Empire XI: The New York Red Bulls’ Open Cup Dilemma

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU, EMPIRE OF SOCCER

Christian Araos
Staff Writer

The New York Red Bulls should not be prioritizing the U.S. Open Cup this year — but they have to.

Well kinda.

While they should not prioritize the Open Cup, they should not ignore it either. That internal confusion is the dialogue that sustains the Open Cup to the annoyance of many backroom staffs in MLS.

The Open Cup lives on because of two things; romance and the Champions League berth. It is very easy to write off romance as a selling point because of how intangible it is, but whenever an MLS club publicly states its disinterest in the tournament, its fans complain. The fans do have a right to complain if their team writes off a competitive game since they are the ones paying to see their team write off said competitive game.

In this case, Red Bull fans should be angered if Head Coach Mike Petke were to announce that he would be filling a team full of reserves should they play the New York Cosmos.

However, just because there is justification for you to feel something does not mean that you are correct in that feeling.

The Red Bulls are not a particularly deep squad nor are they blessed with youth. While that may be true, they are also a good squad as evidenced by their standing in the Eastern Conference and the fact they won the Supporters Shield last year — earning them a Champions League berth.

As a result of their success, they have a lot more matches to play than the Cosmos, the Brooklyn Italians or most teams in MLS for that matter. Objectively speaking, these matches matter a lot more than an early round Open Cup tie. More notably, this is an early round Open Cup tie that takes place during the World Cup break for MLS, which for the Red Bulls means it cuts into the vacation time for whichever players are included for the encounter. It also does not help that the Red Bulls are already likely to be without four starters for the tie as Tim Cahill and Roy Miller play for their respective countries while Thierry Henry works for the BBC at the World Cup in Brazil. As for the fourth, there is no logical way Jamison Olave chooses this game as the one where he begins to play on turf should New York face the Cosmos.

Those circumstances dampen the match since we are not seeing both teams’ best XI. Obviously, this gives the Cosmos a better chance at winning, but both fanbases should know that the best way to brag about a result is if you know the opponent does not have an out clause.

Sorry Cosmos fans but this is a one-way street. The nine-game NASL Spring Season will be over by the time we reach the fixture. The Red Bulls have already played 12 games; they have the right to rest players for the entire World Cup break.

However, spare a thought for anyone at the Red Bulls who would have to hear from angry fans if and when Petke takes up that position. Try to understand how difficult of a position Petke will be in as the tie gets closer. The banter between the two fanbases will only increase. We, the press, are going to hype the match up because it is the first time the Cosmos and Red Bulls will play each other. The Cosmos will feed into the hype and some at the Red Bulls will do so as well.

However, Petke’s status as a head coach does not ride upon his performance at the U.S. Open Cup. In fact, the status of the franchise would not be swayed by a win or loss during the fourth round of play.

That is the difference between the two clubs.

Let’s put this into some recent context. The Red Bulls are the US Men’s National Team. The Cosmos are Panama. Only this time, the former has even less incentive than the USMNT players had. For the latter, all the rhetoric about “taking on the MLS” finally gets to play out on a field and not a hypothetical courtroom or a real life boardroom. A win reaffirms the team and the fanbase’s cause. A loss and it is back to the way things were.

A Red Bull loss does not change the fact that they have more important fixtures to look forward to after a short vacation for the players.

While a Red Bull loss would lead to a few days off for the players, it would lead to a prolonged period of annoyance for their fans; supporters annoyed at losing to the Cosmos and at the Red Bulls’ continued lack of interest in the Open Cup.

But consider what would happen if the Red Bulls play the other seven starters and just rotated for the players who would be unavailable. They would probably win but then would likely play another MLS side having already set a precedent that their first team will be involved in the Open Cup. Obviously, the club can reverse course, but it is not a good PR move considering that the Red Bulls would be effectively conceding the Open Cup to an MLS team that provides tougher opposition for the first team than the Cosmos.

It also does not look good for the team if they only play their first team to beat down the Cosmos but back out of taking on someone their own size.

Then comes the fixture congestion created by making a deep Cup run. The Red Bulls have never had to deal with fixture congestion in the same way Sporting Kansas City or the Seattle Sounders or any team that regularly makes runs into the Champions League knockout stages and the final stages of the Open Cup do. Since it would be very difficult for the Red Bulls to achieve their goals in the MLS regular season and playoffs if they make a deep Open Cup run, they need to have the only tangible reason the Open Cup lives on in mind when determining how they should treat the upcoming fixture—the Champions League.

Empire XI

1. Since this is the type of stuff that marketers pay attention to — and because boredom is a thing — I took the time to quickly tabulate the amount of Twitter followers and Facebook likes each MLS team (present and future), NASL and MLS as a league, and each NASL team has. MLS is the most followed account with more than 347,000 followers. The least followed account goes to the Ottawa Fury with about 5,000 followers while the official MLS Atlanta account is the last MLS-related account with 9,555 followers.

The NASL has about 13,900 followers and the New York Cosmos are directly ahead of them with 23,400 followers. The New York Red Bulls had the fourth most followers of the field with 101,000 while New York City FC are 11th with nearly 62,000 followers.

2. When it comes to Facebook likes, both the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA have more likes than MLS with the Galaxy having more than 826,000 likes and Chivas having nearly 794,000 likes. MLS has nearly 774,000 likes while the NASL has about 38,000 likes. Atlanta is last again amongst MLS accounts with about 8,000 likes while the Fury are last overall with 2,600 likes. The Cosmos are last again amongst New York teams with 72,300 likes. NYCFC has 93,500 and the Red Bulls have 469,000 likes.

3. The fact that the Cosmos have the most followers out of any NASL entity is a reminder that they are still the easiest way for the league to get exposure for itself and its other teams. For NYCFC the message is a little mixed. It is encouraging that they are already just outside the top ten in most followed account, but liking and following accounts are passive interactions. Getting those fans to spend money to see the team play is something the organization is not having a ton of success with given their aggressive, yet repetitive efforts to sell season tickets. And the Red Bulls are in a good place with their social media reach though their overall marketing has been heavily criticized by their fans. Overall, all three clubs have relatively good reach but NYCFC and the Cosmos now have to turn that reach into ticket revenue.

4. DaMarcus Beasley is now the second US Men’s National Team player to be linked with New York City FC. Beasley or Mix Diskerud would be solid signings for NYCFC given their prominence as American players who are likely going to be on the final World Cup roster. Fans love symbolism and teams try to use symbolism to establish or fortify the narratives they bring. In NYCFC’s case, the narrative is to be New York’s team — or more importantly, not be Manchester City’s team. Making a USMNT player your first signing plays into those efforts perfectly. Diskerud’s salary demands kept the Portland Timbers from signing him in 2013 but in 2014, Diskerud should be a designated player. Beasley would have to go through the allocation process since the Chicago Fire sold him for a transfer fee nearly ten years ago.

5. It does not look like Philadelphia Union Head Coach John Hackworth will be in a job much longer. The records speak for themselves but there always seems to be an instance where a head coach throws all his last ideas out there hoping that anything sticks. In Hackworth’s case, the desperate ideas came in defense with his inability to settle on a back four, but the death knell was the Jack McInerney trade. Since the trade was made April 4th, the Union have collected six out of a possible 27 points. Neither team has really benefitted from the trade but Andrew Wenger has only scored one goal on 19 shots; not a conversion rate that is worth trading for.

6. It’s not so much what has gotten into the New England Revolution but rather what happened in the aftermath of their 2–0 loss to DC United on April 5 that led to the Revolution gaining 16 out of the 18 points available in the six subsequent games. What’s most impressive is that in this six-game unbeaten run, the Revolution have had eight different goalscorers. It also doesn’t hurt that Patrick Mullins has goals in three consecutive starts — impressive for a rookie. Mullins started the season opener but was subbed off at halftime as he did not appear in the next seven matches. About two weeks ago, Head Coach Jay Heaps credited Mullins’ intelligence but acknowledged that there was some adjustment that the rookie had to make in order to acclimate to MLS and the Revolution’s system. Heaps’ patience is paying off.

7. Shep Messing said something interesting but misguided during the New York Red Bulls’ loss to Toronto FC. Granted this happens almost every telecast but the fact he said the Red Bulls were making Toronto FC look like Atletico Madrid stood out. If there is a team in MLS that is most similar in playing style with Atleti, it’s the Red Bulls. Neither team are the most technically gifted but each has charismatic attacking players, industrious midfielders and an ability to disrupt their opponent’s style of play with their heavy press up the pitch. The difference between Atleti and the Red Bulls and ultimately the top European leagues and MLS is the fact that the former simply does not make defensive mistakes. Atleti conceded 26 goals all season in La Liga, good for a 0.68 goals against per game. In their Supporters Shield-winning season, the Red Bulls conceded 41 goals for a goals against ratio of 1.2. For what it’s worth, Sporting Kansas City’s goals against ratio was the best in MLS last year at 0.88.

8. Criticizing sports television can often be a very useless venture in that the person who does it has to try very hard to not only inform the audience but to get them interested in something that the average sports viewer does not pay attention to. With that in mind, when it was mentioned that Steve Cangialosi was one of MLS’ most improved play by play guys, I got curious and paid more attention to his call on Saturday. Cangialosi does sound much more natural in his commentary and his signature arias sound less hysterical than they did say a few years ago. Shep will still be Shep but it is good to see American soccer play-by-play commentators improve.

9. Geoff Cameron returned home to Massachusetts before flying out to California on Sunday to meet up with the US Men’s National Team for World Cup preparations. Aron Johannsson and Jermaine Jones’ seasons each came to an end this weekend and they will join the national team shortly. Johannsson and AZ lost in the Eredivsie Europa League Playoff Final 3–0 to FC Groningen on Sunday while Jones helped Beskitas earn a place in the UEFA Champions League Third Qualifying Round in his half-season loan.

10. A bizarre scene in La Liga on Sunday as the match between CA Osasuna and Real Betis was delayed half an hour after part of a stand at Estadio El Sadar collapsed under the weight of rushing Osasuna fans celebrating the game’s opening goal. No serious injuries were reported but it gave La Liga officials a problem. Four matches were expected to be played at the same time as the relegation battle was to be settled between Osasuna, Real Valladolid, Granada, Getafe and Almeria. Club and league officials agreed to delay the three other matches at halftime so the Osasuna-Betis game could ‘catch up.’

For those following, Osasuna, Vallalodid and Real Betis found themselves relegated by the end of the weekend.

11. Eddie Johnson has a problem—he’s American. This is not that American players are devalued in the transfer market but rather a cultural problem. Johnson’s comments about life with DC United in comparison to life with the Seattle Sounders has been wrongly used as an explanation for why he was left off the World Cup roster. This was something that Jurgen Klinsmann downplayed after the roster was announced, yet the media continued to play up that link. Even his club teammates at DC United stood by him in the immediate aftermath of the quote and after Johnson scored against the Montreal Impact on Saturday. However, there are still pundits and outsiders throwing the same language that is often reserved for certain former NFL Draft prospects like Teddy Bridgewater and Cam Newton. So much for us viewing ourselves as members of the literati.

  • Anthony

    Another shitty article by Christian Araos. Already laying the excuse groundwork should the Cosmos win the game, which may or may not happen regardless of the selection.

    Guess what Christian, its during the Cosmos WC break too. They also have to play on turf as well. While teams are within their rights to prioritize competitions as it see’s fit, claiming the Red Bull’s have no choice but to dog it comes across as nothing more than trying to minimize the USOC and the potential match ups.

    Fact is the Red Bull’s could take it seriously if they want to, and if they don’t and lose then they deserve all the criticism they get.

    • Dave from Dix Hills

      Cosmos has to beat Italians first bro.

  • Dave from Dix Hills

    This is logical and fandom ain’t. Petke has to play his best and win becaus anything no matter how logical short of winning will be unacceptable. Period

  • Anthony

    Seems like the author is just trying to say, “Hey, if Red Bull lose to Cosmos it doesn’t mean they are good or better than Red Bull”. At this point is Christian trying to pass himself off as a writer/journalist, or just a really bad blogger? I’m going with the latter.

  • Wow, this is dumb. In so many ways. It’s not that I agree or disagree, it’s that it’s dumb.

  • argy bargy

    RedBulls are DOOMED

    N to the A to tha muthaf*ckin SL

  • OK, I have a few minutes now. Let’s play why Christian Araos is a dumb dumb.

    1, ” It is very easy to write off romance as a selling point because of how intangible it is” What the hell is winning anything in any sport other than romance? Do teams obtain eternal enlightenment when they win the MLS Cup? No, teams win trophies, and trophies are nothing but symbols of the romance of winning. Just moronic.

    2. “Red Bull fans should be angered if Head Coach Mike Petke were to announce that he would be filling a team full of reserves should they play the New York Cosmos. However, just because there is justification for you to feel something does not mean that you are correct in that feeling.” So you’re saying fans should be angry, but they are wrong for feeling angry. You’re saying people should be angry, but if they are angry, they’re incorrect for being angry. Good grief.

    3. The Red Bulls have 19 days off after this match, and that comes after a hardly exhausting 3 months start to the season. The idea that they “deserve” the three extra days off if they were not to compete in this match is beyond absurd. I just took a quick look. For atletico Madrid, Juanfran has played 55 games so far, Koke 57, Costa 50, Villa, 42. They still have the CL final, and they all feature for Spain’s WC squad. Are they complaining? Neither are the Red Bull players I suspect. Just because you and I can’t handle the physical demands of being a pro soccer player doesn’t mean the players can’t. Absurd.

    4.. “but it is not a good PR move considering that the Red Bulls would be effectively conceding the Open Cup to an MLS team that provides tougher opposition for the first team than the Cosmos.” Wow, you’d make a hell of a PR professional. Why on Earth would it be a PR problem to say we played a game full strength when we knew we had 19 days off after the game, but we had to sit out some players to rest during a heavy fixture schedule? Somehow, I think the PR pros over at RB would find a way to explain this without becoming a Lindsey Lohan PR nightmare.

    5. “Let’s put this into some recent context. The Red Bulls are the US Men’s National Team. The Cosmos are Panama. Only this time, the former has even less incentive than the USMNT players had.” Huh. If the US lost that game, Mexico, our greatest rival, would have been out of the world cup. Winning had ZERO effect on anything to do with the World cup. Red Bull, on the other hand, have not won a single trophy in 18 years of franchise existence. You don’t think they have even a small incentive to want to win the “romantic” US Open Cup?

    The Red Bulls are going to do what they’re going to do, and whatever they decide to do I’ll have no beef. But this entire article is just stupid, the only question is if it’s just stupidity or willful stupidity, I’m guessing the latter. I don’t think Christian is dumb, even if he is ignorant about soccer in the USA and concacaf.

  • CHEPE PEDOS

    last night on the new york cosmos facebook page, its says , over 75,000 followers… where did you get 23000 ??? bro …

  • The real Stan

    Such sensitive fans

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