Monday, June 20, 2011

Timbers 3 Red Bulls 3: Wild Thing!

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In what may have been the most bizarre - and most entertaining - game of the MLS season thus far, the Red Bulls somehow managed to scrape a 3-3 draw last night in Portland, despite throwing away an early one goal advantage. Along the way, they conspired to make Jack Jewsbury look like Roberto Carlos and allowed Kevin Goldthwaite to resemble Lionel Messi, but it's the result that counts. It was vital that the Red Bulls get something - anything - out of the first game of their mammoth four-game road trip.  Thanks to a beautifully worked Thierry Henry goal and a coolly taken Dwayne De Rosario penalty with the last meaningful kick of the match, they did just that, barely escaping PDX with a point and sending the raucous Timbers Army home disappointed.

Now there are a couple of different ways to look at a result like this if you're a Red Bulls supporter. If you're an optimist, you could argue that this the players' ability to fight back when faced with adversity is an admirable quality that few other MLS teams possess. You might also be pleased with the sheer entertainment value the team is providing in a league that's a bit short on fireworks at the moment.  A pessimist would counter that this is a team that has a knack for throwing away leads, letting in soft goals and shooting itself in the foot.

All of these are true. The team's lack of consistency must be maddening for Hans Backe, but he also needs to take some of the blame. An inability to press the advantage when leading, coupled with a tendency to slack off after the half time break, are not hallmarks of trophy-winning teams. At the moment, I think Red Bulls fans would be willing to trade a few barn burners for a couple of boring 1-0 wins, but until defensive reinforcements arrive (i.e. following the Gold Cup) that seems unlikely.

A small group of intrepid RBNY fans made the trip, including several good friends of the Viper's Nest. We hope to have videos, photos, etc. for you as soon as possible. In the meantime, a few observations:
  • Being a referee is never easy, but what in the world could Thierry Henry have done to merit a red card from Ricardo Salazar at the end of the match? Henry will now serve a one game suspension on Thursday when the Red Bulls travel to Seattle to take on the Sounders, but he was unlikely to start in that game anyway. On the other hand, maybe RBNY fans shouldn't complain too much. If Henry doesn't get his walking papers does the game-tying handball/penalty ever happen? Probably not.
  • Stephen Keel is out of his depth. Based on a couple of respectable performances early this season, it seemed that Keel might end up being a respectable stand-in at the back, but his flaws were cruelly exposed last night. Tim Ream and Rafa Marquez cannot return soon enough.
  • Is it Bouna Time again? Greg Sutton barely moved on the Jewsbury goal. He commands his area well, and is a far superior distributor than Bouna Coundoul, but this is the second instance is recent weeks of Sutton failing to even move on a free kick. If there were a way to combine Sutton and Coundoul's best qualities you would have one hell of a goalkeeper. Unfortunately the Red Bulls have two with major flaws in their game.
  • The Red Bulls continue to struggle mightily on free kicks and corners. Opponents understand this and are doing everything they can to win set pieces. Just have a look at the disparity in fouls committed last night. In his post-game comments to MSG Backe seemed to imply that they would be changing their approach going forward. Could this mean the end of "zonal marking?" Stay tuned.
  • Could Teemu Tainio's spectacular goal line clearance be up for MLS Save of the Week honors? Tim Ream was nominated - and won - for his sliding save in LA. Might another Red Bull defender walk away with the award this time?
  • Congratulations to Austin da Luz on his first ever MLS goal. When asked why he celebrated with the players on the bench, da Luz dryly answered, "I spent a lot of time there." Full marks for having a sense of humor.
  • Reports indicate that Red Bulls players and staff failed (once again) to come over and acknowledge the traveling support in Portland after the final whistle. Henry, as captain, had been sent off, so maybe that had something to do with it, but it's still bad form. These people traveled thousands of miles on their own dime to support you on a Sunday night. The least you could do is give them a wave. Is that so hard?
If you couldn't manage to stay up for this one (shame on you), check out the highlights included above. Not to be missed.
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