Dane Richards was the hero on Thursday night. In the eighth minute at Red Bull Arena against the Philadelphia Union, Richards rose up to meet a from the right cross by Jan Gunnar Solli. That goal punched New York’s ticket to the playoffs in their final match of the season. Better late than never, even though many fans (myself included) thought it was an unlikely result for the last few weeks.
Click to read more and see the highlights.
The goal comes in at the :47 mark. Dane Richards, the shortest player on the field, is left completely unmarked in the box by the Philadelphia defense.
For all the flack I’ve given Rafael Marquez in the past few weeks, he came up with a big game for New York. Marquez and McCarty both filled in well when Solli made runs down the wing and the Mexican international passed the ball around with more purpose on Thursday night. If we’re going to continue to play a 4-4-2 going into the playoffs, I don’t think Richards should play on the wing. Solli offers us a better option when going at players and a class above sending crosses into the box. We could keep the line-up from Thursday but swap Henry up top for Richards. We haven’t seen Solli operate with freedom down the right side since the beginning of the season when he was winning player of the week accolades.
Another option is to simply play Solli on the right side of midfield and slot Carlos Mendes into the back four. Perhaps a back line consisting of Roy Miller, Stephen Keel, Tim Ream and Mendes is a bit shaky, but I don’t think Mendes’ MLS quality days are over yet. He would operate as a stay at home full back, and wouldn’t need Marquez and Tainio to come from the midfield to cover for him like both Solli and Miller do. Or an even less likely option, due to Backe’s tactical rigidity, is to play Agudelo as a right winger. Agudelo is a much better soccer player than Dane Richards. Perhaps the Jamaican international would still win a 40 yard dash, but Agudelo can run with the ball at his foot which is something we haven’t seen from Richards in the five years he’s played for New York. The homegrown player offers much more in terms of passing, dribbling and crossing. Richards could then be used as a second half substitute (that is if Backe decides to sub before the 90th minute), or to push Agudelo up top for Rodgers or Henry late in the game. The best part about these variations is that none of them includes Mehdi Ballouchy seeing the any playing time.
I hope that Hans Backe deputizes to Mike Petke for the playoffs. In charge of youth matches and reserve fixtures, at least Petke has offered some form of tactical awareness and adjustment. Backe is a terrible stubborn manager who could cost the team its playoff dream just as soon as the team fought to get in. Even though general manager Erik Soler came out earlier this week to give Backe the vote of confidence for next year (whether they won on Thursday or not), I’m still holding out hope that they’ll offer him a nice severance package over the winter off-season and we bring in someone who wants to win, after having to sit through a a franchise record number of ties this year.
The Red Bulls will being their playoff march on either Wednesday or Thursday of next week against any of Philadelphia, Columbus, Colorado, Dallas or Salt Lake. All of that will be sorted out this weekend with the last round of MLS regular season games on Saturday. All the Red Bulls can do now is rest up get mentally prepared for a grueling postseason.
Come On New York!