Empire XI: Red Bulls Have to Take Risks in CONCACAF Champions League


Staff Writer

The New York Red Bulls are one of six teams in the Eastern Conference vying for two playoff berths. They are also one of five MLS teams in the CONCACAF Champions League. The potential for great success is there, but since this is the Red Bulls, so is the potential for great failure.

That is a narrative that has existed for years with this club and has given the Red Bulls prominence, but no success. That narrative has to change to include success with the club’s prominence now coming under threat, but in order for it to change, the club has to take risks.

Unlike the US Open Cup, the Red Bulls cannot give the Champions League lip service. To paraphrase Head Coach Mike Petke, the tournament is not their World Cup, but they cannot shrug off any defeats either. This is because no MLS team has won the Champions League and it is no secret that MLS trumpets the teams that make deep runs in the competition.

Say what you want about the league’s ability to generate fanfare for itself and its teams, but when that fanfare is for your team in a situation as exclusive as the Champions League, the added publicity and prominence helps. Especially because a deep run in the Champions League would steal some attention away from their “noisy neighbors” New York City FC.

It is inevitable that NYCFC are going to grab a great deal of attention in 2015, but while the Red Bulls and their fans would rather go the grave claiming that this is an inherently bad thing for their club, the fact that NYCFC are bringing attention to itself means they are bringing attention to MLS. If the Red Bulls are in the deeper stages of the competition, they would be able to market success and the thought of it, while NYCFC would still be selling novelty. It would have to be a carefully invasive marketing effort, but it is not an impossible task. Considering the fact that the Red Bulls’ bumbling marketing efforts made prominence an issue for them in the first place, any new marketing initiative is a good marketing initiative.

From a competitive standpoint, the Red Bulls are about to enter a transitory period and are aiming to limit the effects of it. Thierry Henry will not be around much longer and the midfield and defense need renovation. The degrees of which the midfield and defense need to be renovated differ. If Henry retires, the Red Bulls can move Tim Cahill into the attacking midfield and find a passing midfielder to partner with Dax McCarty who will need a reduced, defense-first workload. The fact that the Red Bulls pursued Xavi for much of 2014 shows that they are aware of this need, but they need to either spot an extremely capable second option in case Xavi does not sign or be prepared to offer the most money to bring him here. Not having a player of his ilk would mean more inconsistency for the Red Bulls in 2015 and a failed stint in the Champions League.

It is obvious that the Red Bulls made massive mistakes regarding its personnel in defense. No need to go in detail about Markus Holgersson, Armando or Richard Eckersley, but the Red Bulls and Petke are at a pivotal point with whom they select for their upcoming fixtures in both MLS and CCL play. Petke’s commitment to youth has yielded mixed results, but it has given players match experience which is invaluable with a five-week, ten game stretch upcoming.

The Red Bulls will aim to rotate Matt Mizaga, Chris Duvall and Ambroise Oyongo enough times to give Jamison Olave, Roy Miller, et al. adequate rest and if they can successfully do this, it will go a long way towards getting the Red Bulls into the playoffs as well as through the group stage of the CCL.

If the young defenders solidify starting places on the Red Bulls’ backline, do not be surprised to see Sporting Director Andy Roxburgh work to supplant the defense on the cheap. The Red Bulls would only need backups/spot starters to help out a young backline playing its first full season together and MLS is full of players who can do that. Additionally, these players come cost effective and it would allow for the team to spend some more money elsewhere. All of which would deepen the squad and make it more capable of contending in two competitions.

The Red Bulls may fear that they cannot compete with NYCFC next season, but they are in two competitions while NYCFC will be in one. If the Red Bulls can embrace that fact, they can rework their squad to handle the workload and keep themselves relevant through this season and beyond.

Empire XI

1. What is particularly annoying about the rain-delayed victory for the New York Cosmos against the Atlanta Silverbacks is the fact that this is not the first time an NASL game ended at around 1 AM. A Carolina RailHawksMinnesota Stars match in 2012 was delayed four hours due to thunderstorms and in both instances the home team remained committed towards getting the match in mainly for competitive reasons. The RailHawks would have lost that match to the Stars had they abandoned the match and the Silverbacks were up a goal early against the Cosmos.

2. The issue with letting teams decide whether or not to abandon games due to weather is blatant. The team will primarily make their decision based on competitive factors instead of the safety and convenience for all concerned. When the decision comes from the referee or a league official, as is the case in MLS, those factors are much more carefully considered. Going forward, it would be smart of the NASL to give itself the power to make the decisions on when to abandon its matches.

3. Staying with the Cosmos, if they are really going after Roque Santa Cruz, then their desperation will become even more evident. While Santa Cruz is a prominent player, he is not an iconic player, nor is he a particularly good player considering the fact he only scored more than ten goals once in his 15-year career in Europe. If the Cosmos truly feel that Mads Stokkelien has been a flop, spending more on a player whose career has been a flop raises questions regarding the front office’s general competence. Moreover, Santa Cruz’s injury problems make it even more likely that he will not effectively payoff both the reported transfer fee and salary that he is requesting from the Cosmos.

4. Why are Eddie Johnson‘s tweets such a big deal? The reason has to do with the moral expectation fans and the media have for professional and international players to conduct themselves in a certain dignified manner. It is a little unfair considering that this level of scrutiny is not equally applied towards other people in other prominent walks of life. Reality is that when it comes to how athletes conduct themselves off the field, unless it impacts their performance on the field, how they act or what they tweet should be insignificant.

5. The reason why they become significant boils down to marketing. Once a club starts to market a player for things that are not really related to soccer like their personality or nationality, character can become an issue. It’s what leads to subjective criticism and double standards.

6. It is a smart move for CONCACAF to create a Third Place Game for next year’s Gold Cup. Mexico and the USA are not the only national teams that attract large crowds and if the right teams make that match, it will attract another large crowd. We all know that the Third Place Game is a money-grab … so why not grab some more money?

7. Good trade for both New York City FC and Real Salt Lake as NYCFC acquire Kwame Watson-Siriboe for a 2016 draft pick. The deal allows RSL to sign striker Sebastian Jaime as a Designated Player and gives NYCFC Head Coach Jason Kreis a player he is familiar with and a cheap reclamation project as Siriboe has missed the last year with a torn ACL and has a reported salary of $55,000 per year. There are still at least 14 spots for NYCFC to fill on its roster, not a whole lot considering the loans that will come from Manchester City as well as the upcoming drafts.

8. The US Men’s National Team will play Ireland in Dublin on November 18. Since that falls in the middle of the MLS Playoffs, Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann will likely look to Europe to stock his roster for that slate of international fixtures. Might be a good time to gamble on taking a really young, inexperienced group of players especially if players like Emerson Hyndman, who debuted for Fulham last weekend, and Rubio Rubin, who is expected to be fit for FC Utrecht soon, to stay in and around the first teams for their clubs.

9. Jonathan Spector, a player that is always on the national team radar, told Brian Sciaretta at Yanks Abroad he is intrigued by coming to MLS after a 12-year career in England. Spector’s versatility keeps him in the USA picture but it would be his ability to play fullback that could make him a valued asset for plenty of clubs in the league. His contract with Birmingham City expires at the end of the season.

10. The Luis Robles for USA chatter continues to linger. Robles’ form this season is good enough to get him a look in the January camp next year. It is only until then that we can start seeing where he is on the goalkeeper depth chart.

11. Nice bit of humor from Landon Donovan in this Foot Locker commercial:

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