved into its new digs in Harrison, it's probably a good time to move onto the next phase  - expanding marketing partnerships and building the organization's profile in the market. Best of luck to Mr. Stover in his future endeavors and welcome to Red Bull Land Mr. Heck!
That's it for now. Viper will have his usual video report in due course. Now let's all sit back and enjoy a weekend chock full of MLS and Gold Cup action.
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