Thursday, October 27, 2011

Red Bulls 2 FC Dallas 0: Bring on LA!

Mehdi's Moment of Brilliance Eclipses Brek Shea: Hold the Phone! (Photo by Dan Dickinson)
Here's a head-scratcher: by defeating FC Dallas 2-0 last night in a Wild Card playoff in Frisco (my full match report on Once a Metro can be found here), the Red Bulls have arguably ensured themselves of a more "successful" season than they enjoyed in 2010.

"What?!?" I can hear you saying. Stay with me for a second. Sure, RBNY is only involved in the postseason as a result of Don Garber's screwy decision to expand the MLS playoffs when others were calling for them to be contracted. But by beating Dallas and setting up a two-legged series with the Los Angeles Galaxy the Red Bulls are now guaranteed to play at least three postseason games - compared to last year's two and out - with a decent shot of progressing beyond the second round. The meetings between the Red Bulls and Galaxy have been tight affairs this year, but taking four points off the Supporters' Shield winners is nothing to sneeze at, even if it wasn't close to a full-strength Galaxy team that visited Red Bull Arena a few weeks back.

That New York is even in this position points to some massive problems with the MLS postseason, but as they say can only play the cards you have been dealt, and at the moment the somewhat rejuvenated Red Bulls are a bit of a dangerous team - capable of falling flat or beating any opponent on any given day. Last night they showed both sides of their Jekyll & Hyde personality.  it didn't appear that they were up for it early, but they stayed patient, played a bit of Muhammad Ali style rope-a-dope and had more gas left in the tank as Dallas faded.

Some additional thoughts on last night's game:
  • Frank Rost has made a big difference. Unfairly pegged as a "DP bust" after a handful of early performances, the towering German projects confidence and authority from the back. Gone are the screwy goal kicks that sail out of bounds or dribble harmlessly up the middle to opposing attackers. Gone is the helpless flapping at corners and free kicks. Gone is the lack of communication between goalkeeper and defenders. It's probably safe to assume that if Rost wants to return next season he will be back. He has turned out to be a pretty good buy, and his addition must factor in any fair assessment of the De Rosario trade.
  • Mehdi Ballouchy has his moments.The Moroccan is often error prone and has gone missing too often this season when given a chance to prove himself, but he was responsible for a key assist last night that may very well have made the difference between the team's success and failure this season. Give credit where credit is due. Mehdi loves playing in Texas.
  • Red cards galore. If the Red Bulls want to progress any further in the postseason, they must stop making their task harder by picking up silly red cards. Jan Gunnar Solli's ill-advised two footed lunge saw him correctly sent off against Dallas, and RBNY will now have to hope that Carlos Mendes can get the job done at right back against Los Angeles, at least in the first leg.
  • The Red Bulls were lucky in drawing FC Dallas. It's always best to have momentum going into the postseason, and Dallas had none. The flat atmosphere at Pizza Hut Park probably helped the Red Bulls relax. They won't have the same luxury going forward against the likes of the Galaxy and - potentially - Seattle Sounders.
Wednesday's big win sets up a 3PM ET kickoff on Sunday at Red Bull Arena. Regardless of what happens in the series, it will be New York's only home playoff game this season. Season ticket holders have this game included as part of their package and only need to bring their member cards for admission. Additional tickets can also obtained by using accumulated loyalty points, which vanish into thin air at the end of the season, so if you have not cashed yours in yet the time is now.

See you out at the Cathedral of Football and COYRB!

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