Sunday, July 24, 2011

Red Bulls 2 FC Dallas 2: Henry Rescues a Point Amid Protest

Backe: Dead Man Sitting
The Red Bulls hosted FC Dallas on Saturday in dire need of three points - not only to maintain their challenge for top spot in the Eastern Conference but also to restore confidence after Wednesday's cataclysmic meltdown in Colorado. Dallas, one of the league's hottest teams, offered a stern test. The Texans' only loss in their previous six games had been a respectable 2-0 defeat at Rio Tinto, while in Brek Shea they have an MVP candidate on a scoring tear. Moreover, RBNY would not be enjoying the full measure of its home field advantage, at least not during the first half, as the South Ward sat in silent protest over the handling of the US Open Cup (more on this later). Throw in the weather factor - a very Dallas-like 100 degrees at kickoff - and its effect on already tired bodies and you don't exactly have the ideal conditions for a rousing victory.

So how should we feel about the fact that the Red Bulls were able to pull out a 2-2 draw thanks to a late Thierry Henry golazo? Pleased that our designated player showed his mettle? Disappointed (again) in a fragile defense that let an opponent back into the game? Puzzled about a manager who decides to use just a single sub on a blazing summer day, after playing two games earlier in the week thousands of miles away? Yes, yes and yes.

There's no question that New York had the better of the first half. Only some sloppy play in the final third kept the Red Bulls from being up more than one going into the locker room at halftime. Dane Richards, in particular, spurned several excellent chances. Despite his deflected goal, Juan Agudelo once again failed to mesh with Henry and continued to choose the highlight reel option when a pass or a 1-2 was called for. Was it Richards' or Agudelo's selfishness that Henry was talking about in his post game comments to MSG? Take your pick.

Just as the supporters came to life in the second half, RBNY faded. Marvin Chavez victimized the Red Bulls with a nicely worked goal in the 18-yard box, while several Red Bulls stood around and watched. Suddenly the home team was under siege. 25 minutes later, Chavez smashed in a second after a the ball dribbled across the penalty area directly to his right foot. It was only thanks to Henry's individual brilliance that the Red Bulls were able to salvage a point. That's 11 goals now for Henry, whose vital contributions on the score sheet it would be hard to criticize, even if he occasionally drifts out of games. His goals are the only thing holding this leaky boat together at the moment.

More questions will be  - and should be - asked about Hans Backe's unwillingness to use his bench, with Chris Albright being Saturday's lone sub. His jaw-dropping postgame comments, reported by Empire of Soccer's Dave Martinez, would seem to indicate that he has zero faith in any of his reserve players. In the space of a year the Red Bulls have gone from one of the deeper teams in the league to one that can't find two reliable subs on the hottest day of the year. Whose fault is that?

Finally, a few notes on Saturday's protest:

The reasoning behind Saturday's fan action apparently eluded some participants, who chose instead to pay tribute to Ernesto Motta and Robert Sierra while beating the drum on the tired branding issue. Those who were not clued in on the protest (the majority of those in attendance) could be forgiven for not knowing what the protest was about or thiniking it was part of an anti-Red Bull crusade. Where was the promised TROPHIES NOT FRIENDLIES banner?

Prior to the match, New Red Bull Director of Business Operations Chris Heck responded to the letter sent by the three main supporters groups. But instead of actually addressing any of the root causes of the protest, he decided to engage in obfuscation and missed the point completely:
Thank you for the note as I appreciate understanding your reasons to express yourself in this manner. We love your passion for New York's Soccer Team and value your support through good times and not so good. I believe that it is your right to protest in a peaceful way even if I don't agree with your reasons. I believe this is one of the greatest gifts our country affords us every day. On a day when a terrorist act takes the lives away of innocent individuals (Erik's home town of Oslo, Norway), it certainly puts sport in proper perspective. Sports in general, soccer in this case, should be a place to appreciate our freedoms and allow us a safe environment to enjoy ourselves with friends and family. Please enjoy this game and every Red Bulls game in the future. Sincerely, Chris Heck Go New York Red Bulls

Note to Chris: First, this is America. Of course fans have the right to sit silent. There should never be any question about that. But thanks for confirming that we can choose not to speak and that our constitutional rights do not disappear the moment we enter Red Bull Arena. Check. Secondly, what in the world do the tragic events in Norway have to do with this particular protest? If you were trying to shame fans into feeling guilty for taking this action a day after a terrorist attack that has nothing to do with the matter at hand then shame on you. The letter the supporters sent was about taking every competition the club enters seriously. You failed to address this matter in any substantive way in your weak response.

Between his t-shirt hucksterism and this incident, Mr. Heck would appear to be off to a rocky start. He'd do well to take a crash course in MLS supporter culture. This isn't the NBA, where fans can be easily bought off with shiny objects and slick double talk.

The Red Bulls now face a trip to London for the Emirates Cup and a two week layoff from league action. Let's see where things stand when they return home.
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