Saturday, March 24, 2012

New York Red Bulls Hoping to Shake Up Their Etch-a-Sketch

Shake It Up!
The 2012 campaign has hardly gotten off to an ideal start for the New York Red Bulls. Successive road losses to FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake have Hans Backe on the defensive and contemplating his next gig, even before his team has had a chance to sample home cooking. Looking at things from a "glass half empty" perspective, the beginning of the 2012 season has been a continuation of the misery of 2011, with boneheaded individual errors leading to goals for the opposition.

For those more inclined to "glass half full" thinking, however, RBNY now has two of its most difficult road fixtures in the rear view mirror. Moreover, two potentially key players who have been missing in the opening weeks - Rafa Marquez and Wilman Conde - should return for Sunday's match in Harrison against Colorado. Ryan Meara (who was profiled on Friday in The Wall Street Journal) has proven through two games that he is a solid option in goal, putting questions of inexperience to bed, at least for now. In addition, the Red Bulls have looked a bit more solid in the attack when Kenny Cooper has been paired with Thierry Henry. Barring a last-minute surprise, one would expect to see Cooper in the starting XI on Sunday.

Taking all of these factors into consideration - not to mention some lineup challenges the Rapids will be facing when they run out at Red Bull Arena - Sunday's game represents a golden opportunity for the Red Bulls to take a page out of the Mitt Romney playbook and shake up their personal Etch-a-Sketch. A solid victory against Colorado would go a long way toward calming supporters' nerves. Conversely, anything less than maximum points would put Backe firmly in first place in the MLS Sack Race, by a considerable margin.

A few additional story lines and news items heading into tomorrow's opener:
  • The Red Bulls' President of Business Operations Chris Heck has been the target of a lot of fan criticism over the off-season, much of it warranted. He spoke with Kristian Dyer of Big Apple Soccer about some of the controversies and is confident that midfield sections at Red Bull Arena - so often embarrassingly empty last season - will be fuller as a result of the pricing changes the club has implemented. According to Dave Martinez at Empire of Soccer, rumors floating around at Media Day had Sunday's attendance pegged at 23,000.
  • Speaking of Media Day, our good friend Dan Dickinson, who is the new soccer beat reporter at Gothamist (belated congrats, Dan!), has a full slate of interviews with key players (and Mehdi Ballouchy). You can check them out here.
  • The New York Post has launched a dedicated Red Bulls page, where you can find a lot of great reporting by Brian Lewis. Adjust your bookmarks accordingly!
  • Rafa Marquez has taken a much more active role in marketing leading up to the home opener. In addition to flipping the switch to light the Empire State Building in club colors on Friday, Marquez was interviewed by Spanish language media atop a bus in Times Square. Hopefully the Red Bulls will see a rejuvenated and re-dedicated Rafa this season. God knows they could use his passing ability in midfield.
  • Juan Agudelo has been away with the USMNT U23 team, and scored in their 6-0 demolition of Cuba this week in Nashville. He was, however, forced to leave the match with a knee injury and his status is now in doubt for the second game of Olympics qualifying, against Canada.
That's it for now. For those of you attending tomorrow's match at the Cathedral of Football, please feel free to drop by Gate D at halftime and introduce yourselves. Who knows? You may even get into one of Viper's videos. If you're pre-gaming in Newark, the Viper's Nest crew will be upstairs at Bello's, aka the Lair of the GSU (formerly GSS). We hope to see you there, and COME ON YOU RED BULLS!!!
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