Empire XI: The Party is Over for the Red Bulls



When New York Red Bulls Head Coach Mike Petke voiced his annoyance with the Red Bulls’ planned pregame celebrations for this Saturday’s home opener, the message was clear: what happened in 2013, stays in 2013.

The funny thing there is that the Red Bulls are struggling in 2014 because they are keeping their 2013 mentality and talent. The former trait will keep the Red Bulls in Eastern Conference contention; the latter will extend the Red Bulls’ MLS Cup drought.

When Bobby Warshaw wrote his defense of MLS for Deadspin, the characteristics he mentioned matched a lot of the traits the Red Bulls had in 2013 when they won the Supporters Shield. However, Warshaw’s thinking, like the Red Bulls, is a little antiquated and that is the weird problem the Red Bulls have. Their identity is a winning one, but they are not good enough to win in the East even if they kept the core of their 2013 Shield winning side.

New York has determined MLS veterans like Dax McCarty, Eric Alexander and Jamison Olave, but only McCarty can be a player who you can say, at this point in their career, is one of the best in MLS at his position with a straight face. Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry are upper echelon DPs of course, but if Petke will use Cahill in the midfield, we are looking at the same problem that the Red Bulls had last August which was the fact that Cahill is just not a very good playmaker.

The most straightforward answers for the playmaker question are Alexander and Peguy Luyindula; both converted from other positions. The Red Bulls were able to escape with this and get a trophy out of it last year. However, that won’t be easy to emulate. There are already four teams in the East with better playmakers than New York. Toronto FC has Jonathan Osorio, Sporting Kansas City has Benny Feilhaber, the Philadelphia Union have Vincent Nogueira and the Houston Dynamo have Boniek Garcia — also a player converted into a playmaking role.

Therein lies the issue with the Red Bulls. The Red Bulls were able to win the Supporters Shield by working harder than their opponents, shrewdly gaining a result against a more talented Sporting Kansas City team (that wound up winning MLS Cup) and benefiting from the unbalanced schedule. Circumstances helped them greatly.

Now, circumstances are turning against them. The East is much stronger than what it was last year, and the veteran-laden Red Bulls are a year older. They will need a deeper squad once the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League gets started. They are simply not physically capable of matching their rivals in talent and work rate for an entire season.

So where does that leave the Red Bulls? Fortunately, they are planning to sign a third Designated Player. It would be a colossal mistake for the team to not use that spot on a playmaking central midfielder. Xavi would be a perfect fit, but those rumors look likely to stay just that — rumors. Still, that is the type of player that can allow the Red Bulls to match the teams they face in the East. A distributor like Xavi or, even for a simpler comparison, Kyle Beckerman would so easily solve their offensive issues that it is amazing that the team has not made a move for a player of that ilk already.

That may suggest that the Red Bulls are still going to see if they can use Luyindula or Cahill as a consistently effective playmaker. We have even seen Bobby Convey sneak inside for the team.

But beware; patience can gradually grow into stupidity pretty quickly when you do not have the results to show for it. In 2013, the results did go New York’s way, but what happened in 2013 will stay in 2013. That is a fact Petke already accepts. The question as the Red Bulls go forward is how will Petke react when the industrious efforts of 2013 are no match for the talent discrepancy of 2014?

Empire XI

1. New England Revolution center back Jose Gonçlaves does deserve a pay raise after the terrific season he had in 2013 and it was well known that he wanted a pay raise coming into the 2014 season. That being said, the reported options that Head Coach Jay Heaps gave Gonçlaves was a fair move to make especially, after Gonçlaves’s lame performance against the Houston Dynamo.

According to Ives Galarcep, Heaps told Gonçlaves to either focus solely on on-field issues or not play. Gonçlaves chose the latter and was benched. In making that decision, he may get a new contract, but will lose a lot of respect in a locker room that needs an experienced player like him to guide them in a tough conference; a task made more difficult with two losses to fellow playoff contenders.

2. Two games in and the Philadelphia Union look as good as advertised this season. Credit their defense for that. The Union faced the Portland Timbers and the New England Revolution, two teams that combined for more than 100 goals last year, and held them to only one goal. While goalkeeper looks like a potential question mark for the Union, they have done a good job in making Zac MacMath’s job easier by only allowing five shots on target through those two games.

3. Some really mediocre set piece defending in the Sporting Kansas CityFC Dallas game led to both goals. FC Dallas’ defense is already suspect, but to completely forget to mark Sporting KC center back Aurelien Collin on a corner is like forgetting to put pants on while heading to work.

Dallas’ equalizer came from centerback Matt Hedges, but why was Collin in the wall on the free kick that generated the goal? Collin is the best aerial defender on the team and could have done a much better job keeping Hedges from meeting Michel’s free kick than Matt Besler did just because he is a stronger player than Besler. Basically, the rule is to put your strongest defenders in a position to be strong defenders — not in the wall.

4. Clint Dempsey should face some retribution from the MLS Disciplinary Committee for striking Toronto FC right back Mark Bloom in the groin during last Saturday’s game. It is difficult to say what the punishment should be for Dempsey, but the laws of the game prohibit a player from striking another and the mission of the Disciplinary Committee is to ensure the proper enforcement of the game’s laws and to properly punish those that violate it. It would be counter-intuitive to let Dempsey get away with this unaffected. If he did, the DisCo would face a criticism worse than the current inconsistency/bias allegations it already suffers.

Here is the slap heard ’round the world:

5. While both of the crest designs are acceptable, New York City FC’s circular design got my vote. Both designs have the acceptable colors, but the circular design’s subtle homage to the New York Subway token and its overall minimalist theme will look good going forward. More important than my vote is the fact that NYCFC said they had over 100,000 votes in their crest contest and advertised their contest on the video billboards above subway entrances. It is a noticeable turnout and a noticeable advertising expense, a sign of things to come as the club continues to build.

6. The Professional Soccer Referees Association virtually admitted to an unfair labor practice charge filed by the Professional Referee Organization that accused the P.R.S.A. of intimidating the replacement referees currently being used with a public release that labels them as scabs — even going so far as to use Jack London’s definition of the word in the release: “A scab is a traitor to his God, his country, his family and his class.”

The problem with the P.S.R.A.’s dossier is that unless you are for the worker on principle alone, you cannot say they are not at fault for prolonging the referee lockout. More importantly, the dossier backfired. While not defamatory in a legal sense because the information was true, it was an unethical move and one that demotivated me to use this space to side for the P.S.R.A. entirely. The timing couldn’t be worse, especially after the first major mistake made by a replacement referee at Saturday’s Red Bulls game.

7. To provide a basis for comparison on the New York Cosmossponsorship extension with Emirates Airlines, use Sport Illustrated’s MLS Ambition Rankings by the excellent Grant Wahl. The annual rankings are always a must-read but the rationale post that accompanies provides substantial details on MLS club finances. Additionally, the Washington Post reported that D.C. United’s sponsorship deal (the most recent deal) with Leidos is financially comparable to their previous $2+ million deal with Volkswagen.

The sponsorship is Emirates’ least expensive contract. Emirates’ sponsorships with Arsenal, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain all have a total cost of at least $120 million. Their deal with Hamburg is worth $8.7 million annually.

8. MLS’ decision to institute the away goal rule received some criticism since it furthermore hurts the higher seeded team in a current playoff format. However, it is a decision that is explained in the sentence that describes the rule in the MLS Competition Rulebook: “If the aggregate score is tied after 180 minutes of play, the away goals rule will apply so as to be consistent with CONCACAF and FIFA practice.” Additionally, the CONCACAF away goals rule (the one MLS is adopting) is the best one since it only counts away goals after the end of 90 minutes in the second leg. If the tie goes to extra time, all goals are equal. It gives the away team proper respect for 90 minutes in each leg while giving both teams a fair shot at winning the tie if the tie goes to extra time.

9. All three MLS teams have a realistic chance of winning their CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal but it would be a disastrous buzzkill if none of them did — especially after each team got a result in the first leg. The LA Galaxy have the best chance to advance to the semifinal after defeating Club Tijuana 1–0 on Tuesday, but they will have to tighten things up on the defensive end or risk giving Xolos a momentum-swinging first goal at home. That being said, a Bruce Arena-led team with Landon Donovan on left wing trying to preserve a one-goal lead against a Mexican team brings back a memory that can easily be recreated in Tijuana on Tuesday.

10. Two things Sporting Kansas City will have going in their favor as they head to Mexico City to take on Cruz Azul besides the one-goal lead: experience and weather. Center back Matt Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi each started in the US Men’s National Team’s 0–0 draw at the Azteca last year. The two players are leaders for Sporting KC in normal conditions and will be relied on even more in this situation. While the altitude will be an issue for Sporting KC, the weather will not be. Much like the 0–0 result last year, this game will be played in a clear, temperate Wednesday night with a forecast temperature in the 60s.

11. The San Jose Earthquakes deserved a goal in their opening leg draw with Toluca but they need a goal to progress to the next round. While the clause ‘the Earthquakes need a goal’ is one we have heard plenty of times since 2012, this Wednesday is a little different. The Earthquakes cannot throw caution to the wind, trying to score a goal like the Goonies do during late game situations in MLS or risk giving up chances on the counter. This is especially concerning for the Earthquakes as their midfield pairing of Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi and Sam Cronin are still trying to build an understanding to determine when one player can go forward. If both get caught going forward, look out. Another huge concern will be at center back with Victor Bernardez suspended and Jason Hernandez getting stretchered off with a left quadriceps strain in Saturday’s latest #GNSD result against Real Salt Lake.


While dealing with a cold (and the ensuing boredom), I decided to research something about the 2010 US World Cup Team and its starting left back Jonathan Bornstein.

Turns out Bornstein, who was set to enter the prime of his career at 25, has almost completely fallen off the radar since that tournament — so much so that the number of first team appearances he has made since that World Cup are few and far between. The challenge to you, dear reader: guess how many first team appearances Bornstein has made for club and country since the end of the 2010 World Cup. Winner gets an Empire of Soccer t-shirt. Go.

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  • Cole Grumbach

    11 total?

  • Cole Grumbach

    Nope, it’s 13

  • Dave from Dix Hills

    22?! (Too lazy to add it all up)

    • Alexander isn’t a playmaker. He’s a “hardworking” DM. With Miller bombing forward they were playing a 3-5-2 and overloading the midfield. All without a central playmaker so everything went down the wings, which is predictable and easy to defend. The ball is almost never on the ground in the final third and there wasn’t a lot of patience. It’s not much different than last year. To play a 4-3-3 you have to commit to it, drill it every practice… and play on the ground. Don’t see it happening.

  • Dave from Dix Hills

    I wasn’t far off! It was 27 (looked it up) — anyone guess that?

  • Jonathan Nies

    26. Without a goal and only a single assist.

  • Jonathan Nies

    Looked it up. Forgot about prior to leaving MLS and US games after the WC. 40 total appearances since the end of 2010 WC.

    • Anonymous

      The correct answer is 38 and since you’re the closest, you win! Bornstein made 27 coming into the 2014-15 season so Dave is the hard luck loser. Bornstein can thank the Copa MX for the extra appearances this year. Dave will get in touch with you, Congrats! Thanks to all those who took a shot at it.

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