THE DEFENSE NEEDS AN IDENTITY … FAST
With Markus Holgersson, Heath Pearce, Wilman Conde, Stephen Keel, Tyler Ruthven and an oft-injured Rafa Marquez on the books, New York may potentially have the strongest assets to work with in the heart of the defense. Wing backs? Connor Lade, Roy Miller, Jan Gunnar Solli, Brandon Barklage and a versatile Heath Pearce gives the team a plethora of pieces to pick and choose from.
Then why haven’t they gelled yet?
In a season that has been cursed by the injury bug, the Red Bulls backline has had to undergo more facelifts than Cher. For any defense that is a tactical nightmare. Like a dance troupe, coordination, chemistry and recognition of movement are vital to any backline. You move up in unison, you move back in unison, and you work as one. The alternative leaves you ripe to be picked apart.
Last night, New York once again decided to book end Pearce and Holgersson with Lade and Miller. Miller, who was victimized on both goals, has just arrived from Costa Rican national team duty. Lade? He has been a question mark on the backline all year long – a fact that Backe will readily admit to.
The duo were torn apart by the speed of Sal Zizzo and the size of Nagbe. The substitution of Miller for Cooper allowed New York to go with a more reliable Solli/Lade tandem (with Connor of the left) pairing that helped stabilize the back.
Were they perfect? Far from it. But they were effective which is more than can be said for the former bookends.
The point here is this; MLS is in the stretch run. New York is battling for the top of the East and are riding their high octane offense to the promise land. That formula is unsustainable. The Red Bulls backline now has nine matches to find their identity for the post season. The pieces are there, but the chemistry is not.