The New York Red Bulls have an uncanny ability of making Real Salt Lake look really good. That’s not to say that the Sandy, Utah based club isn’t great, but their dynamic style and incisive passing specifically exploits the flat-footed nature of the Red Bulls. Both RSL goals on Saturday night were created by creative passing, team chemistry and terrible defending.
Hans Backe lined the team up in a 4-5-1 with Palsson sitting behind Tainio and Dax McCarty in an attempt to clog the midfield. This strategy seemed to be working at first, but the quickness of passing and RSL’s ability to change the point of attack rendered this rather ineffectual by the end of the first half. Because Henry was up top alone, Lindpere and Richards tried to push up on the flanks to push back the RSL defense.
The formation was supposed to be a 4-1-2-3 going forward and a 4-5-1 in defense, but it looked more like the opposite by the end of the first half. Dane Richards’s inability to cross a ball or offer effective width forced Jan Gunnar Solli to make an overlapping outside runs. This left a gap in defense when the Red Bulls undoubtedly turned the ball over. This is precisely what Victor Palsson did in the 39th minute.
Solli was pulled upfield on a New York attack and Holgersson could not get over quick enough to put a body on Paulo Jr. who cleverly flicked a pass from Luis Gil into the curving run of Fabian Espindola. Espindola, who was played onside by a sleeping Roy Miller, bore down on Ryan Meara and slipped the ball between the rookie goalkeeper’s legs. [2:50 in the video below]
Espindola’s goal, his second in as many games against New York, was a rare black mark for Meara who had another strong game. The young ‘keeper made a number of important saves including committing to coming out big against an onrushing Paulo Jr. in the first half [2:00 in the video]. While Meara could have done better on the first RSL goal, there is nothing more he could have done on the second.
Sebastian Velasquez was played through on the left side on a smart pass by Paulo Jr. The Colombian then cut the ball across the face of goal for Espindola who turned past Miller as if he wasn’t there. Ryan Meara again made himself an imposing presence by smothering Espindola’s shot. However, Roy Miller again forgot that he was in the middle of a professional soccer game and allowed 18 year old Luis Gil to pounce on the rebound. It was the U.S. youth international’s second goal against the Red Bulls. [4:25 in the video]
New York’s defense was again shambolic. Roy Miller was at least partially culpable for both goals, while Solli is consistently sucked up the field to cover for Richards and the Keel-Holgersson partnership has not inspired any confidence. Connor Lade is still available as a replacement for the flailing Miller, despite not making the trip to Rio Tinto Stadium (NY had a short bench again). John Borrajo is the only other natural right back on the team who could allow Solli to play his natural right midfield position. Holgersson was purchased to partner Wilman Conde, who will return to training on Monday, but the big Swede could see himself playing alongside Rafa Marquez against Colorado next week. Marquez will return to the team after serving a 3-match ban for being a moron after last year’s playoff loss to Los Angeles.
Moving on from the defense, Victor Palsson could not follow up his enthusiastic performance against Dallas. He and the injured Tainio were both subbed out at halftime. Kenny Cooper entered as a second half substitute again, and again he provided an offensive spark for New York. It would be near tantamount to sabotage for Hans Backe to not start the target man against Colorado for the home opener.
In almost an about-face which made me worry for Backe’s health, he took off two defensive midfielders and put on two (arguably) attacking players. Tainio, who had a severely bruised ankle, made way for the mediocre Moroccan Mehdi Ballouchy. In this 4-4-2 set-up Ballochy jogged around stringing together a few neutral or negative passes while McCarty resembled a bumblebee trying to marshal the center of the field.
With Agudelo training with the U.S. u23 team and Luke Rodgers’s visa still not approved, New York’s options up top are slim. However, Hans Backe and the coaching staff need to start Kenny Cooper instead of waiting until the second half to start caring about getting a result in the 2012 season’s home opener against Colorado Rapids at Red Bull Arena.
The positives from this match are few and far between. First, New York doesn’t have to dread playing FC Dallas or RSL later in the season and they already suffered through one of the harder road trips of their season. Secondly, next week marks the return of Rafa Marquez to the line-up. I’m not excited about this because of what he adds to the team, but rather blaming him for everything is more comforting than admitting to myself that the team is in need of improvement in every area of the game.