Tuesday, July 17, 2012

SUB WATCH: Week 17 (Game 1)

"Backe Says He'll Sub You Out in a Few Minutes"
Pop quiz, soccer fans: Under what circumstances would you say it is CRITICAL to use three subs:

  1. You've won just 1 game in the last 6
  2. You're playing 3 games in 6 days
  3. There's a heat wave with humidity approaching 90%
  4. Three players are coming back from injury and have seen limited action
  5. Every fan can see that, in the last 10-15 minutes, the team has no energy
If you're almost every Red Bulls fan in existence, your answer was "All of the Above." If you're Hans Backe, you think this is a trick question.

For the Sunday afternoon tilt versus the dangerous Sounders squad, Backe somehow saw fit to ZERO tactical subs despite all of the above conditions being in play. Not even He Who Shall Not Be Named saw the pitch to add to his team-leading 153 minutes played as a sub. No, only Wilman Conde saw action after--once again--Rafa came off the pitch injured and headed into the locker room in the 21st minute. He probably wanted to make sure he beat the traffic home.

One thing I hope SUB WATCH has done this year is to dispel some of the myths about Backe's sub strategy--i.e. he never uses subs or only subs late in the game after it doesn't matter. I was pleasantly surprised to find that these common perceptions aren't really accurate. Moreover, Backe has actually increased his sub activity this year... making Sunday's lack of action even more puzzling.

It's not like Hans was unaware of the conditions, stating "it's brutal out there," in post-game discussions. So what is the rationale for leaving your players--including recently injured Henry and Holgersson--on the pitch to suffer? Why not maximize the opportunity to take three points at home? How do you not bring Mehdi Ballouchy in for a dead-legged Dax McCarty or Lindpere or Lade? And if you're not going to go after the three points, what is Jhonny Arteaga on the roster for if not to provide relief in this type of situation?

It's definitely a head scratcher and I sincerely hope we don't see the ill effects of this decision on Wednesday. Hopefully, we'll see some smarter decision making during the next two games this week. If not, the intense heat Backe is feeling will be coming from his players--and rightfully so.

FUN FACT: Subs per game drops to 2.105, lowest since Week 11

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