BY ERIC GIACOMETTI
Funny how 90 minutes can change a fan base’s mood so drastically.
On the heels of a successful home stand that saw New York take seven out of nine points (along with the news of Tim Cahill’s arrival to MLS), the Red Bulls laid an absolute egg north of the border while still maintaining the slimmest of leads atop the East. With the season series against Montreal now complete, Meat Loaf may remind us all that two out of three ain’t bad… but I tend to disagree. Thanks to a second half that saw New York come out of the gates flat, the Impact built up a two-goal margin that proved too large a task to overcome.
Let this serve as a warning to all those who bestowed the MLS Cup upon this team after learning of Cahill’s impending arrival. Until I see the grounds crew at Red Bull Arena lining the pitch with 8.5 x 11’s, I frankly don’t care about the “best team on paper” talk. There’s so much more that goes into the formula that produces a championship team aside from sheer talent. And anyone who thinks that Cahill’s insertion into the CAM spot will remedy all of New York’s problems is in for a rude awakening.
If there’s anything that needs fixing, all eyes should be squarely fixed on the backline.
Now I’m not usually one to point the finger at any one individual player… usually. But I couldn’t help but be extremely disappointed by Jan Gunnar Solli’s performance in his return to the starting lineup. Optimists may chalk it up to rust from being out of the rotation for a few weeks, but I fear it may be something much worse. I’m afraid Markus Holgersson may become a very serious candidate for the right back position.
We all know Solli isn’t a natural defender, and his best attributes as a right back have always been in joining the attack and swinging in crosses. Yet I was still downright shocked to see how lost he seemed to be on the pitch. Perhaps his return to the midfield in recent weeks lead him to forget that he does indeed have defensive duties to attend to whilst at the right back position. And while the rest of the back four certainly share the blame in gifting three goals to the Impact, I can’t help but feel that Solli was completely out of sync with his fellow defenders. For the time being, Solli’s best bet may be pushing Sebastian Le Toux for a place in the starting lineup on the right midfield flank.
The return of Bradon Barklage and Heath Pearce to the starting XI will hopefully solve some of New York’s problems. And as good as Bill Gaudette has been, with Ryan Meara seemingly back at full health, you can bet the rookie will be reclaiming his post between the sticks. A consistent lineup can go quite a long way to achieving greatness, and with the team finally getting back to full strength, Hans Backe may finally have the luxury of picking the best 11 players available, rather than selecting from whatever squad members he has at his disposal at that given time.
The addition of a world-class talent such as Tim Cahill is certainly something to get excited about, and there’s no question that the Red Bulls are a better team with him in the side. But as has been the case all season, New York’s problem isn’t finding the back of the net; it’s keeping everyone else out. Afford this team some time to gel, to get things right, and the final product just may be there at season’s end… just don’t try to tell me how good we are on paper.