Sunday, May 6, 2012

Must Be the Shorts: RBNY Puts in a Stellar Defensive Effort to Defeat Galaxy in Los Angeles

Larry Bird Organizes His Defense
Maybe it's the yellow shorts. Maybe it's the shocking orange goalkeeper's kit. Maybe it's just players realizing that they needed to buckle down and keep things tight with Thierry Henry missing through injury. Whatever the case, the New York Red Bulls did hard work on Saturday night in Los Angeles, making a first half Joel Lindpere goal stand up for 90+ minutes and handing the preseason consensus favorite Galaxy their fifth (yes you read that correctly) loss of the young season.

Ryan Meara posted his second consecutive clean sheet of 2012, aided and abetted by some strong defensive work from the makeshift tandem of Tyler Ruthven and Markus Holgersson, who was again given the captain's armband. Holgersson, who was widely derided for his poor play early in the season, was instrumental in the victory in LA, clearing an early Robbie Keane effort off the goal line, reminiscent of Tim Ream's last-ditch clearance in the same fixture last season. Meara's outstanding save on Juninho's rocket of a shot in the 83rd minute was equally important, as the Galaxy were camped in the Red Bulls half and desperately pushing for an equalizer.

With their options up front limited, the Red Bulls lined up in a 4-5-1, with Kenny Cooper up top and Jan Gunnar Solli pushed into midfield. Joel Lindpere shifted over to a central position, while Brandon Barklage and Connor Lade held down the fullback spots. Both Lade and Solli played a key role in carving out Lindpere's 19th minute goal. Lade's pass down the left touchline allowed Solli to make a run into the 18-yard box. Lindpere made a parallel move toward goal, then Solli smartly laid it off to the Estonian. Despite getting the ball trapped under his feet, Lindpere was able to right himself in time and get off a left-footed shot that beat Galaxy goalkeeper Bill Gaudette. 

It was virtually RBNY's only legitimate scoring opportunity of the game, but given the Red Bulls' long list of injured and suspended players you can hardly blame them for bunkering down and parking the proverbial bus after getting the lead. Few expected New York to get a point - much less all three - out of this fixture, especially after Bruce Arena controversially rested several of his superstars for the Galaxy's midweek game in Seattle in order to have them fresh for Saturday.

Some credit has to go to the much criticized Hans Backe for holding things together under very difficult circumstances and having faith in youngsters like Lade, Meara and Ruthven. With the transfer window closed, there really wasn't much else he and Erik Solér could do, of course, but it's looking more and more like the Red Bulls made some very shrewd additions over the winter, despite having no first round draft selection. The team is deeper at almost every position, and they've needed that depth early in the season.

The win puts the Red Bulls right in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference. After a blazing start, Sporting Kansas City has cooled off, even losing at home to Montreal Impact. DC United is much improved and defeated Toronto FC on Saturday, but then again doesn't everybody? DC also has two games in hand on the Red Bulls. RBNY can leapfrog the Great Satan if they manage to beat Houston on Wednesday night at Red Bull Arena.

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